Summer is the perfect time for enchantment and adventure. First-time author Jeanne Birdsall delivers both with ease in her fanciful new novel, The Penderwicks, in which four very different sisters spend a summer vacation with their faithful dog, Hound, and their botany professor father, who takes his daughters' adventures in stride and has a penchant for quoting Latin.

The Penderwick sisters include gentle Rosalind, 12, who experiences her first unrequited love; stubborn Skye, 11, who excels at sports and is teaching herself algebra; daydreamer Jane, 10, who is constantly thinking of the next episode in her Sabrina Starr stories; and spirited Batty, 4, who goes nowhere without her butterfly wings. Having lost their mother to a terminal illness just after Batty was born, the sisters have formed a fierce bond.

The setting of their unforgettable summer vacation is a cottage on the Arundel estate. While Mrs. Tifton, the icy owner of the mansion, forbids the uncouth children to play in her sprawling gardens, her son, Jeffrey, immediately befriends the sisters. When they learn that the fatherless and musically talented boy is going to be shipped off to a military school, the Penderwick sisters make it a mission to save Jeffrey from a horrific fate.

If not for a few rare mentions of computers and other modern-day gadgets, readers might think this nostalgic novel takes place decades ago. Whether rescuing escaped rabbits or Batty from a bull's pen, barging into Mrs. Tifton's garden competition, searching through attic trunks to find vintage dresses to wear to Jeffrey's birthday party, eating homemade gingerbread or shooting rubber-tipped arrows at a cutout of Mrs. Tifton's fiancŽ, the girls' adventures are always endearing and fun. And in the course of the summer, the sisters come to realize their own talents, challenges and changes.

The first cool nights of fall sadly remind us that summer is over. The conclusion of The Penderwicks leaves you with that same wistful feeling: if only the magic of friends and family could continue a little longer.

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