In this sequel to Carnival Magic (2018), a Christmas trip to London tumbles siblings Tess and Max into a mystery frozen in time.
The snowstorms might be keeping Tess and Max’s parents from flying to join them and Aunt Evie at the posh Sanborn Hotel, but they do promise a magical ramble through Hyde Park. A mysterious coachman, his equally mysterious horse, and a well-dressed, soft-spoken boy called Colin are the first of a series of fantastical figures linking the modern world to a Christmas nearly a century past. At first the magic seems benign enough—Colin invites Tess and Max to what seems to be a fancy-dress party on the hotel’s hitherto-nonexistent eighth floor, where he and his family live. When things take a dramatic turn for the worse, however, Tess is left alone, and she must use Max’s logic and her own imaginative wit to save both Max’s and Colin’s lives as well as to discover just what was so important about the events of “December, 1926: Three Days before Christmas.” Ephron’s simply told tale of Christmas magic draws a loving and occasionally turbulent sibling relationship through Tess’ eyes. The plot is gently paced, with several twists working to maintain readers’ interest right up to the end—which, to the book’s discredit, feels somewhat rushed. Characterization is minimal, which might throw readers unfamiliar with the preceding books for a loop, but the characters themselves are likable and suitably quirky. The cast is default white.
A mild-mannered Christmas caper. (Fantasy. 8-12)