** This review originally appeared on http://bellesbookshelf.blogspot.com/ **This book was pretty magical.I picked it up not really knowing what to expect, except that I liked the cover (yep, I judge books by their covers), and that it was "kinda like Harry Potter" according to my fiance, who'd read about one chapter of it before I stole it off him while we were on holidays. Well, it is "kinda like Harry Potter", in that it involves an old wizard, a trio of kids, magic and a few mythical creatures, but that description could also apply to most children's fantasy novels. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a fun and unique tale.The Emerald Atlas follows the story of siblings Kate, Michael and Emma, who have been bounced from orphanage to orphanage ever since their parents disappeared 10 years ago. After all hope of adoption is given up, they're shipped off to one last orphanage in the unheard-of Cambridge Falls. They soon discover they're the only three children in the whole village, but things turn even weirder when they find a big green book which, when they place a photo in it, allows them to travel to the time and place it was taken. What follows is one helluva journey, on which the children find new friends, old friends, plenty of enemies and more than a bit of trouble.Stephens (who, interestingly, has previously written for two of my fave shows, The O.C. and Gilmore Girls) does a wonderful job of constructing the world of Cambridge Falls and its mysterious inhabitants. The trio of siblings are admirable and interesting characters, and both they and the colourful array of secondary characters are well-drawn, forging a tale that is full of heroism, heart and humour. With a whimsical, action-packed plot, the Atlas' 400+ pages were never a struggle to get through. Occasionally I did get frustrated at the way the the narration jumps back and forth between characters, leaving little cliffhangers everywhere, but it definitely made for an effective page-turner.The first in a trilogy called The Books of Beginning, The Emerald Atlas leaves a few questions hanging that I would've liked answers to sooner rather than later, but overall I was happy with the sense of closure you get for this first chapter, and am eager to read the epic adventures I'm sure the next novel will hold!