MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE HOTEL BETWEEN, by Sean Easley

Middle Grade at Heart’s November book club pick was the magical adventure THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley.

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THE HOTEL BETWEEN is one of those books that grabs you from the first page, where we meet our hero, Cam, from the hiding-place-come-prison of his middle school locker. But after the initial humor of Cam’s situation, we immediately get that there’s something much bigger afoot than the typical middle school hijinks.

“I throw my head back against the interior of the locker, tracing the page displaying my pencil sketch of a tree with a cramped, crooked finger. I can almost hear the leaves rustling, as they have been lately in my dreams. It’s the same tree that’s on the wooden coin hanging from my neck. Dad’s coin.” 

Because Cam and his twin sister, Cass, have been raised by their Oma–both of their parents are presumed dead. But Cam’s convinced his father is still alive. So when he meets Nico, a mysterious boy who holds a coin identical to the one Cam’s father gave him before he disappeared, he can’t let it go. He has to learn more.

The adventure that ensues introduces him to The Hotel Between, a hotel with magical doors that can transport hotel guests all over the world. One member of the hotel’s staff describes it as follows:

Those who stay within our walls may dive the deepest lagoons and climb the highest mountains in a single day. Here, one can enjoy arepas for breakfast in Venezuela, the most authentic Philly cheesesteak for lunch, and dine luxuriously on the Rhine for dinner.”

Cam and his new friends travel places like Russia, Hungary, and the Congo on a series of missions for the hotel. But when the hotel’s magic starts to malfunction, Cam realizes that something’s not right. And what he discovers might be even more important than finding his long-lost father.

Part fantasy adventure, part travelogue, part touching story of hope and family connection, THE HOTEL BETWEEN is sure to please readers aged 10+.

To learn more about Sean, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to THE HOTEL BETWEEN here (https://mailchi.mp/1233feee0568/november-newsletter-the-hotel-between?e=96af0d8aff).  

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Next month, Middle Grade @ Heart will feature a round-up of our favorite graphic novels. And don’t miss our #mgbookclub Twitter chat about THE HOTEL BETWEEN on December 4 at 8pm EST!

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Crafting Striking Visual Descriptions

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Okay, so we all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But have you seen the absolutely glorious cover of the Middle Grade at Heart November book club pick, The Hotel Between? Isn’t it stunning and intriguing?

The cover artist, Petur Antonsson, did an incredible job with the illustration, and the author, Sean Easley, gave Antonsson a whole lot to work with because this book features some truly masterful visual descriptions. Let’s take a look at a few passages to see how Sean Easley manages to evoke rich, specific images while also leaving just enough to the reader’s imagination and conveying a sense of his narrator’s personality.

First, here’s how the book’s narrator, Cam, describes the fantastic and mysterious Hotel the first time he sees it:

I turn back to the door and catch a glimpse of…something unbelievable. Thick, velvety maroon carpet stretches deep into an open foyer and up a twisty staircase. Warm light shines from old, Thomas Edison-style bulbs in intricate brass fixtures. A sparkly chandelier with long, dangly chains of crystals casts rainbows everywhere, flooding the enormous space with warm, smoky light. I can’t even see the ceiling, it’s so high. And I think I smell blueberries. 

There are so many vivid sensory details in this opening description. We get a sense of the vastness of this place, how old it seems, and how it’s too big and too complex for Cam to fully take in. There’s a sense of oddness, too, and a bit of unexpected humor with the ending sentence about blueberries. There are interesting verbs (stretches, casts, flooding), and we can see from the word choice and specificity that Cam is intelligent and perceptive, despite how self-deprecating he can often be.

The description also doesn’t go on too long; pretty soon, the door to the hotel closes and the action starts back up. Easley doesn’t take up so much space with his lush descriptions that the action drags. He leaves us wanting more and imagining what else Cam doesn’t see in his first glimpse of this intriguing place.

Soon, Cam visits lots of international locations through the Hotel’s magic, and the descriptions of these places are just as striking as the description of the Hotel itself. Here’s how Cam describes the scene he takes in when he walks out the “Budapest Door” into the city of Budapest:

All around us, tall glass-and-stone buildings drip with light. Carved granite arches glow as the sun sets beyond them. Warm, yellow strings of incandescent bulbs drape from the pop-up tents scattered throughout the square. Tree branches twist and curl, carrying the lights into the sky like the fiery breath of a dragon. 

Again, check out all those striking verbs (drape, twist, curl, carrying) and the way we get plenty of vivid details but not too many; we have space to imagine what else is going on in this scene and to feel its glowing warmth. The use of figurative language is also terrific. That simile about the “fiery breath of a dragon” is not only original and interesting, but it also reveals something about Cam, who is a very cautious character and sees this world he’s stepping into as something amazing…but also frightening.

And it’s not only places that Sean Easley describes effectively; he also has a knack for describing characters’ appearances. Here’s a passage from when Cam first meets a mysterious man named Agapios:

And at the desk in the center of the room sits a man who looks like Death on his way to the prom—flat, angular forehead with a receding hairline and slick black hair. His face is long—way longer than it should be—and his cheekbones look like someone surgically inserted dice into his face.

Isn’t that an outstanding paragraph? The simile about “Death on his way to the prom” reveals Cam’s sense of humor as well as his lingering fear. Plus, it leaves the reader space to imagine what this man is wearing and what might make his features look “deathly.” The humorous (but disturbing) line about dice being inserted into Agapios’s face also paints quite a visceral picture! Based on the way Agapios is described, the reader immediately wants to know more about who he is and what he’s up to.

Let us know on Twitter if there are other descriptions in the book that strike you as especially effective, and we hope you’ll enjoy our newsletter about The Hotel Between, which will go out on November 26th. And don’t mis our Twitter book club chat about the book, which will take place at 8pm EST on Tuesday, December 4th with the tag #mgbookclub!

MG at Heart Book Club’s November Pick: THE HOTEL BETWEEN, by Sean Easley

The Middle Grade at Heart selection for November is….
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The Hotel Between by Sean Easley!

A magical hotel, a mysterious tree, and a cryptic story about their missing father leads twins Cam and Cass on a worldly adventure in this enchanting debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Wildwood.

Twins Cam and Cass have never known their parents. They’ve been told their mother died, and Cass is certain their father abandoned them. Cam isn’t so sure. He wants to prove her wrong; he must.

Cam’s wish is soon granted in the form of a glistening, golden sign with elaborate flourishes that reads: The Hotel Between. With doors that open to countries all over the world, magical trollies, charmed corridors that can be altered on a whim, stone elephants that turn to life, sweets made from rocks; everything is possible in The Hotel. Cam has a hunch his father is somehow connected to this magical place, and may even be lost within its hidden halls.

Every journey has its risks, and The Hotel Between is full of dangerous secrets. If Cam’s not careful, his stay may be over before his vacation has even started.

“Easley’s first novel is a fantasy adventure brimming with action and anchored by familial love. Cam constantly worries about Cass, whose spina bifida confines her to a wheelchair, but he also must learn that she’s more capable than he gives her credit for. The story begs a sequel and will draw fans of A Wrinkle in Time.” – Booklist

“Magic and mystery draw you into The Hotel Between, and I couldn’t leave until I knew all its secrets. Can I make a reservation yet?” – James Riley, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Half Upon a Time and Story Thieves series

“Danger, fun, and heartbreak abound in this rollicking magical adventure around the world.” – Lisa McMann, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of The Unwanteds Quests series and many other books

The newsletter will go out November 26th, and the #MGBookClub Twitter chat will be held December 4th.

We can’t wait to share this book with all of you!

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, by Amanda Rawson Hill

Middle Grade at Heart’s October book club pick was the touching and magical THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by our contributor and co-founder Amanda Rawson Hill.

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Believe. Give. Trust. Kate doesn’t really believe in magic. She hasn’t had much reason too since her dad left and her best friend started to drift away. But when Grammy moves in with Kate and her mom and starts telling Kate about the three rules of Everyday Magic, Kate’s willing to try anything to put things back to right.

“There’s a part of me that wants to believe in magic, especially if it has anything to do with Dad.”

Grammy and Kate share many moments together baking cookies, sharing memories of Kate’s dad, knitting, and, of course, talking about the three rules of Everyday Magic. Even as Grammy’s mental clarity fades, she shares so much with Kate about life, love, and magic in a series of bittersweet scenes:

“If you love someone you can always give them magic. And you always should. We never give up on people we love. I know better than most.”

But sometimes the magic doesn’t work exactly the way you’d planned. Sometimes it can’t stop relationships from shifting, diseases from changing the people we love, or bad things from happening. That’s when the third rule comes in and it’s the most important of all:

“You have to trust the magic. That means you can’t give it away expecting a certain outcome. You can’t put demands on it and say it only worked if everything goes how you wanted it to, or when you wanted it to. Magic has its own timeframe and its own ideas about what should happen. You can hope it will cause some event, but sometimes it will do something else entirely. That doesn’t mean it didn’t work.”

Kate’s world is forever changed by the events in THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC. And even though the magic she discovers isn’t able to put everything back the way it used to be, it does help her navigate her changing world with a little more grace and love.

That’s the beauty of this bittersweet, touching story, one that will support young readers who are struggling with the same issues Kate faces and give others a safe space to process their own complicated emotions.

To learn more about Amanda, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC here (https://mailchi.mp/b46a53e64e30/october-book-club-the-three-rules-of-everyday-magic-by-amanda-rawson-hill-a-giveaway).  

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The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for November is THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and don’t forget to join us for our Twitter chat on THREE RULES OF EVERDAY MAGIC on November 6!

 

MG at Heart and the Need for Sad Books in Middle Grade

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The MG at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our October pick, Amanda Rawson Hill’s The Three Rules of Everyday Magic. A heartfelt story that explores mental illnesses and their effect on family.

Kate has trouble believing in magic, especially since the people she loves keep leaving her. But when Grammy tells her the three rules of everyday magic—believe, give, and trust—Kate can’t resist believing, at least a little. Following Grammy’s advice, she tries to bring her father, her best friend, and even Grammy herself back to her. Nothing turns out as Kate expects, yet the magic of giving—of trusting that if you love and give, good things will happen, even if you don’t see them happen—will change Kate and her family forever.

One of Amanda’s soap box topics is the need for sad books in middle grade, and we, at MG at Heart, know that life is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes awful things happen to wonderful kids, and we want to explore all facets of a middle-grader’s emotions. It’s totally apropos that Amanda wrote one of these desperately needed novels.

In Amanda’s book, Kate’s father suffers from severe depression. He’s moved out of the house and hasn’t told Kate where he went—a mystery she eventually solves (and also breaks my heart). His depression is so realistic and unfiltered. There’s nothing sheltered about what depression can do to a person and how broken it can leave a child.

In addition to the severity of her dad’s depression, Kate also learns what Alzheimer’s can do to a loved one, her grandmother. Grammy has partially “left” in a different way; she can’t remember people or things that she loved. She does have moments of clarity, but she and Kate figure out that soon her memory will be completely gone. And they’ll have to learn to love each other in a new way.

These types of huge life events change a child. A best friend becomes best friends with someone else. A grandparent has Alzheimer’s. A parent dies.

We want kids to know that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. It’s okay to be sad or angry or frustrated.

You’re not alone.

To enjoy Amanda’s wonderfully realistic book, check out The Three Rules of Everyday Magic, where her beautiful words will tug at your heartstrings and color your emotions with warmth.

MG at Heart Book Club October Pick: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, by Amanda Rawson Hill

The Middle Grade at Heart book for October is…

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THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, by Amanda Rawson Hill!

Magic doesn’t work the way you think it will, but it’s what Kate needs as she confronts friendship trouble, her parents’ divorce, and Grammy’s dementia in this lyrical middle-grade coming-of-age novel for fans of Half a Chance and The Same Stuff as Stars.

Kate has trouble believing in magic, especially since the people she loves keep leaving her. But when Grammy tells her the three rules of everyday magic–believe, give, and trust–Kate can’t resist believing, at least a little. Following Grammy’s advice, she tries to bring her father, her best friend, and even Grammy herself back to her. Nothing turns out as Kate expects, yet the magic of giving–of trusting that if you love and give, good things will happen, even if you don’t see them happen–will change Kate and her family forever.

“Narrated in Kate’s quiet first-person voice, the book is the book is divided into three parts, one for each rule… (r)eading cultivates empathy. This should do the trick.” – Kirkus Reviews

“While familiar unions are falling apart, other surprising connections are blossoming. As Kate struggles to untangle the truth and find her power, she discovers new friendships and the enduring love of her family. The theme of loss is heartrending, the story line fast-paced and compelling. A fine addition to middle grade collections in need of character-driven family stories.”– School Library Journal

The newsletter goes out October 29.

The #MGBookClub Twitter chat will be November 6.

Happy reading!