Magic in the Alley is a sweet, atmospheric children’s fantasy by the author of one of my very favorite children’s books, The House of Thirty Cats. The latter is about a girl who befriends an old lady with thirty cats, and ends up helping her match prospective cat owners with the exact right cat for them. It does a great job of sketching the personalities of a very large cast of cats and people, and, by paying close attention to the details of each passing moment, illuminates their beautiful, near-magical qualities. Calhoun is no Banana Yoshimoto, but she’s clearly interested in some similar emotional territory. The House of Thirty Cats is out of print, but cheap used copies are easy to find.

In Magic in the Alley, Cleery finds a box of magic in a thrift store. Her first wish is to bring a stuffed crow to life; her second is that for the whole summer, every time she walks down a new alley, she’ll find something enchanted. The stuffed crow’s wings don’t work, and his increasingly desperate desire to fly again drives the plot and the moving conclusion. It’s a standard plot, but well-done, imaginative, and psychologically perceptive. The details of the magic are lovely: a tiny but fierce mermaid, a garden where the characters’ love of their favorite season traps them in it, an invisibility cloak that infects the wearer with a sort of playful madness.

Unfortunately, this one is quite rare. I’ve never owned a copy, and had to get it from the library for a re-read.
I've been meaning to do this for a while, ever since I noticed that a) Harlequin has been reissuing Georgette Heyer's entire backlist, and b) many Heyer fans do not read genre romance, so they haven't noticed.

There will be no mentions of Firebird on this list. We all know Firebird rocks. So does Starscape.

SPRIG MUSLIN, by Georgette Heyer.

And all her other books. (Be wary of a horrid anti-Semitic scene in the otherwise splendid THE GRAND SOPHY. In fact, I would skip ahead from when Sophy goes to visit the moneylender to when she leaves. All you need to know is that she gets what she wants from him.) But I'll use this as an example, because it's so utterly charming.

It's a two-couple Regency romance, but is really more of a comedy and parody of the entire romance genre, but particularly of the "spirited runaway girl" trope. The runaway girl is indeed spirited, but has absorbed the contents of far too many romance novels and taken them far too much to heart. Disasters ensue. The other heroine is practical and wears glasses. In my favorite scene, the spirited girl traps an aspiring playwright in a discussion of a play he ought to write about wicked Queen Katharine, which would include an on-stage autopsy with a tar-soaked sponge to represent her wicked black heart.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0373836244/qid=1092340592/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

THE HOUSE OF THIRTY CATS, by Mary Calhoun

A children's book about a girl named Sarah who lives near an old cat woman's house. The local kids, who are a bit scared of her, will ring the doorbell if they want a kitten, and then run away when she gives them one. But when a mousy librarian gives Sarah George MacDonald's THE PRINCESS AND CURDIE, awakening Sarah to the wonders of fantasy-- and when Sarah later catches her reading a book on witchcraft-- she realizes that people may have hidden lives that are more surprising and wonderful than the personas they show to the world. When Sarah goes to get a kitten, she goes inside the house of thirty cats, and finds a world that's just as astonishing and beautiful as any fantasy. When town authorities try to shut down the house, Sarah decides to find homes for the cats by matching their personalities to those of the townspeople-- not their personas, but their true selves.

This is a lovely book, and an example of how much characterization of a large cast of human and cat characters can be packed into a few words.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816929/qid=1092341001/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

HOTEL FOR DOGS, by Lois Duncan

Another children's book, this one by a writer who later became famous for YA suspense. (Of those books, I really like DOWN A DARK HALL and STRANGER WITH MY FACE.) Like CATS, it's a "secret garden" novel in which children create a private little world for themselves. A girl who is forced to leave her beloved dog behind when her family moves to Albuquerque, and in with an aunt who's allergic to dogs, hides a stray dog in the abandoned house next door. Then her brother hides a dog who ran away from its abusive owner. More and more kids who can't have pets of their own hide more and more dogs in the house, until matters come to a highly satisfying climax. Incidentally, the protagonist wants to be a writer, and her dedication and perseverance is a model for any as-yet-unpublished author.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816945/qid=1092341477/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

More later...
I've been meaning to do this for a while, ever since I noticed that a) Harlequin has been reissuing Georgette Heyer's entire backlist, and b) many Heyer fans do not read genre romance, so they haven't noticed.

There will be no mentions of Firebird on this list. We all know Firebird rocks. So does Starscape.

SPRIG MUSLIN, by Georgette Heyer.

And all her other books. (Be wary of a horrid anti-Semitic scene in the otherwise splendid THE GRAND SOPHY. In fact, I would skip ahead from when Sophy goes to visit the moneylender to when she leaves. All you need to know is that she gets what she wants from him.) But I'll use this as an example, because it's so utterly charming.

It's a two-couple Regency romance, but is really more of a comedy and parody of the entire romance genre, but particularly of the "spirited runaway girl" trope. The runaway girl is indeed spirited, but has absorbed the contents of far too many romance novels and taken them far too much to heart. Disasters ensue. The other heroine is practical and wears glasses. In my favorite scene, the spirited girl traps an aspiring playwright in a discussion of a play he ought to write about wicked Queen Katharine, which would include an on-stage autopsy with a tar-soaked sponge to represent her wicked black heart.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0373836244/qid=1092340592/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

THE HOUSE OF THIRTY CATS, by Mary Calhoun

A children's book about a girl named Sarah who lives near an old cat woman's house. The local kids, who are a bit scared of her, will ring the doorbell if they want a kitten, and then run away when she gives them one. But when a mousy librarian gives Sarah George MacDonald's THE PRINCESS AND CURDIE, awakening Sarah to the wonders of fantasy-- and when Sarah later catches her reading a book on witchcraft-- she realizes that people may have hidden lives that are more surprising and wonderful than the personas they show to the world. When Sarah goes to get a kitten, she goes inside the house of thirty cats, and finds a world that's just as astonishing and beautiful as any fantasy. When town authorities try to shut down the house, Sarah decides to find homes for the cats by matching their personalities to those of the townspeople-- not their personas, but their true selves.

This is a lovely book, and an example of how much characterization of a large cast of human and cat characters can be packed into a few words.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816929/qid=1092341001/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

HOTEL FOR DOGS, by Lois Duncan

Another children's book, this one by a writer who later became famous for YA suspense. (Of those books, I really like DOWN A DARK HALL and STRANGER WITH MY FACE.) Like CATS, it's a "secret garden" novel in which children create a private little world for themselves. A girl who is forced to leave her beloved dog behind when her family moves to Albuquerque, and in with an aunt who's allergic to dogs, hides a stray dog in the abandoned house next door. Then her brother hides a dog who ran away from its abusive owner. More and more kids who can't have pets of their own hide more and more dogs in the house, until matters come to a highly satisfying climax. Incidentally, the protagonist wants to be a writer, and her dedication and perseverance is a model for any as-yet-unpublished author.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786816945/qid=1092341477/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3433239-3391102?v=glance&s=books

More later...
.

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