Dial, 2015 372 pgs
Veteran author, Ursula Vernon (Dragonbreath series), offers a new story for a slightly older audience. Twelve-year-old Molly arrives at Castle Hangnail in response to an invitation to be their new resident witch: an invitation not intended for her, but her nasty neighbor, Eudaimonia. The quirky but lovable minions of the castle are unconvinced of Molly's skills, but Molly eventually wins them over with her ingenuity, attitude, and kindness. She also wins over the bats and moles who reside in the castle, various neighbors and townspeople, and a donkey she turns into a dragon. The castle is in disrepair and financial ruin and Molly devises plans to raise some money for much needed repairs, all while fending off an over-ambitious real estate agent. Molly passes all of the tests required by the Board and looks as if she is here to stay. Quite unexpectedly, her former neighbor and nemesis, Eudaimonia, appears determined to take her rightful place as the master of the castle. After a brief loss of confidence and retreat, Molly returns resolved to fight for what she believes is now hers. The minions agree and pledge their loyalty and assistance to Molly. Through a cunning use of teamwork, witchcraft, and resourcefulness, the housemates manage to defeat Eudaimonia and her henchmen in an epic battle. Peace is restored at the castle. Yet one problem remains: will Molly be allowed by her parents to stay at Castle Hangnail or be forced to return home now that "camp" is over.
Although longer and more involved that the Dragonbreath series, Vernon again offers a well-crafted fantasy world infused with interesting characters and humor. Castle Hangnail has a great plot that never lags. It rolls along from one crisis to another, all building up to the final show-down. Through it all, the humor never lets up, even during the most critical battle. This is a perfect choice for reluctant readers. Castle Hangnail provides non-stop action and fun right up tho the very last page. Little bats are in the margins of every page, adding a little extra interest. Cartoon-like illustrations further make the book accessible to readers and makes the book read quickly. Molly is a "regular girl", although a magical one, who children will relate to. Unlike Harry Potter, who struggles with his special abilities, Molly embraces them and throws herself head-first into this magical environment. The minions are the true stars of the story. From the guardian/butler of the castle, Majordomo, to the Minotaur cook and the castle tailor, Pins, a stuffed creature made of burlap. All of the characters are eccentric and appealing. The evil sorceress/neighbor, Eudaimonia, is deliciously vile and provides the perfect foil for the lovable creatures who reside in the castle. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book and I would recommend it for all readers, including those who don't generally read fantasy. The book ends with the promise of Molly staying on at the castle, so, hopefully, this means that further adventures await.