Friday, June 19, 2015

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

There aren't a lot of authors who I unreservedly trust to write books that I will love every time, but Ursula Vernon is one. I've been agog to read her newest book, as it's a departure from her previous series and oh, how I loved it.

Castle Hangnail is in dire straits. If they don't get a Master soon, the Board of Magic will decommission the castle and the minions will have to leave their home. But when an applicant for the vacancy shows up, declaring she's a Wicked Witch, they're a little...skeptical. She's awfully....short. And young. And is she really wicked? Or a witch at all? But Molly slowly becomes part of the castle, turns out to have some quite impressive magic, and it seems like everything is working out. Until Molly's secrets are revealed and the minions have to make some difficult choices.

I seem to be reading a lot of books about twelve year old girls and their growing pains recently. This doesn't have the poignancy and realism of My Life in Dioramas of course, but it nonetheless strikes home on some universal feelings and struggles of pre-teens; finding a place where you fit in, difficult friends, self-confidence, and having the courage to admit mistakes. There's also a voodoo doll with a pet goldfish who sews exquisite clothes, a donkey who sometimes turns into a dragon, and lots of gardening hints.

Ursula Vernon fans will recognize many of the characters in the spot illustrations from works she's done over the years and fall in love all over again with her artwork, especially tough, quirky, sturdy Molly. The acknowledgements mention Eva Ibbotson several times and I can definitely see her influence in this book with the emphasize on discovering your place and true friends and making characters that are often considered window-dressing, like minions, the pivotal personalities of the book.

Verdict: Just as Molly discovers, Castle Hangnail isn't for everyone - but for those special readers they'll fall in love and never want to leave. Hand this one to your readers who like funny fantasy and are starting to also want things that probe a little more deeply into thoughts and feelings. I'd recommend it to fans of Ibbotson, except I unfortunately don't have any. This is one that will be easy to booktalk though and will find new fans wherever it goes. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780803741294; Published April 2015 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Review copy kept for my personal collection; Purchased for the library

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