Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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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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 West, by Edith Pattou

Friday, February 8th, 2019

West

by Edith Pattou

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 514 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 13, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Speculative Teen Fiction

I was so excited when I found out West was coming out! I still remember, approximately 15 years ago when I was working at Sembach Library and a shipment of new books came in that included East, by Edith Pattou and The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale – two fairy tale retellings that ended up being my two favorite books of the year. I ordered my own personal copy of both of them, I liked them both so much. The Goose Girl has become the start of an entire series since then, but this is the very first follow-up to East.

Since this is my Newbery committee year, I didn’t get to reread East before reading West as I would have liked to do. But I remembered the basics, from the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” Rose went off with a white bear to save her family, but used a candle to try to see his face and then had to travel east of the sun, west of the moon. In the end, she had to defeat the Troll Queen in order to save him. They were supposed to live happily ever after.

But in this book, we learn that the Troll Queen is not dead. And she’s ready to get revenge, not only on Rose and Charles, but on the entire human race.

Like the fairy tale it all began with, this book is something of a saga. Rose and Charles now have a baby boy and an adopted daughter. As the book begins, Rose was visiting her family in Trondheim while Charles was performing as a court musician in Stockholm. But word comes that there has been a shipwreck of the ship Charles was taking home. There’s something off about the report.

In this book, it’s very much a case of one thing leading to another. Rose ends up taking a journey every bit as taxing as the one that took her east of the sun, west of the moon. Again her quest requires ingenuity, perseverance, and resourcefulness.

But it also requires help from others. Once she finds Charles (that’s the first difficult part), he helps. But so do her brother Neddy and her friend Sib, and so does Estelle, the little girl they adopted, who is kidnapped by the Troll Queen along with their son and watches over him. It turns out she also needs help from the Fates themselves.

The journey takes Rose in every direction on the compass in her quest to save her beloved husband, then her son, and even all humankind.

The Troll Queen is a formidable opponent and frightening in her power and her hatred. But Rose has something stronger in the power of love.

This is another gripping adventure saga with all the resonance of a fairy tale.

edithpattou.com
hmhco.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 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 Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Friday, February 8th, 2019

The Book of Boy

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Greenwillow Books, 2018. 278 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Newbery Honor Book
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

After reading the first few chapters of this book, I thought I’d stumbled on a book that had the same basic story as The Journey of Little Charlie, by Christopher Paul Curtis – except in Little Charlie the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a slave catcher, and in The Book of Boy the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a relic thief.

But I was quite wrong. Although The Book of Boy started out this way, the story that followed was completely different from anything I’d read before.

Yes, Boy is young and innocent. He’s a hunchback and doesn’t like the way people are afraid of him and call him a monster. The book is set in medieval Europe, just after a Pestilence has gone through the land. A pilgrim demands his aid in carrying a pack. Boy thinks they are going to protect a relic of Saint Peter, but it turns out the pilgrim will use Boy to steal more relics.

We learn some interesting things about Boy and about the pilgrim along the way. The pilgrim can’t touch any relics of St. Peter, but for Boy, the relic already in the pack warms him and makes it so people don’t notice his hump. Every morning when Boy wakes up, no matter where they have camped, animals curl up and sleep with him. What’s more, after a while we realize all the talking Boy does to animals isn’t just rhetorical. Animals understand Boy and talk to him as well.

Secundus the pilgrim wants to gather seven relics of St. Peter, and he has a compelling reason. And although he is indeed a thief, he grows under our skin as their journey continues.

But Secundus the pilgrim doesn’t win us over as fully as Boy does. He is indeed a young innocent forced to help with thievery – but he learns things along the way about his own true nature which are most surprising.

This is ultimately an uplifting book, full of details about life in medieval times. You’ll enjoy the company of the good-hearted Boy, who can talk with animals and is very surprising.

Here’s what the Newbery committee had to say about this book: “From Murdock’s first line, readers are swept into an epic quest across Europe in 1350 with Boy and a mysterious pilgrim, adventuring to recover seven relics of St. Peter. Layered characters from goats to nuns, lyrical language, and multiple reveals combine to create this powerful story of redemption.”

catherinemurdock.com
epicreads.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 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 Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Friday, December 28th, 2018

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

by Michelle Cuevas
illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely and poetical picture book. The story is simple, about the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, who lives by the sea.

He had a job of the utmost importance. It was his task to open any bottles found at sea and make sure they were delivered.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles often has to travel far to deliver the messages.

Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall.

Sometimes the messages were written by a quill dipped in sadness.

But most of the time they made people quite happy, for a letter can hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles does wish a message would come for him. Then one day a very peculiar message comes.

I’m not sure you will get this in time, but I am having a party.
Tomorrow, evening tide, at the seashore.
Will you please come?

He asks many people about the letter, if they recognize the script, but he is unable to deliver it. The first time he hasn’t been able to deliver a note.

As he fell asleep that night, the Uncorker decided to go to the seashore the next day. He would go, and apologize to the writer of the note.

Well, when he arrives, all the people he asked about the message have come, too.

They have quite a party by the seashore.

He decides to try to deliver the message again tomorrow.

Mind you, this is a picture book about which I have to let go of my logical objections. But it is so beautiful! Erin Stead’s art work is so peaceful and profound, and the language so lyrical and lovely. (“the waves tipped their white postman hats…”) It’s such a joyful experience, I’m not going to let little logical questions get in the way of my enjoyment, and I strongly suspect children won’t either.

Like most picture books, I recommend trying this book out to see for yourself the whole effect of the words plus the pictures. I suspect that you will be glad you did.

michellecuevas.com
www.penguin.com/youngreaders

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Source: This review is based on a 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 A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

A Child of Books

by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Candlewick Press, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Picture books that try to convey the magic of reading don’t often come close. This one, with powerful and imaginative text-based art gets across the feeling of the world that books create – and thus achieves success.

The main text is simple:

I am a child of books.

I come from a world of stories
and upon my imagination I float.

I have sailed across a sea of words
to ask if you will come away with me.

Then the girl (the child of books) and the boy she invites go off and have adventures, which include mountains of make-believe, treasure in the darkness, forests of fairy tales, and monsters in enchanted castles.

Our house is a home of invention
where anyone at all can come
for imagination is free.

I have to confess – my personal favorite page is the one with the words “Some people have forgotten where I live.” That page shows a man reading a newspaper. His glasses show the reflection of a bunch of numbers. But if you read the small print on the newspaper he’s reading, the articles are hilarious. The headlines include, “BUSINESS,” “IMPORTANT THINGS,” “SERIOUS STUFF,” and “THE FACTS.”

Here’s the first paragraph of the article on “THE FACTS”:

Scientists have discovered a new fact. In one test, nearly half the subjects proved the fact, it was revealed. The findings, which came from first watching people and then quizzing them, have attracted criticism from some other scientists.

Okay, that’s not enough! The final visible part of the article says this:

Their work began with several trials involving people who were shut in a small room and tested. After 6, 12, or 15 minutes, they were asked if they had discovered this fact. On average, their answers were near the middle of a nine-point scale.

(Excuse me while I laugh about that and the other Serious and Important articles.)

Where was I? Oh, part of what makes this book so special is that it uses the text of classic children’s books in the art. The “mountains of make-believe” are formed from tiny print of words taken from Peter Pan and Wendy. The initial invitation to leave to the world of books is given on a road paved with words from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The sea of words that the child of books arrives on is made of text from Gulliver’s Travels, The Swiss Family Robinson, and The Adventures of Pinocchio.

In fact, looking more closely at the monster made of dark words that seem to come particularly from Dracula and Frankenstein, I see that his horns and nose are made of sinister phrases and his claws are the words “Abhorred,” “monster!” “Fiend,” “Wretched,” “creature,” and “devil!” The children escape the monster by climbing down a rope made of words from Rapunzel.

The Forest of Fairy Tales has trees whose trunks are the page end of books and whose branches are words from various fairy tales.

And the art is lovely throughout. Words, unfittingly, can’t do it justice. There is much use of photographed elements (like the books in the fairy tale forest) mixed with cartoon art mixed with well-placed words.

Usually when the main text of a picture book isn’t long (I count 122 words.), it seems good for a toddler audience. Not this one. This book will be treasured more by a child who has already experienced some of the magic of reading and who will enjoy reading the fine print and catching some of the references. In fact, such a child might be lured into discovering new treasures they haven’t encountered before.

oliverjeffers.com
samwinston.com
www.candlewick.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 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 Henry & Leo, by Pamela Zagarenski

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Henry & Leo

by Pamela Zagarenski

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Pamela Zagarenski’s lush and detailed illustrations have taken some time to grow on me, but by now I love them. She’s consistent with some interesting quirks – characters so often wear a crown, sometimes hovering over their heads as if imaginary. I think of the characters as regal that way.

This is a story of a boy, Henry, and his stuffed lion, Leo.

Henry could never say exactly what it was that made Leo different. Perhaps it was his glass button eyes, which made him look as if he knew secret things. Or maybe it was his jointed and movable parts. I guess we can never really know what makes one particular toy more special than another. But from the moment Leo was given to Henry on his second birthday, the two were inseparable.

Henry’s sister thinks Leo isn’t real, but Henry knows better. When his family goes for a walk in the woods, Henry gets tired and accidentally leaves Leo behind. They don’t discover he’s missing until nightfall.

Henry insists they leave a light on for Leo, even though his mama explains that Leo is not real.

Then we see several wordless spreads of what happens that night in the woods. Many forest animals (all with crowns above their heads) including a large bear help Leo find his way home.

In the morning, Henry finds Leo close to the path right outside the front door. His sister and father looked there the night before, but Henry knows how Leo got there.

It’s a lovely warm book about friendship, with so much to notice and wonder about in the illustrations.

www.sacredbee.com
hmhco.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 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 I Will Not Eat You, by Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

I Will Not Eat You

by Adam Lehrhaupt & Scott Magoon

A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Despite the title and look, this is not, actually, a Jon Klassen book. It is a whole lot of fun!

As the book opens we see a big dark cave with two red eyes peering out.

Theodore lived in a cave.
It was a quiet cave,
and that’s the way he liked it.

One morning, a bird flew up to the cave.
It tweeted and squawked at Theodore.

Theodore thought,
Does it want me to eat it?

But Theodore wasn’t hungry.

“Go away, silly bird,”
he whispered.
“I will not eat you.”

The bird flew away.

The same pattern repeats with slight variations as the day progresses with a wolf and a tiger.

That evening, a boy wearing a suit of armor gallops up to the cave and roars.

Seriously? thought Theodore.
I should eat it.

Theodore was getting hungry.

The boy doesn’t back down, and Theodore emerges from the cave. We finally see that he’s an enormous red dragon. He chases the boy!

Things could get pretty grim, but in a surprise for everyone, the two end up sharing a laugh and becoming friends.

I’m not sure it’s a healthy situation for the boy, but by the end of the book, they play together regularly.

I can always eat him later,
thought Theodore.

This book would be a hit with preschoolers. There aren’t a lot of words on each page. I think the hint of danger could be thrilling. There are certainly plenty of things to talk about after the story is done. Would you play with Theodore?

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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 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 How to Knit a Monster, by Annemarie van Haeringen

Monday, November 5th, 2018

How to Knit a Monster

by Annemarie van Haeringen

Clarion Books, 2018. First published in the Netherlands in 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book was first published in the Netherlands in 2014. It is not eligible for the Newbery. I should not have taken time to read it. On top of that, I have a pet peeve against books that show someone knitting a complete sweater in less than a month – and this book does much, much worse than that.

And yet, all that said — I did read this book today and was enchanted. The speedy knitting is all part of this amazing goat’s magic.

Here’s how the book begins:

Greta is a goat, a white goat. When she goes outdoors in wintertime, she’s almost invisible.

She is a very, very good knitter. She knits socks for everyone she knows and for many she doesn’t know.

Today Greta decides to knit something different. How about a whole goat?

She tries a little one first.

Click, click, clickety click go her knitting needles, and before long a little goat slides off her needle.

What fun! Greta knits more little goats so they can play together.

The illustration here shows several goats, with splashes of color in various places and trailing yarn. They are cavorting about happily, with two butting heads.

But then “mean Mrs. Sheep” comes by and badmouths Greta’s knitting.

Greta is upset. She isn’t watching her knitting.

We’ll see who knits the fastest, Greta thinks angrily. Clickclickclicketyclick go her needles.

Mrs. Sheep keeps talking. Greta still isn’t watching her knitting.

She decides it’s finished and ends it off . . .

. . . and a wolf jumps off the needle!

The little goats run away.

Well, the wolf deals with Mrs. Sheep. Greta hides just in time – in a closet with more yarn, thankfully. Because next she knits a tiger to catch the wolf. But the tiger is hungry….

And what is especially lovely about this book is how it all comes together – or, um, apart – at the end. (No one is permanently damaged, but Mrs. Sheep does learn a lesson.) Though Greta does need to learn to pay more attention to what she knits!

So this knitter, for one, truly appreciates the genius of Greta, whose knitting is just plain magical. Besides this being a really fun story to tell, all the better to convince children that knitters have magical powers, right?

hmhco.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 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 Unicorn on a Roll, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Unicorn on a Roll

Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015. 222 pages.

This is the second collection about a girl named Phoebe and her best friend, the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. And I am officially a Phoebe and her Unicorn fan.

In this volume, Phoebe releases Marigold from the wish that made Marigold Phoebe’s best friend – and discovers Marigold wants to be her friend anyway.

Phoebe faces normal kid things – such as wanting a part in the school play and competing in the school spelling bee against the boy she has a crush on. But she also faces things unique to someone whose best friend is a unicorn who is convinced she’s the best thing in the universe.

One nice sequence is when Phoebe gets to go to the land of the unicorns for a party – when the unicorns decide to hold an intervention, trying to convince Marigold to stop being friends with an icky human. They are unsuccessful.

Oh, and we learn that Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is skilled at roller skating – though Phoebe can’t ride her when she does. (Hence the title.)

This comic strip is all that a comic strip should be – inventive, funny, true to life, and with insights about life that sneak up on you.

danasimpson.com
ampkids.com

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Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess, read by Fiona Hardingham

Monday, October 15th, 2018

A Shadow Bright and Burning

by Jessica Cluess

read by Fiona Hardingham

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 49 minutes on 10 compact discs.

This is alternate history Victorian England, read with impeccable English accents, reflecting class differences in the accents (even though I wouldn’t know the difference if I hadn’t heard it.)

Henrietta Howel has always hidden her ability to set things on fire and burst into flame without burning. So when a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, she works hard to keep from flaming out. It turns out the sorcerer is looking for a girl with power over flame not to execute her as a witch, but to fulfill a prophecy about a woman from sorcerer stock who will save the country.

When the Ancients attack that night — seven great horrific spirits from another dimension who have been attacking England for years — Henrietta’s powers are revealed. But she is brought back to London to train as a sorcerer. She discovers a different world than the one where she grew up.

Henrietta’s one requirement is that she must bring Rook with her — a boy who is “Unclean,” marked by scars from an attack by one of the Ancients, Korazoth. Rook and Henrietta have always looked after each other. The sorcerer is willing to take him on as a stable boy — anything to get Henrietta to train with the sorcerers.

She’s up against a lot in London. She’s out of her depth with society. And she’s training in a house full of boys. She must master her powers in order to be commended by Queen Victoria and become an official sorcerer. And then she meets someone who says he knew her father. And she has grave doubts as to whether she really is the prophesied one. But if she isn’t, she’ll lose everything.

There are layers within layers in this book, but it never gets too complex to follow. I am delighted that there is more to come — the back of the book says it’s Book One of The Kingdom on Fire. The author develops a complicated world here with sorcerers, magicians, and witches — and powerful beings besieging England who destroy humankind and take people as their familiars. And in the middle of all that, you’ve got Victorian England trying to keep women in their place and a girl trying to figure out what that place is for her.

This book is imaginative, suspenseful, and gripping. The narrator’s voice and delightful British accent ensured that my commute was enchanting as long as I was listening to this book.

jessicacluess.com
booksontape.com
randomhouseteens.com

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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?