review of middle-grade novel Sister Magic: Violet Takes the Cake by Anne Mazer

Sister Magic: Violet Takes The Cake

by Anne Mazer, illustrated by Bill Brown

Scholastic (November 2008)

ISBN-10: 0439872502, ISBN-13: 978-0439872508

Ages 8-12

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“What about this one?” Violet yanked at one of the wedding gowns.
“Violet!” Mabel cried. “Your hands! Be careful!”
She checked for sticky fingerprints on the shimmering white fabric. Luckily, there were none.
“Try it on,” Violet said to Aunt Dolores. “It’s the most perfectest one.”
“The most perfect one,” Mabel corrected her. “And it can’t be.”
Violet knew no more about wedding dresses than she did about computer engineering. She had never even opened a magazine!
“This is the last one for now,” Aunt Dolores warned.
She slipped the gown off its hanger and held it up against herself. It was a long white gown with silvery patterns running up and down the length of the dress.
“It’s lovely, Violet,” Aunt Dolores said.
Mabel had to admit it was. Count on Violet to pick out something gorgeous by sheer luck.
“Funny I didn’t see it before,” Aunt Dolores said as she stepped into it. “It kind of appeared out of nowhere.”
Mabel’s stomach did a funny little jump.
Nowhere? Now what did that mean? She hoped it wasn’t what she thought.

Magic Sisters: Violet Takes the Cake by Anne Mazer, illustrated by Bill Brown, p. 12-13.

I love light, fun early readers and middle-grade stories that have a child-like playfulness and innocence to them. I enjoy stories with more depth and grit, too, but sometimes you just want to relax with a book and feel happy. And that’s what happened for me with Sister Magic: Violet Takes The Cake.

Mabel and Violet are two sisters who each are talented in their own ways. Eight-year-old Mabel tries hard to be helpful to others and seek approval, she’s a bit repressed, and she loves researching things and following directions. She also tries to keep a tight rein on her five-year old sister, Violet. Violet has magic. She likes to use it to help others, she doesn’t keep it a secret the way Mabel thinks she should, and she’s much more of a free spirit, even in her clothing choices.

Mabel and Violet both want to help their Aunt Dolores have the perfect wedding, but they help in different ways. Mabel continually tries control Violet, to keep her from using magic or talking about it. Sibling rivalry ensues, as does magic.

The story starts off seeming like a regular family with some sibling rivalry. The first few pages didn’t grab me–they felt a bit empty, and missing something, but I kept reading, and I’m very glad I did. Near the end of chapter two, we get the first hint that there’s something unusual about Violet, and possibly magic, and by the end of the second chapter, we know it for sure. That’s where my interest peaked, and I found myself really enjoying the story.

I hadn’t read any books in the series before, and since there was no or little catching the reader up, there were a few things that took me a while to figure out. For more than half the book, I thought the two girls lived with their aunt and that their parents were dead, because they were with the aunt all the time and wanting to please her so much, and there were very few mentions of the parents except things in the past, until the mother briefly appeared. I didn’t get a feeling for Mabel and Violet’s parents at all, and the father never appears. I would have liked them to be a bit more fleshed out or present characters. But Mabel and Violet are strong personalities, Mabel most of all.

It’s great fun for readers to imagine that magic can really happen and can make things easier in someone’s life, the way Violet does, such as finding the perfect wedding dress, shoes, invitations, and more for her Aunt Dolores, saving them all days and days of shopping and strife. It’s fun, too, to see how easily Violet makes it happen, and how much Mabel worries about it. This contrast works well, increasing the tension and propelling the story forward.

Mazer set it up so that because of Mabel’s constant worries that Violet’s magic would go wrong, we,too, worried that something bad would happen–but nothing ever did. Because there was so much at stake–their favorite aunt’s happiness and wedding–the reader quickly comes to care about this and doesn’t want anything to go wrong, either. I loved that Violet succeeded, and all the good feeling that came along with it, but I thought that one small thing should have gone awry that could be fixed–if not with the magic, then with something else. I wouldn’t want Violet’s magic to always go wrong, though; Violet’s success feels good.

Mabel worried so much about Violet’s magic going wrong somehow–having the wedding dress she conjured up turn into plaid pajamas or newspaper–that it made me wonder if this was a theme in the other books, if in fact Violet’s magic went awry. Or perhaps it’s just part of Mabel’s character. In this book, Violet’s magic all worked out beautifully. I found that satisfying; I wanted Violet’s magic to work, perhaps especially because Mabel, controlling and critical, worried so much that it wouldn’t.

Mazer tells the reader small amounts of backstory, which helps flesh out the main story more–such as that the adults try to keep the magic a secret and get upset about it; and that Uncle Vartan is magic, too. Uncle Vartan and his magic is mentioned a number of times, and so when he finally appears in the end, it felt like a build up to something happening–but nothing happened with him. For me, that was a small let down, and I felt like I’d been misled.

It’s great fun for the reader to see how the adults are so clueless about Violet’s magic, and how they keep assuming absurd things in order not to see that she used magic (or because they can’t admit to themselves that magic happened) while the children are in the know. Since the reader will identify with the two children, this is extra fun and may help the reader feel more powerful (when children often feel powerless in contrast to adults). Readers will also enjoy knowing that Mabel and Violet (and the reader) *may* be the only ones who know that Violet’s magic. THe reader may wonder if some of the adults actually do know and are keeping it a secret.

Brown’s line drawings are scattered throughout the book. They enhance the story; they feel, like the story, fun and light, with great energy. Violet, especially, looks playful and exhuberent, with her wild, swirling curly hair, while Mabel looks more controlled with her long, straight hair neatly pulled back. Brown captured their personalities well.

This is a light-hearted, fun, thoroughly enjoyable read. If you’re looking for a book to bring some lightness to your day, check this out. I know I’m already wanting to read other books in the series. Recommended!

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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3 Responses to review of middle-grade novel Sister Magic: Violet Takes the Cake by Anne Mazer

  1. Deanna H says:

    I know what you mean about sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the bigger/deeper books. This sounds like a simple, fun flowing book. Thanks for the review!

  2. Cheryl says:

    It’s definitely a fun book. Thanks for the thanks, Deanna; that was so nice to hear.

  3. Rabaty says:

    After I initially commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment
    is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service?

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