The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am enamored by Kate, Michael, and especially Emma. There is never a dull moment and each character introduced is unique and necessary for the story.
The children are whisked away one Christmas Eve night in the midst of a car chase which left them at the mercy of a few orphanages and in the possession of only two items from their parents, a history book about dwarves and a locket. Fast forward ten years and they are still being scuttled among orphanages which are getting worse and worse. Kate is 14 years old and has been taking care of the Michael, now 12 and Emma, age 11. Michael is enamored by dwarves, which aren't real, you know. Just ask Emma who will mercilessly tease her brother and tell him to stop talking endlessly about the mythical creatures that he loves so much he just marry them. Michael pays no mind because he is book smart and knows it all. Just ask him.
They tick off the last orphanage and are sent to a very bad place called Cambridge Falls which turns out to be a decrepit palace run by a mysterious Dr. Pyne and managed by old Abraham and a housekeeper named Miss Sallow who quite lives up to her name. She's also a dismal housekeeper.
One day while exploring the castle, the children stumble across a book which appears to be empty. One child accidentally touches a picture taken of the town 15 years ago and they are suddenly transported to that time and place. It's a horrible time, though. A magical being named the Countess has been bullying the townspeople to serve her and to find a treasure (Hint: Emerald Atlas) and she brought horrible creatures with her called Screechers.
The trick is to get the book back, hold hands, and insert picture so they can return to the present time. But now they kind of feel obligated to save the children from the Countess and might as well help out the menfolk. And Emma gets shot by a poisoned arrow but Gabriel from a neighboring village decides to be a good guy. And then there are the other magical creatures like the wizard who might just be a younger version of Dr. Pyne and the short guys with braided beards that Michael loves so much he should just marry them.
Honestly, the story is much too complex to discuss in detail but I had a very good time reading it, laughing out loud, then rereading my favorite parts. Loved it.