BOOK REVIEWS

The Door by the Staircase Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-04-17 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 19 user ratings
ISBN:142313785X
LANGUAGE:English

"This book is an imaginative use of a classic Russian character, Baba Yaga. It is a combination of fantasy, supernatural and folklore using the theme of orphan who is unwanted, finally finds a family and earns their love. It also develops the theme of young children who are loners, finally finding a friend and being willing to do whatever they need to help them.

The book begins with Mary trying to escape the orphanage. Her mother and brother died in a fire while Mary, who had snuck out to the fire escape to read a book her brother had given he, survived. She was moved to an orphanage which she dislikes very much. The woman running it is mean, cheap and does not like Mary. When Mary finally escapes the building using the chimney, she is trapped by a whirlwind who wakes Mrs. Boots. Mary is dragged back inside, miserable. The next day, an old woman arrives at the orphanage and wants to adopt Mary. Mrs. Z, a Russian lady, promises to feed and take care of Mary. Mary happily leaves the orphanage with nothing but her book and the clothes on her back. Mary's new home is located at the edge of a town called Iris. It is a town full of charlatans who perform "magic" for tourists. Madame Z tells Mary to steer clear of them or she will be taken, but she meets and develops a friendship with a young boy named Jacob. Madame Z on the other hand, appears to have real magic. She has a house that is alive, a talking cat, a flying fire-breathing horse and a flying mortal and pestle .Mary and Madame Z have a comfortable relationship, but something seems to be wrong. With the help of her new friend Jacob, they uncover the truth and have to save not only Baba Yaga/Madame Z, but the town and woods around the town.

I had a few minor issues with this book. The first is that the book starts off strong, but then starts to drag a bit. DO NOT stop, because the ending is fantastic. I am also not sure about the title. Yes there is a door by the staircase, but it is really not the main point of the story and was rather misleading. Having said that, the way the author developed the relationships between the characters was exceptional. There was nothing force, but it was allowed to develop naturally. The villian was not unveiled until near the end and it was quite exciting. Overall a good read, but remember if it gets slow, do not give it. A great Middle Grades book that should be in all school and classroom libraries. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
" said.

"Children’s fantasy
Target audience: grades 4-6

Mary is a young orphan who is living at a miserable orphanage at the turn of the 20th century in Buffalo, New York. One day, after deciding to escape the orphanage, Mary is adopted by a strange old woman and taken to an unusual town named Iris (seemingly based on the town of Lily Dale) in western New York. Most of the residents of Iris are magicians, mediums, and other supposed practitioners of magic, but Mary begins to suspect that certain residents of the town can use real magic. In time, Mary discovers that her new adoptive mother is actually the Russian fairy tale witch, Baba Yaga, who is looking for her next meal. Mary must use her wits and her new friendship with a local boy to save herself and discover family.

Strengths
-The book is well-written and uses challenging but appropriate vocabulary.
-The book introduces elements from Russian folklore to those unfamiliar with it in an accessible way.

Weaknesses
-At times the plot drags too slowly.
-The book’s moral tone feels off.
-By setting the tale in the United States instead of Russia, a lot of interesting aspects of Russian folklore are lost.

From the packaging of this book, I expected it to be scarier than it actually was. The combination of the title, The Door by the Staircase, the black cat on the cover, and the Halloween-ish imagery led me to believe it would be a story similar to something like Coraline. Instead the book is a fairly typical fairy tale retelling. It was mildly entertaining, but there is a lot of middle grade fantasy out there and I didn’t think that there was much to recommend this one over others.

I was a little puzzled by some of the choices the author made for this book. Baba Yaga is a traditional Russian folkloric figure, so I would expect that a historical fantasy featuring her would be set in Russia. For whatever reason, the book is actually set in New York sometime around the turn of the 20th century. And while I know that Baba Yaga is a morally ambiguous character, her portrayal here was strange. The book focuses on the fact that she eats children (not unlike the witch in Hansel and Gretel), but decides to redeem her by the end when she promises to not eat children anymore and to live with the main character, Mary, as the child’s mother. That part of the story did not really seem resolved to me and I had a hard time wholly forgiving a character who had eaten so many children and expressed very little remorse about it. I think the author was trying to make a point about moral ambiguity, but I didn’t think it worked well at all. Overall, it’s not a book I would particularly recommend.
" said.

" Fractured fairytale of Russian Baba Yaga. Great storyline. " said.

" What a surprise! I’m not a huge Baba Yaga fan, but I loved this so much. Mary is both vulnerable and strong and she uses her wits, intelligence and intuition to survive; Madame Z is transformed by love and evolves into a character that readers root for. A little bit scary, this reads like a fairy tale and has wonderful deeper messages about love and family. " said.

" I really enjoyed this storyline of Baba Yaga and Mary's relationship.It got me hooked from page one and I liked all the characters and magical elements in it.The Russian folklore was intriguing as well. 4.5 stars. " said.

" Fast paced, magic in the real world, boy/girl friendship, Baba Yaga, folklore, intrigueRead alike for Circus Mirandus " said.

" 4.5* actually. Darn the lack of half stars! Really liked this one. What a pleasant surprise. " said.

" Interesting twist on the fairytale/myth of Babayaga. I liked the journey Mary and Jacob took through the magical creatures and how it helped them on the final part of their quest. " said.

April 2017 New Book:

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