HOOKED ON BOOKS: Magical books pack emotional punch

Keep your hanky handy when reading these tales of magic, superpowers, saints, and a suffering prince, because they stir feelings known to decongest the nasal passages.


A while back, I mentioned some “healing” books that pack in laughs alongside emotionally moving moments.

For example, Susan Cooper’s “The Boggart” made me laugh and cry in just the first chapter. Another writer who mentions boggarts, J.K. Rowling, has the same knack.

Here are a few more books with a touch of magic and a ton of heart – books I almost can’t talk about without getting choked up.

‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman

In this book, a boy feels deadly fear and death-defying courage. He befriends a girl who seems older than the world. He meets beings whose presence spells doom, and brings one of them home by mistake. It takes a heartbreaking magic beyond magic to set things right again.

This is a masterfully told story about the gulf between childhood and maturity, the magic of remembering and the mercy of forgetting, and the bittersweetness of being a lonely kid with a strong imagination. Who doesn’t relate to that?


‘The Face in the Frost’ by John Bellairs

Prospero and Roger are a pair of funny little men who happen to be wizards. They study hard, command weird powers and are a bit cracked, but have warm hearts.

Then an evil chill begins spreading across the land, and they’re understandably scared. You’ll thrill to their adventures, share their horrors, sniffle with their sorrows – in short, love them.

Other wizards who cast a spell on my heart include Ged in Ursula K. Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea” and Schmendrick in Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn.”

‘The Girl Who Could Fly’ by Victoria Forester

Keeping her ability to fly a secret makes Piper’s childhood rather lonely. When word gets out, she is swept off to a place called INSANE – not a school where superkids learn to use their powers, but a prison where no abnormality is tolerated.

The staff is nasty, but the students are tough, too. Worst of all is Conrad, a genius at mayhem. Her strength of character makes Piper his match. Together, they plan an INSANE escape.

This book’s blend of flawed but endearing characters, fun and danger reminds me of David Lubar’s “Hidden Talents” and Catherine Jinks’ “Evil Genius.”

‘Millions’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Suppose it’s the final days before the U.K. adopts the Euro. A little boy named Damian has visions of the saints, and one day, a bag of pound notes en route to be destroyed falls off a train and right into his lap. What should he do? What would his grieving dad do, or his materialist brother, when they have 17 days to spend a sack of money before it goes worthless?

Damian’s family struggles to deal with loss, helped by holy martyrs who may only exist in the kid’s head, while a bad guy closes in. Whether Damian is doing sainthood right or not, he’s an unforgettable boy, and his story will fill you with joy.


‘The Evil Wizard Smallbone’ by Delia Sherman

Fleeing an abusive home, Nick accepts an apprenticeship with an evil wizard. As he starts to learn magic, he discovers a 200-year-old deal binding the wizard to the nearby town.

Now the town’s protective spells are falling. A werewolf biker gang wants to move in. A custody battle over Nick sparks a magic duel, and only evil can win.

This inventive story features a home-school route to learning magic. It surprises, charms, spooks and leaves lingering feelings. It’s full of personality, snappy dialogue and believable, small-town politics, with closing lines that made me laugh aloud.

‘Mimus’ by Lilli Thal

Young Prince Florin travels to a neighboring kingdom, expecting to marry a princess and end a war. Instead, he is betrayed, imprisoned and made a court jester’s apprentice.

In a wrenching tale of endurance, Florin learns to play a double role. Mimus teaches him the arts of foolery while he is tortured, starved and humiliated. Meanwhile, he worries about his country, surviving on scraps of joy and secret messages urging him not to lose hope.

Florin’s final hours of captivity bloom with suspense. He goes through a wringer, and so will you.

Most fascinating, though, is the character of Mimus – cruel yet tender, degraded yet capable of scorching wit. His antics make you shudder, cringe, laugh and cry – sometimes all at once.

Robin Fish is an avid reader who blogs about books and other topics at Contact him with questions or suggestions at

Related Topics: BOOKS
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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