Witch Catcher by Mary Downing Hahn. Copy from library.
The Plot: Jen's widowed father inherits a castle in West Virginia; well, actually, it's an old house that looks like a castle. And it is full of antiques and treasures and strange things; including a tower in the back, with a padlocked door. Jen, 12, cannot resist the temptation to go exploring and discovers a strange glass globe. Moura, a friend of her father's, asks Jen if she's seen a glass globe -- a "witch catcher."
Jen doesn't like this new woman, and doesn't admit it's upstairs in her room. It turns out that there is something trapped in the globe; something that looks like a girl. Jen's cat, Tink, breaks the witch catcher, releasing what was trapped inside.
Is Moura a friend, or foe? What about the witch -- or thing -- trapped in the globe? Who should Jen trust?
The Good: This is the type of book I adored as a kid. Inheriting a big old house, full of rooms to explore and treasure to uncover? A dream come true.
It was such a disappointment to look at my family tree and realize that while books were full of people who were the only living relative of distant, barely known rich relatives, I was doomed to a life of knowing all my relatives and even if a distant, rich one existed somewhere, and died, plenty of other relatives would have dibs on the house. Life just isn't fair.
Jen soon figures out that Moura has bewitched Jen's father. It's not just that her father has fallen for Moura, and that Jen, an only child, is jealous; it's that her father has started acting strangely (meaning rudely and mean) towards Jen. Jen knows enough to know that her father would never change towards her just because of some woman; there has to be something more going on!
Now, this is another point that is well done. Because while it turns out Jen is right -- Moura is a witch and has evil reasons for wanting the witch catcher and her power over Jen's father in an attempt to get the witch catcher -- many kids do have parents who change dramatically once a new partner (or potential partner) enters the picture. While Witch Catcher is a fantasy, it realistically depicts Jen's sense of outrage and betrayal at having a "new person" enter her tight family circle and having her father "choose" someone else.
Witches and fairies, good and bad, enter the picture. Jen has to battle Moura, protect her father, and also figure out that while Moura may be her enemy, are the enemies of her enemies (that is, the creatures that were trapped in the glass globes) really her friends?
One more cool thing: along the way, Jen gets turned into a variety of animals. As I said, I would have loved this book as a kid. She's a cat, she's a squirrel, she's a bat.
Last thing: Because I know how much the child me would have liked this book, it's a Best Book of 2006.
Links: An interview with the author. Photos of "witch balls." The Planet Esme Review.