Although contemporary in setting, adult author Ephron’s (Loose Diamonds, 2011, etc.) first children’s book is a paean to classical English children’s books of yore.
With their journalist father in Afghanistan and their mother supposedly writing a book but actually ill, Long Islanders Tess and Max are sent to their aunt’s Wi-Fi–less home in a little English village. While exploring the environs, Tess finds an antique brass key that opens an ornate gate in an invisible wall. She discovers a new friend, William, and a magical castle with beautiful gardens, a maze, and carnival rides and sculptures that come to life. Could this be the abandoned Bramsfield Castle? On one particularly fantastical night—a night of both a blue moon and a blood moon, when Tess dances with the stars—Max, although warned, steps into the ominous hawthorn wood and disappears. Attempting rescue, William and Tess encounter Morphons, rocks turned into gryphonlike, soul-stealing creatures. Tess learns the power of wishes. Rich description of the castle along with an elaborate map at the book’s beginning and an illustration at the end enhance the fantasy world. At the novel’s happy ending, the castle’s history is revealed, including the importance of William’s French governess. All characters, past and present, appear to be white.
A sequel is suggested; beguiled readers will hope it happens. (Fantasy. 8-12)