Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of New Kid, by Jerry Craft

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
with color by Jim Callahan

Harper, 2019. 250 pages.
Review written March 12, 2019, from a library book

Navigating middle school is the perfect subject for graphic novels and fictionalized memoirs. I’m thinking of Smile, Roller Girl, Real Friends, All’s Faire in Middle School, and Be Prepared — and then realize that none of those I mentioned have a boy protagonist. So, okay, it’s time.

New Kid is about Jordan Banks, an African American boy who’s being sent by his parents to start seventh grade at a fancy private school. Jordan wants to go to art school, but his mother thinks this is such a wonderful opportunity, he needs to go Riverdale Academy Day School.

This graphic novel is about navigating middle school as the new kid – and a new kid who’s one of the few African American students. We notice things like teachers consistently calling him by the wrong name, and other students looking at him when financial aid is mentioned, and assuming he’ll especially like the one teacher who’s African American.

And there are other quirks of middle school. Making friends. A girl who carries a puppet on her hand and talks in a puppet voice. A mean kid and his friends. A nice kid who’s really rich. What your parents want for you versus what you want (art school). Keeping up with friends who don’t attend the private school.

I hope this book is as popular as the ones I named above. It’s a lot of fun, and it throws in some insights along the way.

jerrycraft.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits, by Julian Gough & Jim Field

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Rabbit & Bear

Rabbit’s Bad Habits

story by Julian Gough
illustrations by Jim Field

SilverDolphin, San Diego, 2018. First published in Great Britain in 2016. 101 pages.
Starred Review

I want to call this a charming beginning chapter book, but it doesn’t actually have chapters. It’s got the format and length and skill level of a beginning chapter book, though, and is perfect for those readers. (I find myself wishing they’d stuck chapter breaks in just so the kids could say they’d read a chapter book.)

The story is about Bear waking up early in the middle of winter and deciding she’s going to build a snowman. She meets Rabbit, who knows much more about making a snowman than Bear does, and has plenty of advice.

Along the way, they make friends, even though Rabbit has done some not-very-nice things. But he has given Bear a carrot for her snowman, so when a Wolf is after Rabbit, Bear uses what she’s learned to save the day.

And we learn that you can be friends with someone who may have some quirks and may not be nice every moment. Not that you should be friends with someone who’s mean, but read the book! It manages just the right balance.

What’s more, we learn why rabbits eat their own poo! (Their food is only half-digested. But it’s all explained clearly.)

The overall product is a making-friends story with charmingly flawed and friendly characters.

And it’s the start of a series! I can’t wait for more.

silverdolphinbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, by Diane Magras

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter

by Diane Magras

Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin Young Readers Group), March 2019. 271 pages.
Review written February 25, 2019, from an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.
Starred Review

This book bills itself as a “Companion” to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, suggesting you can read them in any order, but I think you’ll be better off reading the first book first – to find out how the young daughter of the war lord known as the Mad Wolf became the best friend of the lord of a castle who’s on the run and wounded.

The book is set in medieval Scotland. Drest rescued her father and brothers from the castle dungeon in the last book, but it turned out that Emerick’s uncle wants him dead, so he escaped the castle with them, still without having his wounds tended.

Drest’s father thinks it’s time for them to take care of Drest, but she learned in the last book that she can take care of herself. And Emerick doesn’t trust anyone to guard him as he trusts Drest.

But Emerick’s uncle has put a price on Drest’s head, so anyone who finds her will kill her. On top of that, he’s coming to look for her, as well as Emerick. If Emerick dies, he will be lord of the castle. Can Drest protect Emerick and help him find healing while staying alive herself?

This is another rollicking adventure with a girl who is deservedly a legend.

dianemagras.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

by Gary D. Schmidt

Review written March 25, 2019, from a library book
Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 217 pages.
Starred Review

This book was delightful. I shouldn’t have chosen it to read during Silent Book Club, because I kept coming to spots that made me chuckle. My friend was reading Game of Thrones, and she said it was a little incongruous. Oops!

And yet some serious topics are covered in this book. There’s a little brother who died and an absent father. So that my primary response was chuckling shows that the serious topics were handled with a light touch and my overall response is delight.

Here’s how the book begins:

If it hadn’t been the first day of school, and if my mother hadn’t been crying her eyes out the night before, and if the fuel pump on the Jeep had been doing what a fuel pump on a Jeep is supposed to be doing, and if it hadn’t been raining like an Australian tropical thunderstorm – and I’ve been in one, so I know what it’s like – and if the very last quart of one percent milk hadn’t gone sour and clumped up, then probably my mother would never have let the Butler into our house.

As it was, it was a crazy morning, and Carter Jones was the one who answered the door when the Butler rang their bell.

There’s some confusion, but the Butler, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, takes things in hand. It turns out that Carter’s grandfather has died, and in his will, he provided a generous endowment for Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick to now serve his son’s family.

That son is Carter’s father, who is now serving with the military in Germany. But the family can definitely use his services, though Carter’s not so sure he wants someone calling him “Young Master Jones” and requiring him to behave with good manners.

And then the Butler dresses Carter up in white, along with his friend Billy, and takes him to the school football field to learn to play cricket.

It seems like disaster when the eighth grade cross country team sees them – two sixth graders dressed strangely being taught to play cricket by an Englishman. But one thing leads to another, and soon the entire eighth grade cross country team is learning the fine points of playing cricket.

There are tidbits about the game of cricket at the start of each chapter – and I’m still completely confused by the rules. Though I do have a much better idea of how it works than before I picked up this book.

The whole idea of a proper English gentleman’s gentleman dealing with an American sixth-grade boy is what gives this book layers upon layers of humor. Carter Jones, though, is dealing with some big issues – and Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick also has compassion, in his proper English way.

I finished this book with a smile on my face. Completely delightful!

PS: Something else I loved about the book was that the principal was Principal Swietek! And the town is Marysville! Why is that so exciting? We find out who Doug Swietek married from Okay for Now, which was set in Marysville in the sixties. (The principal is female and her first name is given at one point.) Very fun for Gary Schmidt fans. In fact, I reread my review of Okay for Now, and yes I was right that it was the same town. Now I want to reread the book.

hmhco.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Sweep

The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

by Jonathan Auxier

Amulet Books, 2018. 358 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 23, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy
2019 Sydney Taylor Gold Medal

The way this book begins gives you a feeling of the magic to come:

There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning. You might see your parents sleeping. You might see an unclaimed penny on the sidewalk or the first rays of dawn. And if you are very, very lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the girl and her Sweep.

Look! Here they are now, approaching through the early fog: a thin man with a long broom over one shoulder, the end bobbing up and down with every step. And trailing behind him, pail in hand, a little girl, who loves that man more than anything in the world.

The girl, Nan, is the assistant to the Sweep and life is beautiful by his side.

But one night, the Sweep doesn’t come back. He leaves her his hat and coat, with a charred clump of soot in its pocket. She calls it her “char,” and it’s oddly comforting and unnaturally warm, as she lives the difficult and dangerous life of a “climber” – working for a sweep who is not kind or loving with a bunch of other stray kids who have no other home.

But one day, when Nan’s life is in danger in a tight chimney, she calls out for help – and the char in her pocket comes to life and breaks through the chimney. She ends up escaping from the cruel master and hiding out with her char, who quickly grows into a creature bigger than she is herself. He’s oddly innocent and very protective of her – and eventually Nan figures out that the Sweep made her a golem to protect her. She names him Charlie

This lovely book tells about Nan and Charlie’s adventures in the city, trying to make a home for themselves and escape her cruel master, who is looking for her since she escaped the chimney and was thought to be dead. Meanwhile, we learn about the horrible plight of all the climber children in Victorian London. Can Nan and Charlie make things better for them as well?

But the main trouble with loving a golem? He only lasts until his job is done.

TheScop.com
amuletbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis

Friday, March 15th, 2019

The Girl with the Dragon Heart

by Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 277 pages.
Review written March 9, 2019, from a library book

This book is a sequel to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and technically you may not need to read the first book first, but I think you’ll enjoy this one more if you do and you’ll better understand what’s going on.

In the first book, the young dragon Aventurine was turned into a human girl who learned that she loved chocolate and making chocolate. This book features Aventurine’s friend Silke, a fast talker who lives by the river, running a stall with her brother. Now Silke works in the chocolate shop with Aventurine as a waitress and publicist.

In this book, we learn more about Silke’s background and how she lost her parents six years ago when they were refugees and went through the country where the fairies live underground.

Now the fairies are coming to the city of Drachenburg. They invited themselves as a delegation to talk with the crown princess. She isn’t sure what they’re up to – and asks Silke to infiltrate the palace talks and act as a spy to learn why the fairies are really there. Since that fits perfectly with Silke’s desire to learn what happened to her parents, she quickly agrees.

Silke thinks it will all be easy for a storyteller like her. But right away things don’t go according to plan. And the fairies’ intentions are quickly revealed to be sinister indeed.

This book has adventure, magic, and spying. The story isn’t as simple as the first book (in which a dragon becomes a human girl and hijinks ensue), but it ends up being a fun yarn. And like the first book, I was compelled to eat some chocolate along with my reading.

stephanieburgis.com
bloomsbury.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, by Diane Magras

Friday, March 8th, 2019

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter

by Diane Magras

Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin), 2018. 280 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Historical Children’s Fiction

As this book begins, Drest tries to warn her brother and her father that she sees boats coming to their lair, but they’re convinced she’s dreaming. They know different when attackers burst upon them.

Her father, the war band leader, gets her to flee and hide. But she sees him and all her brothers taken away. She is determined to save them – even if it means reviving the knight who got thrown down a cliff by one of the other knights.

This is a wonderful historical fiction novel – set in medieval Scotland about a young girl who’s small but fierce and resourceful. Her brothers have trained her well. But she only has six days to get to the castle to save her family, and her journey is not uneventful.

You come to love Drest’s fierce, fighting spirit, which is tempered by compassion for those who need help.

Here’s where Drest approaches the knight at the base of the cliff:

Tears sprang to Drest’s eyes. “Your toad-witted people took my da and my brothers. And I didn’t throw you down here; one of your own men did.”

The young knight’s voice quivered. “What a filthy lie. Those are my most faithful men.”

His despair gave Drest courage. She crept closer. “Maybe some of them, but not the one who was up on the cliff with you. I watched him fight and push you down here.” The mist was thickening around them. Drest looked back to find the trail. “Do you know where they’ve taken my da?”

The young knight’s eyes widened. “To Faintree Castle. Do you even know who we are?”

“Nay,” said Drest, “why should I?”

“Everything in this part of the lowlands – including this headland – belongs to Faintree Castle.”

“Is that the truth? Strange. I’ve always known that my da owned this headland and all the lowlands.”

That’s only the beginning of Drest’s surprising adventures.

Fair warning is that while this book finishes at a good stopping-place, not everything is resolved, so I trust there will be more adventures to come. But this book has enough to make this lass become a legend.

dianemagras.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Snow Lane, by Josie Angelini

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

Snow Lane

by Josie Angelini

Feiwel and Friends, January 2018. 197 pages.
Starred Review
This review written December 7, 2017 from an advance reader copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Historical Children’s Fiction

I’ve often complained that I’m not really represented in children’s books, because there simply aren’t too many books with large families. I’m third of thirteen children. And even when big families are portrayed, they often romanticize them as a big barrel of fun.

The narrator of this book is Annie Bianchi, the youngest of nine kids. I like her reaction when people ask her if it’s fun to always have someone to play with.

Someone to play with? When you’re the youngest of nine kids, you aren’t a player. You’re the ball.

(I am now very frustrated I can’t post that quote on Facebook for my siblings to laugh at now in December 2017 when I’m writing this review. All in good time.)

Annie is ten years old as this book begins. Her oldest sister is nineteen, so, whew! Those kids are consistently much closer together than my family. You figure out very early on that some of her older sisters are just plain mean to her. Not cutesy mean, but abusively mean. This makes the book less pleasant, but it’s also more realistic.

The book is set in 1985. I’m not sure why it’s not set in the present. Things were mentioned that happened in 1985, such as the launching of the space shuttle Challenger and the Cabbage Patch doll craze, but that’s probably a little more fun for those of us who lived through those years than for kids today.

Not that my family was as bad as the Bianchi family, but Josie Angelini gets a whole lot of things right about big families: The overall, pervasive neglect, sibling rivalry on a whole new level, what a big sister leaning over you from an upper bunk looks like, shoes with holes in them, hand-me-down clothes, not having people over so they won’t see your house, mess on a whole new level, older siblings playing a parental role, and nobody monitoring your school assignments. Yep, I strongly suspect the author has personal experience with big families. (Sure enough – I checked her blog and she was youngest of eight. Yes, she gets it.)

Reading this book was really sad for me. Some things happened that were much worse than anything I ever faced, but some of the feelings they pulled up – let’s just say I could relate, all too well.

So the writing is brilliant. She nails the description of a big family – overall, as well as including quirky and real individual characters. But despite the tough things that happen, you can’t help but liking Annie.

Annie’s somewhat scatterbrained and has trouble reading because she’s dyslexic. But she’s a quick thinker and in the Academically Creative and Talented class. In that class, they start off fifth grade with a question about Destiny. So Annie spends the year trying to figure out her destiny. While dealing with friends and her crazy big family and how the worlds of school and home can overlap – or not.

The story does build to a crisis. Some big decisions and revelations are made. The book ends on a note of hope, and you find that you’re rooting for Annie Bianchi, who’s a good listener, a good sister, and a good friend.

josephineangelini.com
mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 326 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 4, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 National Book Award Finalist
2019 Schneider Family Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Okay, I love this book, and I love Mason Buttle! I’m writing this at the beginning of my Newbery reading year. I may read many more books I love this year, and I may be the only person on the committee who loves this book – but I am so encouraged that such a wonderful book exists.

Mason Buttle is the biggest and tallest kid in seventh grade. And he has a disorder, so he sweats. A lot. And he has dyslexia, so he’s not very good at reading or writing.

As you may guess, a kid like that with a last name like “Buttle,” will get teased a lot, and bullied. But Mason takes it matter-of-factly.

His family’s gone through a lot lately. Mason’s grandpa died. Then his mother was killed in an accident, so only his grandma, Uncle Drum, and Mason are left. And then Mason’s best friend Benny died.

Benny died after he fell from their tree fort when the top rung of the ladder broke. The sheriff keeps wanting to talk with Mason about it. But he interrupts Mason, and it’s hard for Mason to get his words out. Mason has told the sheriff everything he knows.

But there’s a wonderful teacher at school named Mrs. Blinny. (Mrs. Blinny, too, is quirky and wonderfully described.) She’s got a new machine that Mason can talk into – and it will write down his words for him. Now at last, Mason can write his story.

Meanwhile, Mason makes a new friend, Calvin Chumsky. Calvin gets bullied, too. But the two together start a project together and become friends.

That’s only the bare bones of how the book begins. There’s a lot more going on – things with Mason’s family, things at school, the bully’s nice mother and the bully’s nice dog that Mason dog-sits, the family orchard that Uncle Drum has been selling off, and of course the mystery of what really happened when Benny died and why do so many people in town give Mason a sad-to-see-you look?

But Mason isn’t the type to feel sorry for himself. I challenge anyone to read this book and not just love this kid. Here he is in the very first chapter after he misspelled stopped as STOOPID in a spelling bee and someone put a t-shirt with the word STOOPID in his locker.

Matt Drinker loves when something like that happens. That’s why I’m guessing he put this STOOPID shirt inside my locker. He must have picked my lock to do it. Funny thing is I knew what the shirt said because of the two Os in the middle. I knew in two blinks.

Matt doesn’t know it but he did me a big favor. I always take two shirts to school. Unless I forget. I change just before lunch. This is because of how I sweat. It is a lot. Can’t stop it. Can’t hide it. I need to be dry at the lunch table. Otherwise I’m a total gross-out of a kid.

Well, today was a day that I forgot my extra shirt. So I’m wearing this one that says STOOPID on it. It’s big and it fits me. It’s clean and dry. I’m going to keep moving. Maybe nobody will see what it says.

And if they do, well, tell you what. Plenty worse has happened.

leslieconnor.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

The Flight of Swans

by Sarah McGuire

Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 441 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
Mock Newbery winner at City of Fairfax Regional Library
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. Most of my readers know I love fairy tale retellings – this is a wonderful one, completely pulling me into the fantasy world, getting my very heart beating along with the protagonist, who tried to be silent for six years.

The fairy tale it’s retelling is the Grimm tale, “The Six Swans.” That was never my favorite fairy tale – but I think it’s interesting that my favorite fairy tale retelling for adults, Daughter of the Forest, is based on the same tale. This version is written for children, and doesn’t have quite as brutal things happen to the silent sister, but it’s equally powerful.

I reread the fairy tale after reading this book, and almost wish I hadn’t. The author retained the main elements – six older brothers turned into swans by the witch who enchanted and married the princess’s father, and she has to stay silent for six years, while knitting them shirts made out of nettles. But oh! The way she tells the story! I want to start reading it all over again. I’m actually a bit resentful that I need to keep reading other books. But the Newbery process being what it is – I know that I will read this book more times, and that’s a comfort to me.

Okay, I should tell about the book, not just rave about how good it is.

The book begins with Andaryn trying to fight her father’s enchantment:

The exile of the princes of Lacharra didn’t begin with swords or spells.

It began inside the castle kitchen with a quest for cloves.

It began with me.

Cooks mistrust anyone with empty hands, so I darted to the nearest table and snatched up a bowl of chopped leeks. Then I shouldered between scullery maids and undercooks as I moved toward the spice pantry.

Perhaps I was foolish. Maybe Father was just sick after being lost so many weeks in the forest. Maybe it was normal for a man newly married to hardly speak to the daughter he’d loved –

Then I remembered last night: Rees, the stable master, and the stable boy being beaten while Father looked on with empty eyes.

Something had happened to Father in the forest. He never would have allowed a beating for violating such a small edict, even if the woman he’d married had issued it.

Whatever she banned must be important – even if it was something as simple as cloves.

Andaryn secures some cloves and brings her father out of the enchantment – for a little while. But the Queen comes upon them together and quickly destroys Andaryn’s efforts. When Andaryn breaks the glamour her six older brothers feel for the Queen, her victory doesn’t last. The Queen locks them up, burning down the oldest brother’s castle with the brothers locked in the dungeon.

Andaryn bargains for their lives with her silence.

Finally, she spoke. “It would be a great sacrifice to release your brothers. I would expect something great in return: one year of silence for each of them. Not a word spoken,” she raised a finger, “and not a word written, either, for a word that’s written can be spoken. The moment you consent is the moment they are free.

Andaryn consents, and the Queen does set them free – but turns them into swans. They will take human form again only on the night of the full moon each month.

And so begins Andaryn’s journeys, in silence. It turns out it’s not enough to find a place to shelter, because the Queen sets otherworldly Huntsmen out after her.

The journeys aren’t as solitary as in the fairy tale, for her oldest brother’s wife accompanies Andaryn for some of the years. And there is a child to tend, as in the fairy tale – but the baby is her oldest brother’s son, the heir of the kingdom. And yes, the princess is discovered by the king of another country, but she still can’t speak.

Andaryn starts out as a 12-year-old determined princess. She ends the book as an 18-year-old young lady who has learned to be strong as steel through her suffering. A magnificent story.

lernerbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?