Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category

Review of The Shadow Land, by Elizabeth Kostova

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

The Shadow Land

by Elizabeth Kostova

Ballantine Books, 2017. 478 pages.
Starred Review

When Alexandra Boyd gets off the plane in Sofia, she’s jet lagged, exhausted, and not even thinking straight. She’s in Bulgaria to begin teaching English, but came a month early to do some sight-seeing. First, the taxi driver brings her to a nice hotel, instead of the hostel where she has a room booked – and drives off before she can fix it.

While she’s trying to figure out what to do, she sees an elderly couple and a younger man come out of the hotel. As the younger man is helping the older man in a wheelchair get into a taxi, the older lady stumbles. Alexandra catches her arm and helps her. And then she passes their bags to them and helps them settle in the cab.

The younger man thanks her, and chats with her about her travel plans. She asks if she can take their picture – the first people she’s spoken to in Bulgaria.

Then Alexandra gets into a taxi and heads for her hostel. But as they are driving away, she suddenly notices that she has the tall man’s satchel. When she opens it up, it contains an urn with ashes and a name on the urn, Stoyan Lazarov. She asks the taxi driver to stop and bursts into tears.

When Alexandra opened the urn, she began to cry not because she was afraid of human remains but because it was just too much, the last straw. She was in a strange country, she was exhausted, her plans had already gone awry, and in the dramatic way of the young she felt herself in the grip of something larger — destiny, or some plot that could as easily be evil as good.

Alexandra has the driver, who says she can call him Bobby, take her back to the hotel, but there’s no sign of the people who lost the urn. She goes to the police, which Bobby doesn’t think is a great idea. But the police give her an address to try. First, though, she and Bobby drive to the monastery where the tall man said they’d be traveling.

In the monastery, Alexandra and Bobby get locked into a room, but it turns out Bobby has lockpicking skills.

By now Bobby is interested in Alexandra’s quest, so they continue on the trail of the Lazarov family. Each place they go, they find the family is not there, but get another lead of a place where they might be found. Along the way, they find out more about Stoyan Lazarov as well. But at the same time, as they travel, Bobby’s car is vandalized and they get threatening notes. Someone besides the Lazarov family seems to want the urn.

This book has a chase saga and a mystery, as well as being a story of a young American woman traveling in Europe on her own for the first time. Just when I thought it was especially lovely, pleasant reading, the book starts delving into the history of Bulgaria – particularly Stoyan Lazarov’s time in a prison camp – particularly brutal and awful.

But the overall feeling of the book is hopeful and surviving through art and through love. The story is compelling, as Stoyan Lazarov’s past has repercussions in the present.

This is a very personal story, despite having large themes. Alexandra has some of her own issues to deal with, but she cares about the people she meets along the way, and the reader can’t help but care, too. The author weaves in flashbacks well, never interrupting Alexandra’s story long enough to make us impatient.

I still say it’s a lovely book, even though it has some very hard chapters. The author brings Bulgaria to life so vividly and so lovingly, I wasn’t surprised to read at the back that she’s married to a Bulgarian. The plot is gripping, yet she manages to weave in lots of background material without letting up on the tension. On top of all that, these characters – from Alexandra and Bobby all the way to the man in the urn – are people you come to love.

elizabethkostova.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/shadow_land.html

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?

Review of The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Friday, May 15th, 2015

girl_on_the_train_largeThe Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins
read by Claire Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher

Penguin Audio, 2015. 11 hours on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review

Warning to potential listeners: If you have ever been cheated on, this book contains some triggers which will remind you of that time. However, it’s also somewhat therapeutic. It will make you feel that your own reactions were incredibly calm. You were not a crazy woman! (Who knew?)

Rachel Watson rides the train into London every morning and goes home every evening – so her flatmate won’t know that she lost her job months ago for turning up drunk. Every day, the train stops as it passes the house where Rachel used to live – and where her ex-husband Tom lives with his new wife and child – the woman who replaced Rachel and the child she longed to have.

To avoid looking at her home, right next to the tracks, naturally enough Rachel watches the people a few houses down. They are the perfect couple. As in love as Rachel used to be. Rachel gives them names, Jess and Jason, and she imagines their perfect lives.

Then, one day, Rachel sees Jess kissing a man who is not Jason. Jess is ruining Jason’s life, just as Tom ruined hers! That evening, having thought about it all day, in her drunken agitation, she gets off the train at her old stop. She knows something bad happened when she wakes up at home the next morning with a cut on her forehead, but she doesn’t remember at all what it was. And the newspapers say that Jess – actually named Megan – has gone missing.

Gradually, we learn about Rachel’s past, about Megan’s history, and about Anna, the woman who replaced Rachel with Tom. Rachel has not been doing well since Tom left her. And she doesn’t blame Tom – she was already a drunk before he left, depressed because she wasn’t having a baby. Now she calls him at odd hours, even turns up at the house.

But after Megan’s disappearance, Rachel is sure Megan’s husband will be suspected. The police need to know about the man Megan kissed. The husband needs to know. Maybe Rachel has to lie a little bit to get them to listen to her, but it’s all trying to help….

I have to admit, the people in this book are not very nice. The situations are sordid. There’s a whole lot of cheating going on. But ultimately, I found I couldn’t stop listening (and this was another audiobook which had me bringing the final CD into the house to finish listening). The audio production is very well done. The three different narrators for the three women – Rachel, Anna, and Megan – make it clear who is speaking at any given time.

I think the character of Rachel is what had me hooked. I remembered the world-shattering pain of learning my husband was cheating. It would have been so very easy to turn to alcohol. To call him and beg him to take me back. If he had married the mistress and moved into our home with his new wife and baby? Well, her pain was all too easy to imagine.

And the mystery is a tangled and interesting one. There are compelling twists along the way. Let me just say that some of the cheaters get a satisfying comeuppance. But best of all is that by the end of the book we feel that Rachel, who has believed many lies about herself, is on her way to healing.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/girl_on_the_train.html

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 audiobook 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?

Review of The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

Friday, January 9th, 2015

night_gardener_largeThe Night Gardener

by Jonathan Auxier

Amulet Books, New York, 2014. 350 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #5 Children’s Fiction

Let me say right from the beginning that this book is not for everyone. It would have been way too scary for me when I was in upper elementary and middle school. However, for kids who like a dose of fear and creepiness with their adventures, this well-crafted tale delivers.

Molly and Kip are kids from Ireland, and they’re traveling in England without their parents, looking for work, looking for food, looking for a place to stay. They left Ireland because of the famine, and it’s not clear what happened to their parents. Molly speaks bravely about the adventures their parents must be having, but Molly’s a storyteller, and those adventures don’t sound all too likely.

The book opens with Molly and Kip trying to find their way to an estate owned by the Windsors. A lawyer in town said they could work for that family. But when she asks directions, over and over she’s told things like “My advice: go back to whatever country you came from. The sourwoods is no place for anyone.”

They find a storyteller who looks like a witch who’s willing to tell them the way – if they’ll bring her back some stories. It turns out that the estate is on an island in the river.

The heart of the island had been cleared away to create an open field surrounded by dark trees. The lawn was not flat but covered in a series of miniature hills, each ranging between one and two feet in height. Wind swept across the grassy mounds to create an effect that reminded Kip of rolling ocean waves. At the far end of the lawn stood the Windsor mansion. The house had obviously been left vacant for some years, and in that time it seemed to have become one with the landscape. Weeds swallowed the base. Ivy choked the walls and windows. The roof was sagging and covered in black moss.

But strangest of all was the tree.

The tree was enormous and looked very, very old. Most trees cast an air of quiet dignity over their surroundings. This one did not. Most trees invite you to climb up into their canopy. This one did not. Most trees make you want to carve your initials into the trunk. This one did not. To stand in the shadow of this tree was to feel a chill run through your whole body.

The tree was so close to the house that they almost seemed to have grown together – its gnarled trunk running up the wall like a great black chimney stack. Palsied branches crept out in all directions like a second roof – including a few that appeared to cut straight through the walls. “It’s almost a part of the house,” Kip said softly.

Why any person would build a home so close to such a terrible tree was beyond him. Had it been too difficult to cut down?

When they enter the home, they aren’t exactly welcomed. But they have nowhere to go, so it is agreed that they’ll work in exchange for lodgings. The family consists of a lonely little girl, a spoiled older brother, a sharp and worried mother, and a father who is preoccupied, timid, and often absent.

And the mysteries pile up, slowly and eerily. There’s a door, supposedly to a closet, which is locked and which is forbidden. There’s a portrait of the family, painted only last summer, which shows them looking far more plump and healthy, far more colorful in skin, eyes, and even hair. Everyone living in the house has nightmares. But most sinister of all, a man is walking in the house at night.

Molly hears thumping footsteps. The door to her bedroom has come open, and dead leaves and wind have come in. There are muddy footprints leading right to the side of her bed, the same heavy, muddy footprints she’d cleaned from the stairs during the day. She goes to investigate.

Mistress Windsor’s bedroom was at the end of the hall. Molly could hear the woman murmuring, caught in her own nightmare. She could hear the footsteps again – heavy and slow. Through the crack around the door, she saw a tall shadow move inside, a shadow the size of a man. “Master Windsor, is that you?” she said as bravely as she could.

The footsteps stopped.

The wind stopped.

Her heart stopped.

Molly wiped the perspiration from her palm and adjusted her grip on the candlestick. She took a deep breath and inched toward the door. A howl split the darkness, and she felt a great burst of wind. The gust knocked her to the floor and swept along the upstairs hall. She covered her face as dry leaves skittered over her like bats from a cavern.

She heard a loud slam behind her, and the next moment, everything was still and dark. Molly climbed to her feet, trembling with fright. She felt her way along the wall until she reached the main stairs. She could hear no footsteps. The wind and leaves were all gone. The bedrooms were silent, and the front door was safely shut. The house was completely still. By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs, it almost seemed as if she had dreamed the whole thing.

Molly was about to turn into the service hall when a shadow caught her eye. There, lying in the middle of the floor, was something that hadn’t been there before. It was an old top hat, tipped on its side. Molly remembered Kip’s words. “A tall black hat,” he had said. Molly knelt down and picked it up. It was as real as anything she’d ever touched, its brim damp with mildew and age. She slowly turned the hat over in her hand – dead leaves spilled from the crown, forming a pile at her feet.

Molly stared at the silent house, which only moments before had been filled with leaves. It wasn’t a dream. Kip, Penny – they had both been telling the truth.

The night man was real.

And that’s only the beginning. I love the way Jonathan Auxier spins this tale. He’s not explicit about the magic of the tree and the house. But you gradually learn, along with Molly, why the family would stay in such a place. And while you’re mentally urging Molly and Kip to just leave, you watch with horror as Molly, too, gets ensnared.

I won’t enjoy a book just for being creepy. The skillful plotting does go a long way toward winning me over, but I think what makes me love the book is the good-heartedness of Molly and Kip. Even the Windsor family grows on you, but Molly and Kip have been given a rough deal in life, and they come through with resourcefulness and kindness.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you the book has a happy ending – an earned one. I wouldn’t want to read it if all that scariness really did lead to doom. There are, however, a couple of violent deaths along the way, so I think my warning that the book is not for everyone stands.

Creepy and well-crafted, I will keep this book in mind for the next kid who asks me for “a scary book.”

thescop.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/night_gardener.html

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

whispering_skull_largeThe Whispering Skull

Lockwood & Co., Book 2

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, Los Angeles, 2014. 435 pages.
Starred Review

I was so looking forward to this sequel to The Screaming Staircase, I preordered the book as soon as I heard its publication date. And I was not disappointed.

Jonathan Stroud is a genius for plotting. This book again intertwines many plot threads. We’re back with the 3-person (3-child) agency Lockwood & Co., in an alternate reality England where ghosts plague the populace. Lucy continues to narrate, and in this book she continues to hear from the skull-in-a-jar that George stole when he was working for the Fittes agency.

It is highly unusual for someone to be able to talk with a ghost. This is a Type Three ghost, and only one other Sensitive was ever able to do it. So this could bring Lucy and their agency fame and fortune. But is it worth it? The skull gives them information that almost gets them killed, and it sows doubts in Lucy’s mind about Lockwood and that door he asked them never to open.

Then there are, of course, the cases. The ones in this book are even more gruesome and frightening than the ones in the earlier book. Kids with an especially vivid imagination might want to stay away. Kids who like scary books, however, will be delighted. Mention that a ghost starts falling apart and forming ghost-rats that attack them. If they think they like the sound of reading about that, this is the book for them!

There’s also a rivalry with another agency – and a bet as to which one can solve the case first. There’s the usual fun banter between Lockwood and Lucy and George. (And George shines in this volume, I must say.)

But the meat of the book is the mystery. Who stole the Bone Glass, and what does it do? And can they get it back, yet stay alive?

This is yet another example of Jonathan Stroud’s superb writing. Even though I had my own copy, I checked out the library’s copy so I could read it on my lunch breaks. This is absorbing, clever, innovative, and completely delightful reading.

To give you the flavor, here’s a bit from a scene right at the start, where Lockwood & Co. get in a little over their heads:

“It’s getting close to the barrier,” I said.

“So’s mine.”

“It’s really horrible.”

“Well, mine’s lost both hands. Beat that.”

Lockwood sounded relaxed, but that was nothing new. Lockwood always sounds relaxed. Or almost always: that time we opened Mrs. Barrett’s tomb – he was definitely flustered then, though that was mainly due to the claw marks on his nice new coat. I stole a quick sidelong glance at him now. He was standing with his sword held ready: tall, slim, as nonchalant as ever, watching the slow approach of the second Visitor. The lantern light played on his thin, pale face, catching the elegant outline of his nose, and his flop of ruffled hair. He wore that slight half-smile he reserved for dangerous situations: the kind of smile that suggests complete command. His coat flapped slightly in the night breeze. As usual, just looking at him gave me confidence. I gripped my sword tightly and turned back to watch my ghost.

And found it right there beside the chains. Soundless, swift as thinking, it had darted in as soon as I’d looked away.

I swung the rapier up.

The mouth gaped, the sockets flared with greenish fire. With terrible speed, it flung itself forward. I screamed, jumped back. The ghost collided with the barrier a few inches from my face. A bang, a splash of ectoplasm. Burning flecks rained down on the muddy grass outside the circle. Now the pale figure was ten feet farther off, quivering and steaming.

There you have it: Plenty of adventure, danger from entities living and dead, swordplay, ghosts, mysteries and murders. This will appeal to many for its clever plotting, but is not for the faint of heart.

LockwoodandCo.com
jonathanstroud.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/whispering_skull.html

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 my own copy, preordered from Amazon.com.

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

you_should_have_known_largeYou Should Have Known

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2014. 438 pages.
Starred Review

I started reading this book with a certain sadistic glee. The story is of a therapist, Grace Reinhart Sachs, who has written a book called You Should Have Known. Here Grace is talking about her book with a reporter from Vogue:

“Look, I’ve been in practice for fifteen years. Over and over I’ve heard women describe their early interactions with their partner, and their early impressions of their partner. And listening to them, I continually thought: You knew right at the beginning. She knows he’s never going to stop looking at other women. She knows he can’t save money. She knows he’s contemptuous of her – the very first time they talk to each other, or the second date, or the first night she introduces him to her friends. But then she somehow lets herself unknow what she knows. She lets these early impressions, this basic awareness, get overwhelmed by something else. She persuades herself that something she has intuitively seen in a man she barely knows isn’t true at all now that she – quote unquote – has gotten to know him better. And it’s that impulse to negate our own impressions that is so astonishingly powerful. And it can have the most devastating impact on a woman’s life. And we’ll always let ourselves off the hook for it, in our own lives, even as we’re looking at some other deluded woman and thinking: How could she not have known? And I feel, just so strongly, that we need to hold ourselves to that same standard. And before we’re taken in, not after….

“Imagine,” she said to Rebecca, “that you are sitting down at a table with someone for the first time. Perhaps on a date. Perhaps at a friend’s house – wherever you might cross paths with a man you possibly find attractive. In that first moment there are things you can see about this man, and intuit about this man. They are readily observable. You can sense his openness to other people, his interest in the world, whether or not he’s intelligent – whether he makes use of his intelligence. You can tell that he’s kind or dismissive or superior or curious or generous. You can see how he treats you. You can learn from what he decides to tell you about himself: the role of family and friends in his life, the women he’s been involved with previously. You can see how he cares for himself – his own health and well-being, his financial well-being. This is all available information, and we do avail ourselves. But then . . .”

She waited. Rebecca was scribbling, her blond head down.

“Then?”

“Then comes the story. He has a story. He has many stories. And I’m not suggesting that he’s making things up or lying outright. He might be – but even if he doesn’t do that, we do it for him, because as human beings we have such a deep, ingrained need for narrative; especially if we’re going to play an important role in the narrative; you know, I’m already the heroine and here comes my hero. And even as we’re absorbing facts or forming impressions, we have this persistent impulse to set them in some sort of context. So we form a story about how he grew up, how women have treated him, how employers have treated him. How he appears before us right now becomes part of that story. Then we get to enter the story: No one has ever loved him enough until me. None of his other girlfriends have been his intellectual equal. I’m not pretty enough for him. He admires my independence. None of this is fact. It’s all some combination of what he’s told us and what we’ve told ourselves. This person has become a made-up character in a made-up story.”

“You mean, like a fictional character.”

“Yes. It’s not a good idea to marry a fictional character.”

Grace has a beautiful life, with a son Henry at a fine private school and a wonderful husband who’s a pediatric oncologist. Grace doesn’t tell reporters that when she met her husband, she just knew that he was the one for her. It’s sad the way most of her other friends have fallen out of her life. But Jonathan is enough. And too bad that he had such a rotten childhood, and his parents didn’t even come to their wedding.

The reader is not surprised when Grace’s beautiful life begins to fall apart.

Like I said, I rather expected to be gleeful. Here’s one who says you should have known, but in some cases, how can you possibly know?

However, as I read the book, my sympathy for Grace grew to be huge. Yes, she should have known. She had warning signs. But you have complete sympathy for her, since when you’re in love, it’s pretty hard to imagine that this wonderful person is actually a sociopath.

This book actually pairs very well with the dating advice book I recently read, How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. The problem in You Should Have Known is letting yourself fall in love before you really know the person. Then as you do get to know them, you’re already ready to overlook any flaws, which may come back to bite you later.

So in that sense, this was a therapeutic book to read as I’m starting to date again after my divorce! Nothing like a cautionary tale not to let myself be too swayed by a handsome face!

As for the book itself? I grew to have nothing but sympathy for Grace as her life fell apart and even her story of her marriage in the past had to be modified. And as she tried to figure out how to carry on and how to start life again, I was completely rooting for her, completely on her side. And the book was also therapeutic in thinking about my own marriage. No, my husband wasn’t as sociopathic as Grace’s husband. But some things, on an emotional level, were awfully resonant for me. So if I was applauding Grace moving on with life and putting her marriage behind her, why was I reluctant to do the same?

And the book was lovely, too. We feel realistically hopeful for Grace by the end. It’s not going to be easy for her or her son. But we feel like they’re going to make it.

So therapy, a cautionary tale, and an excellent story all in one package. If the author is saying Grace should have known, at least she’s saying it with compassion.

HachetteBookGroup.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/you_should_have_known.html

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

“When Did You See Her Last?”

All the Wrong Questions, Book 2

by Lemony Snicket
read by Liam Aiken

Hachette Audio, 2013. 4.5 hours on 4 CDs.

“When Did You See Her Last?” is the second entry in the All the Wrong Questions series of crime noir for kids. Young Lemony Snicket continues to stay in Stain’d-by-the-Sea. He and his chaperone are asked to solve another mystery, and once again his chaperone is completely misled, but young Snicket follows a progression of clues and reveals answers.

These books should be read in order. A master villain is hanging about, the statue from the previous book makes an appearance, and we get more clues as to what is going on with Lemony Snicket’s sister, but no answers.

These make wonderful listening. You’ve got a gripping story with plenty to set you chuckling. This would be ideal for a family trip. Now I just hope the next installment is coming out soon!

LemonySnicketLibrary.com
HachetteAudio.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/when_did_you_see_her_last.html

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?”

All the Wrong Questions, Book 1

by Lemony Snicket
read by Liam Aiken

Hachette Audio, 2012. 4 hours on 4 CDs.

I began listening to this new series by Lemony Snicket and was captivated. It’s got all of his clever humor without the sad plight of persecuted orphans that turned me off from A Series of Unfortunate Events.

We do have a 13-year-old kid – the young Lemony Snicket – setting off on his apprenticeship for a mysterious organization. His chaperone takes him to Stained-by-the-Sea, and they are told to return a mysterious statue to its rightful owner. However, Snicket quickly realizes the statue is already in the hands of its rightful owner. His chaperone doesn’t believe him, and they begin a crazy adventure.

The book is full of delightful, understated details. Stained-by-the-Sea, for example, is no longer by the sea, but there is a sinister forest of seaweed where sea used to be. The reader uses a wonderful matter-of-fact voice, eminently suitable for crime noir.

I love Lemony Snicket’s trademark, “which here means…”, always used in clever and funny ways. And the similes he uses are always bizarre, but apt. I wish I could give examples, but that’s a problem with an audiobook.

Lemony Snicket freely tells us that he was asking the wrong questions, and tells us what the right question would have been. But he doesn’t tell us what the answer would have been to the right question. That is only revealed with time.

Some pieces of the mystery are revealed in this book, but it’s definitely the beginning of something bigger. There are reportedly going to be four Wrong Questions. And I have already decided I’m going to be sure to listen to all of them.

LemonySnicketLibrary.com
HachetteAudio.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/who_could_that_be.html

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 audiobook 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of All the Truth That’s in Me, by Julie Berry

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

All the Truth That’s in Me

by Julie Berry

Viking, 2013. 288 pages.
Starred Review

I read this book simply because it’s in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books, which commences March 10. I’m not sure what I expected, since I hadn’t heard much about it, but I was blown away and kept reading well into the night.

This is a rare book that’s written in second person voice, addressed to “you.” But the speaker is not addressing the reader. It soon becomes clear that she’s addressing the young man she loves.

Here’s how the book begins, with the heading “Before”:

We came here by ship, you and I.

I was a baby on my mother’s knee, and you were a lisping, curly-headed boy playing at your mother’s feet all through that weary voyage.

Watching us, our mothers got on so well together that our fathers chose adjacent farm plots a mile from town, on the western fringe of a Roswell Station that was much smaller then.

I remember my mother telling tales of the trip when I was young. Now she never speaks of it at all.

She said I spent the whole trip wide-eyed, watching you.

She still watches him. She remembers when he smiled at her, gave her posies. But something terrible happened, and now the whole village barely notices she is there.

We get bits of what happened, all along the way. We find out why she doesn’t speak. She was gone for two years. When she came back, she was out of her head, left for dead, with half her tongue cut out.

Then ships are sighted off the shore, coming toward the town. The Homelanders are bringing war to them, wanting their fertile farms. All the men of the town must fight, even though their arsenal was destroyed, even though they are doomed.

But Judith knows where to find help – only she must confront her own nightmares.

And after she does so, everything changes.

This book is marvelously constructed, revealing bits of the past at a natural pace, as it comes up in the present, finally with mysteries solved at the very end. I find myself wanting to read it all over again, knowing now how it all fits together.

And ultimately, it’s a love story. And a story of healing. And a story of courage. And a story of a wounded girl finding her voice.

julieberrybooks.com
penguin.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/all_the_truth_thats_in_me.html

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Nazi Hunters, by Neal Bascomb

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

The Nazi Hunters

How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi

by Neal Bascomb

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2013. 242 pages.
Starred Review
2014 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Winner

Here’s a work of nonfiction that reads like a thriller. I didn’t realize until I read the note about the author at the back that this book was based on the author’s book for adults, Hunting Eichmann. It doesn’t read like an abridgement.

Because of the nature of the material, this is a book for teens and preteens, rather than children. But anyone who enjoys a good spy novel will enjoy this true-life tale.

The book sets the stage with what happened in World War II. It looks at the particular, focusing on the story of a young man, Zeev Sapir, in Hungary. Zeev later testified at Eichmann’s trial. The book explains the four phases of Eichmann’s plan: Isolate the Jews, secure Jewish wealth, move the Jews to ghettos, and finally, transport them to camps. His job was to get them to the camps, and he didn’t claim responsibility for what happened to them there.

The first chapter briefly explains Eichmann’s rise to power and his escape from Germany at the end of the war. The rest of the book focuses on how he was discovered in Argentina by Israeli Secret Service, and the elaborate plan they needed to be able to abduct him, bring him to Israel, and put him on trial.

I was struck by the sheer number of those involved who had lost family members in the Holocaust. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the details as mentioned in this book brought it home to me.

I like the way the book explains the importance of the trial of Adolf Eichmann:

The Eichmann trial was almost more important in the field of education than in that of justice. David Ben-Gurion achieved his ambition: The trial educated the Israeli public, particularly the young, about the true nature of the Holocaust. And, after sixteen years of silence, it allowed survivors to openly share their experiences.

In the rest of the world, the intense media coverage and the wave of Eichmann biographies and fantastic accounts of his capture rooted the Holocaust in the collective cultural consciousness. The Shoah, as it was also known, was not to be forgotten, and an outpouring of survivor memoirs, scholarly works, plays, novels, documentaries, paintings, museum exhibits, and films followed in the wake of the trial and still continues today. This consciousness, in Israel and throughout the world, is the enduring legacy of the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann.

The book is full of photographs all along the way, including pictures of important documents, such as the captain’s logbook for the El Al flight out of Argentina and Eichmann’s Red Cross passport. This reminds the reader, all the way through, that these exciting events actually took place.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/nazi_hunters.html

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 an advance review copy I got at an ALA conference.

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.

Review of Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Endangered

by Eliot Schrefer

Scholastic Press, New York, 2012. 264 pages.
Starred Review
2012 National Book Award Finalist
2013 School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books Contender

Endangered is the only Battle of the Books contender this year that I hadn’t already read. I’m glad I finished it before it’s out of the Battle. And, dare I say it?, now I find myself hoping it pulls an upset over The Fault in Our Stars. Though I don’t want it to beat my favorite, Code Name Verity in the next round, and The Fault in Our Stars is bound to come back from the dead anyway, so this doesn’t feel like a very fateful prediction.

But Endangered is a gripping, powerful, and suspenseful story that feels like it’s teaching you at the same time. I knew nothing about bonobos and very little about Congo or life in Congo. Eliot Schrefer writes with authenticity that sure makes the reader think he knows what he’s talking about.

I already had an idea of the story. Sophie was visiting her Mom on a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Without asking permission, she adopted Otto, a baby bonobo being sold on the side of the road. Later, her Mom heads out to release some adult bonobos at a safe location in the wild, but while she is gone, war erupts. UN peacekeepers try to take Sophie to safety, but Sophie won’t leave Otto to die.

What follows is an epic journey. Because war comes to the sanctuary. Sophie takes refuge in the electrified enclosure with the adult bonobos, so her first challenge is to be accepted by them. But when the electricity goes off, she knows she must escape before the soldiers come in to kill them all. Can she travel through the jungle and find her mother, miles away?

This book is a survival tale, a frightening story of war, and full of authentic details about bonobos and life in Congo.

At first, I was a little annoyed with Sophie for seeming more concerned about bonobo life than human life. But as the book went on, I came to feel that someone needed to care about “the least of these.” When another opportunity came up for her to go to safety if she abandoned Otto, but she had clear evidence he would die if she did, I was by then fully on Sophie’s side in continuing on with Otto.

Sophie’s journey takes her from one danger to another. But she never feels unduly lucky. There are many setbacks. Some she deals with better than others, and she does end up finding kind strangers who help along the way, after initial help from the bonobos. It’s hard to write a series of narrow escapes and still have the reader feel like it could happen, but Eliot Schrefer pulls it off. It all feels believable and terribly scary.

During a quiet moment it struck me that Congo was an easier country to survive in than most during a time of war. In peacetime the teacher couldn’t afford to buy food at the markets, which meant he had a field, and snares for wild game, and a well for water since the government had never run pipes out here. I tried to imagine getting by if the same thing happened in Miami and couldn’t. When a country was as primed for civil war as Congo was, when it came apart, the pieces weren’t as heavy.

eliotschrefer.com
scholastic.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/endangered.html

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 the 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!