Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of The Grand Escape, by Neal Bascomb

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

The Grand Escape

The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century

by Neal Bascomb

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 275 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 27, 2018, from my own copy, sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This nonfiction book reads like a thriller. It covers a breakout from a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War I.

The book gives us background first about how the war was going, and we meet several individuals important in planning the escape. Most of them had some earlier attempts at escape.

One particularly heart-wrenching attempt was a guy who almost made it to the border – and then he saw a town that matched the name of the Dutch town on his map. Well, it turned out there were two towns with the same name on either side of the border. He was in the German town, and got taken back to camp.

The grand escape of the title happened from Holzminden Camp and involved digging a long tunnel. It was a long, involved process, and we learn all about it in this book.

Usually I read nonfiction slowly, a chapter at a time, and break it up with fiction books in between. But this book was mesmerizing. I wanted to know how they would pull it off and which of these men would make it.

IReadYA.com
arthuralevinebooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 A Dance with Fate, by Juliet Marillier

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

A Dance with Fate

by Juliet Marillier

ACE (Penguin Random House), 2020. 491 pages.
Review written September 16, 2020, from my own copy, preordered from amazon.com
Starred Review

A Dance with Fate is a wonderful sequel to The Harp of Kings, though each holds a self-contained story and it’s not important to remember what happened in the first book, though reading this one will give away a couple things that happened in the first book, so I do recommend reading them in order.

I rave about Juliet Marillier’s books every time, and this one did not disappoint me. She has the ability to pull you into her characters’ hearts and deeply care about their predicaments. There’s always an element of the Otherworld in her books, and there’s always some romance, but they don’t follow a formula or a set pattern at all.

In this book, Liobhan and Dau are ready to prove they are Swan Island warriors and deserve a permanent place on the island. But in an exhibition battle, Dau trips and hits his head. Before they’re sure he will survive, his family is contacted, even though Dau wanted nothing to do with them because of the cruelty he faced there from his older brother.

Dau does survive, but he is blind and an invalid, so he must go back to his father’s holding. His family doesn’t accept the verdict that the injury was accidental and demand that Liobhan serve on the holding as a lowly bondservant.

As feared, they both get pulled into the dark secrets Dau’s brother is keeping. He has not become any less cruel over the years. And meanwhile, Liobhan’s brother Brocc is in the Otherworld, trying to keep the folk safe and having to make a terrible bargain along the way. We guess there will be some overlap in the two stories, since Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc alternate as the viewpoint characters.

Liobhan is the daughter of Blackthorn and Grim, from the trilogy that told about them. And Swan Island was established in a series before that. But that all adds to the richness and isn’t necessary reading ahead of time. If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier before, you can jump right in. If you have, you will be delighted to find a new installment. There were a few threads left hanging, so I happily anticipate that this will end up being a trilogy as well. Her trilogies are the kind I love most – each book in the trilogy has its own complete story, but they all weave together. I think before long I’m going to need to do a grand rereading of her books. (And there are still a few older ones I haven’t read.)

Do you get the idea? If you love fantasy at all, or specifically Celtic fantasy with romance, you will love these books.

julietmarillier.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered from amazon.com

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Sunny, by Celia Krampien

Saturday, September 12th, 2020

Sunny

by Cecilia Krampien

Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written July 11, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This little picture book is in the tradition of tall tales of bad luck followed by good luck followed by bad luck followed by good luck. In this case, there’s a sequence of apparently terribly bad things that happen to a little girl named Sunny – but she sees the bright side. And has some really good luck to offset the bad luck.

It starts with just a dreary day, windy and rainy, with kids trudging through the rain on the way to school. Most people would say that’s a bad day.

But not Sunny.
Sunny thought this day was the perfect day to use her big yellow umbrella. And it was.

But then the wind catches the umbrella and Sunny’s flying through the air. Most people would say that’s a bad situation, but not Sunny. Not even when she gets blown out to sea and stranded in a little boat and washed up on a lonely big rock.

When things finally get so very dreary that even Sunny starts to cry – that’s when there’s a dramatic, lovely, and perhaps slightly unlikely rescue.

So, sure, she’s a little bit late to school, but she has a mighty good story to tell.

This fun picture book gives readers a chance to think about looking at the bright side with a story whose unlikeliness makes it all the more enjoyable.

And hmmm. Perhaps I liked it all the more because I read it during 2020, when a successive series of unlikely bad events have happened. I wonder if I can find good sides like Sunny?

mackids.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power

Friday, September 11th, 2020

The Women of the 116th Congress

Portraits of Power

Foreword by Roxane Gay

Portraits by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman

Abrams Image, 2019. 208 pages.
Review written September 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely book that fills my heart with pride in our nation. It consists of 130 portraits of the 131 women (one was not available) serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States of America after the 2018 elections.

The portraits are presented alphabetically by the state each woman represents. A list of firsts that woman has achieved are presented, many of them being the first woman from their state or their district in the House or the Senate, or the first woman of their ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation. And there’s a paragraph quote from each woman talking about what it means to them to serve in the United States Congress.

Throughout the book, there are short interruptions with spreads about historic women who paved the way for these ones, such as Jeannette Pickering Rankin: “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” Or Shirley Anita Chisholm: “In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.”

I never thought of it as an important cause to elect more women to Congress – until I looked through this book and it made me so happy and proud. I love to think that the day will come when we can look back on the 116th Congress and think how relatively few women they included back then.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Superman Smashes the Klan, by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Superman Smashes the Klan

by Gene Luen Yang
art by Gurihiru
lettering by Janice Chiang

DC Comics, 2020, 240 pages.
Review written September 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This fabulous graphic novel is based on a story told on the radio in the 1940s, and it’s wonderfully timely today. A Chinese family has moved to Metropolis. The older brother plays baseball and is welcomed on the neighborhood team at the “Unity Center,” sponsored by a priest, a pastor, and a rabbi. The younger sister, Roberta, misses their home in Chinatown.

But there’s a group that doesn’t want a Chinese family to move into their neighborhood – the Klan of the Fiery Kross – and they burn on cross on the Lees front lawn that night.

And you know what happens, because it’s in the title – Superman smashes the Klan! But along the way there’s plenty of danger and mixed loyalties and evil plots, and the kids get to ride with Superman as he – leaps. That’s right – Superman didn’t yet realize he could fly. In this book, Superman comes to terms with who he is, and that he, too, is an alien, even though his skin is white. And he learns to use more of his powers.

One of my favorite parts was a flashback to a time when teenager Clark Kent went to the circus with Lana Lang. Clark notices that the Strongman is the same guy who took their tickets. Their conversation goes like this:

What? No! That guy was bald! This guy’s got longer hair than mine!

Lana, he’s clearly wearing a wig!

Well. . . It’s not just that. Look at the way he carries himself! And that costume!

You like his costume?! He’s wearing his underwear on the outside!

Yeah, but he makes it work somehow.

Later the Strongman advises Clark, “The more colorful the costume, the better.”

It’s nice seeing Superman defeat bad guys who are still with us today.

The Grand Hornet of the Klan tells Superman that nothing binds us to people who don’t share our blood or our history. Superman responds by saying that we are bound together by the future. “We all share the same tomorrow.”

That’s right, Superman! Speak up for what’s right!

geneyang.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Darius the Great Deserves Better

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2020. 342 pages.
Review written August 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I was delighted when I heard this book was coming out. Its predecessor, Darius the Great Is Not Okay came out during my Newbery year, when I was reading everything, so I compared it with lots of other books, and still named it my #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in General Teen Fiction for that year. In the first book, Darius is dealing with depression in the context of bullying and trouble getting along with his father. Then the family makes an extended trip to Iran to see the grandparents he’s never met, because his Babou is dying of cancer. In Iran, he feels like he fits in even less, but makes his first true friend, ever.

In that book, the reader is pretty sure Darius is gay, but it’s never explicitly stated, and Darius hasn’t put it into so many words. This book begins as Darius is with his boyfriend getting a haircut to match the other guys on his soccer team.

So Darius came out as gay in between books, though he hasn’t told his grandparents in Iran. Relationship issues are a big part of this book, and Darius’s boyfriend wants to have sex, but Darius isn’t ready. This involves discussion of body parts that I don’t even have, so I didn’t relate to it quite as much as the first book, but I still love Darius and his over-willingness to examine his feelings. Because a book narrator who examines his feelings makes the reader realize their own feelings are not so unusual.

Darius is getting along better with his father, but his family is under stress because of the money they spent to go to Iran, and they’re working extra hours. So they decide to have his father’s parents come stay with them – Oma and Grandma. Darius hoped they would have some insight into being queer, but they aren’t very forthcoming. I was interested when I found out that Oma is a transgender woman, and she didn’t come out as transgender until after her grandson Darius was born.

It’s hard to explain why these books are so heart-warming. Darius is someone I can’t help caring about. He’s so authentic, and cries much more often than he’d like to. In this book he’s dealing with romantic problems, which are perhaps more typical problems for an American teen. He handles them with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but also enough mistakes that you root for this kid.

The cover does give away that there will be some romantic decisions to make, but they didn’t show up in the way I expected. And it does point out that romantic quandaries are universal, whether you’re gay or straight. I hope this isn’t the last book about Darius the Great.

adibkhorram.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Eye That Never Sleeps, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

The Eye That Never Sleeps

How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln

by Marissa Moss
illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 7, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

This picture book biography is a fun and entertaining – while factual – story of how the detective Allan Pinkerton became a detective and ended up saving President Lincoln and founding the Secret Service.

The illustrator gave the pages the look of the time but with contemporary colors. Pinkerton fled Scotland on his wedding day, and this story is told with the pictures as well as the text. The Pinkerton agency eventually became known as “the eye that never sleeps,” and Pinkerton’s eyes – and the direction of his vision – are highlighted in orange throughout the book.

The complete package of words and pictures here keeps you turning pages, with the illustrations including panels that almost give the book a graphic novel feel.

Pinkerton did keep Lincoln safe after uncovering a plot to assassinate him when he was first elected. They used a decoy and sent him to Washington by a different route. The book also includes how Pinkerton became a detective and how he was the reason the term “private eye” was coined.

A fun and suspenseful story that’s also true.

abramsyoungreaders.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 I Can Be Anything, by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

I Can Be Anything

by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Chronicle Books, 2020. Originally published in Japan in 2016. 52 pages.
Review written July 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

When I saw this book, I expected a trite message trying to be inspirational about how a child can be anything they want to be. That’s not what this book is about.

No, this is a story of an imaginative little girl putting off bedtime despite her very tired mother.

As the book begins, we see the girl jumping up and down.

Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!

I have a really good idea!

Oh, really? It’s time to go to sleep.

I’ll pretend to be something and you’ll guess what it is!

OK . . . Now don’t get angry if I make a mistake.

The little girl proceeds to pretend to be various things. From a pot and a clothespin to a overcooked broccoli and various kinds of aliens. The mother doesn’t get any of them right. And the choices are so random, and the drawings of the little girl so silly, they make me laugh.

The mother doesn’t get even one of her guesses right, and the girl does eventually get cross about it.
How does it end? The girl falls asleep while pretending to be something. We never do find out what she was that time.

This is a delightfully particular story completely the opposite of the generalized pablum I expected from that title. It might just kick off a game with your own imaginative preschooler, and at least the mother in the book gives you cover if you’re not very good at guessing.

chroniclekids.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds, by Ian Wright

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds

100 New Ways to See the World

by Ian Wright
illustrated by Infographic.ly

The Experiment, 2019. Originally published in the UK. 192 pages.
Review written July 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is a collection of maps from the author’s website, brilliantmaps.com. As the subtitle suggests, these maps are able to help you see the world in a different way. Most of the maps shine a spotlight on one aspect of the world and make you see that aspect differently.

The 100 maps are broken into 9 chapters: People and Populations; Politics, Power, and Religion; Culture and Customs; Friends and Enemies; Geography; History; National Identity; Crime and Punishment; and Nature.

Some of the maps you might consider silly – for example, longest place names, countries whose flags contain red or blue, and world plug and socket maps – others more serious, such as Homicide rates: Europe vs. the U. S.

Some maps I enjoyed included Probability of a White Christmas map (except that the probability is low where I live); European countries that have invaded Poland; How the North American population fits into Europe; and Countries without McDonalds.

This book is well titled. Yes, these maps are brilliant. Yes, you are sure to enjoy them if you have a curious mind.

brilliantmaps.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 540 pages.
Review written August 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Ahhhhh! Such a magnificent series!

Series? you ask. Isn’t this supposed to be the second book in a duology? Well, yes it is, but you can think of the duology as a continuation of the trilogy that began with Grave Mercy, because it begins where the trilogy ended, and you will better understand the characters and relationships of the duology if you’ve already read the trilogy.

The main way the trilogy is different from the duology is that in the trilogy, each book was a stand-alone story in its own right, though they all went together well. Each book featured a different trained assassin from the convent that served Saint Mortain of Brittany, the god of Death. Each book told a love story, and each love story was different from the one before.

I got annoyed with the first book of the duology, Courting Darkness, because it did not follow this pattern. Though it did tell of a new daughter of Death from the convent, it did not complete her story at all and most issues were unresolved. All that intricate pulling together of a tapestry of threads was missing.

Because of my annoyance, I did not preorder my own copy of this book, but just read a library copy. I have already rectified that mistake. I ordered a copy so I can have my own when I reread all five books, which I have no doubt I’m going to want to do from time to time.

Was I missing intricate tying together of disparate threads? They’re all pulled together here. Courtly intrigue and daring adventure? It’s here. Satisfying love stories? Yes. Apparent doom and an appearance that victory is impossible? Yes. Utterly clever plans to overcome the insurmountable odds? Yes, again we’ve got them.

And it all comes together in an ending that’s worthy of the five magnificent books.

I won’t say a whole lot about details, since I want those who haven’t started this series to start at the beginning with Grave Mercy. I will say this is rich historical fiction of the kind I like best – for all we know, it could have really happened. It features the Duchy of Brittany, which at the start of the series and in actual history was ruled by a young duchess who had been promised in marriage to competing nobles from various places.

It also features assassin nuns! In the small touch of fantasy in these books, the heroines are daughters of Mortain, the god Death, one of nine gods of Brittany who were cleaned up and made saints by the Church. They serve the Duchess of Brittany during a time when women aren’t usually given that kind of power. Indeed, the Duchess’s new husband isn’t too happy about her wielding power of her own, and his sister who had been regent before he came of age, has her own plans for holding onto power.

This is a book of historical political intrigue, of desperate plots within plots, and women apparently without power figuring out what they can do to stand up against evil men who are accustomed to doing anything they want. It does help that those women have gifts from their father, the god of Death, and training from those who serve Death.

And you are lucky, Dear Reader – you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out! I’m definitely planning to sit down and read all five books some time in the near future.

RobinLaFevers.com
hmhbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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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