Gr 5-8-With their doctor parents in Ethiopia, William Constant and his younger sisters must spend winter holidays with their Uncle Jack and his girlfriend in a remote mansion in Wales. The children adore their Uncle Jack, but are suspicious of pregnant Phoebe, a vegetarian. With nothing to do and the prospect of a meatless Christmas dinner staring them in the face, the youngsters are miserable. Then, as Uncle Jack begins to discover the strange history of his newly purchased house and Phoebe and the animals of the countryside begin acting strangely, the siblings notice a window at the top of the chimney. Quick figuring leads them to the conclusion that there is a secret room, and thanks to a trick of the light, William discovers the steps in the chimney that lead them to a magician. Stephen Tyler, magician and visitor from the past, says they will be tested, and they are. When the house becomes snowbound and Phoebe goes into labor, it's up to the children and their animal companions to save the day (and the baby). This first book in a quartet (already finished in its native Britain) might be paced a bit slowly for some American readers, but the writing is excellent, the mood appropriate and sustained, and the characters nicely rounded. A must for all paperback fantasy collections.- Timothy Capehart, Leominster Public Library, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.