Archive for December, 2013

Review of Good Prose, by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Good Prose

The Art of Nonfiction

Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing

by Tracy Kidder & Richard Todd

Random House, New York, 2013. 195 pages.
Starred Review

Tracy Kidder writes good nonfiction. On Sonderbooks, I’ve reviewed Mountains Beyond Mountains and Strength in What Remains, and I read Among Schoolchildren long before I started writing Sonderbooks.

Good Prose is a book written by Tracy Kidder and his long-time editor, Richard Todd, about the writing process. It throws in the story of their collaboration and friendship along the way, but mostly it gives lots of insights about writing good prose.

It’s no surprise that the writing in this book is exceptionally good. So to review this book, I’m going to simply offer several example paragraphs.

Even the stories about their friendship are insightful. I like this bit from the Introduction:

A long association had begun. Todd knew only that he had a writer of boundless energy. For Kidder, to be allowed not just to rewrite but to rewrite ad infinitum was a privilege, preferable in every way to rejection slips. And as for Todd, it was possible to imagine that a writer willing to rewrite might turn out to be useful. Todd once remarked to a group of students, never expecting he would be quoted, “Kidder’s great strength is that he’s not afraid of writing badly.” The truth was that Kidder was afraid of writing badly in public, but not in front of Todd. Kidder would give him pieces of unfinished drafts. He would even read Todd passages of unfinished drafts, uninvited, over the phone. Very soon Todd understood when he was being asked for reassurance, not criticism, and would say, “It’s fine. Keep going.” When a draft was done, Todd would point out “some problems,” and another rewrite would begin.

That ritual established itself early on and persisted through many articles and Kidder’s first two books. A time came — midway through the writing of Among Schoolchildren, about a fifth-grade teacher — when Kidder began revising pages before Todd had a chance to read them. This was a means of delaying criticism forever. No doubt that was Kidder’s goal, and he could remain happily unaware of it as long as he kept on rewriting. Things went on that way for a while, until Todd said, in the most serious tone he could muster, “Kidder, if you rewrite this book again before I have time to read it, I’m not working on it anymore.” Kidder restrained himself, and the former routine was reestablished.

Here are some tidbits from a section on Characters:

Some general truths apply. For instance, one sure way to lose the reader is trying to get down everything you know about a person. What the imaginative reader wants is telling details. Characters can emerge in long descriptive passages, as in Tolstoy, but brevity can also work. Graham Greene rarely gives us more than a detail or two — a face “charred with a three days’ beard” or a pair of “bald pink knees” — and Jane Austen often gives us less than that, and yet the people those writers create have come alive for generations of readers.

Whether it is brief or lengthy, mere description won’t vivify a statue. What we want are essences, woven into a story in moments large and small. A character has a wart. You could describe it in detail, but the reader would probably see it more clearly if you described not the wart but how the character covers it when he’s nervous.

Here’s a paragraph from the chapter on essays:

When you write about your own ideas, you put yourself in a place that can feel less legitimate than the ground occupied by reporters or even by memoirists, who are, or ought to be, authorities on their subjects. An all-purpose term describes efforts at sharing your mind: the essay. As an essayist you can sometimes feel like a public speaker who must build his own stage and lectern. Essays are self-authorizing. This is the dilemma but also the pleasure of the form. The chances are that nobody asked for your opinion. But if your idea is fresh, it will surprise even someone, perhaps an assigning editor, who did ask.

And from the chapter on style:

We think of an author’s style as if it were some sort of fixed identity, but it is made up of an accumulation of granular decisions like this one. I remember once in those early days giving Kidder some advice about style. I said in effect, “Look, you are not always the calmest and most reasonable person in the room, and there is no need to be. But you admire such people. Why don’t you just pretend to be a reasonable man in your prose?” I think it was useful advice, actually, but it’s not as if a style is a one-time discovery. It is created and re-created sentence by sentence, choice by choice.

And finally, here’s how they sum up the book, again from the Introduction:

Good Prose is mainly a practical book, the product of years of experiment in three types of prose: writing about the world, writing about ideas, and writing about the self. To put this another way, this book is a product of our attempts to write and to edit narratives, essays, and memoirs. We presume to offer advice, even the occasional rule, remembering that our pronouncements are things we didn’t always know but learned by attempting to solve problems in prose. For us, these things learned are in themselves the story of a collaboration and a friendship.

The result is a book both instructive and entertaining.

tracykidder.com
AtRandom.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/good_prose.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.

Review of Frog Trouble, by Sandra Boynton

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Frog Trouble
And Eleven Other Pretty Serious Songs
Songs and illustrations by Sandra Boynton

Workman Publishing Company, New York, 2013. 64 pages. CD included.
Starred Review

Another book of songs by Sandra Boynton! Frog Trouble is a collection of country music songs, with completely fun lyrics. I’m not a country music fan, so I didn’t know of the performers ahead of time, but all the songs are performed by different groups, and the result is delightful and hilarious.

The title song is about the “one thing that gets a Cowboy down. It’s the kind of trouble that we’ve got in this town – Frog Trouble. Hmm-mm.” There are songs about a dog, about trucks, about the heartache of having to clean your room. She always seems to include a love song appropriate for singing to your child, and in this case it’s “Beautiful Baby.” “Alligator Stroll” includes dance instructions, and I challenge you to listen to it without at least tapping your feet.

I listened to the entire CD twice through on a long drive, and it kept me smiling all the way with its clever word play and serious silliness. Good music, too!

Makes me wish I had a little one in the house to have an excuse to buy this book and CD and play it over and over. As it is, this may be my Christmas gift choice for families with a little one, because everyone in the family is sure to enjoy it.

sandraboynton.com
workman.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/frog_trouble.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.

Book Spine Poetry at City of Fairfax Regional Library

Friday, December 13th, 2013

This month, the person who had reserved the display case had to cancel, so my co-worker Lynne Imre used an idea that Suzanne Levy had suggested from seeing Travis Jonker’s 100 Scope Notes blog: Book Spine Poetry!

Lynne started off the display case with this poem about poetry (with the beginning borrowed from one on Travis’s blog):

How to Write Poetry
Brainstorm!
Where Yesterday Lives
Where Dreams Begin
Where the Heart Leads
Where Wonders Prevail
Poetry Matters

Here’s my contribution, with the last line suggested by my co-worker, Karen Jakl:

Oh, Look!
Snow Day!
Let’s Go Nuts!
You Can Do Anything, Daddy!
Red Sled
All Aboard!
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Here’s another poem I wrote, feeling a little cynical — but it ends happy!

The Liar in Your Life
Lies! Lies!! LIES!!!
Deep Deception 2
Pack of Lies
“I Love You But I Don’t Trust You”
You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore
Breaking Free
Free from Lies
It’s My Life Now

And one more by me:

Why I Wake Early
The Rooster Crows
The Dogs Bark
Baby Says “Moo!”

Now come more by Lynne Imre. I especially like this next one:

Cinderella
Four Past Midnight
Runaway
Sweet Dreams
If the Shoe Fits
Now We Can Have a Wedding!

Where the Wild Things Are
Beside a Burning Sea
Under the Volcano
Beneath Blue Waters
Around the Next Corner
Right Here with You
RUN

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Outside Your Window
Waiting for Wings
A Home for Bird

Have You Seen Bugs?
What’s That Bug?
Insects
The Beatles
Hooray for Fly Guy!
Spider-Man The Venom Factor
Spider Web
I Love Bugs!

What’s the Big Idea, Molly?
Think Big
Big Plans
The Big Game
The Big Leap
The Big Bang
The Big Kerplop!

And here’s one by Lisa Treichler. It’s a conversation, so I’ll use italics for the second speaker.

Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Going to Sleep?
When the Library Lights Go Out
Absolutely Not
I Don’t Want to Go to Bed!
There’s a Monster Under my Bed

Monsters Are Afraid of the Moon
When the Moon Is Full
Take Another Look
I See the Moon
Go Away, Big Green Monster!
“I’m Not Scared!”
I Am So Strong.

Another co-worker, Carla Pruefer, made one, but I didn’t get a picture. Here are the words:

Board Stiff
A Dying Fall
Look Around
Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales

These are such fun once you get started! We are hoping some library patrons will catch the bug and write some more poems for us to display. Come to City of Fairfax Regional Library and write your own!

Review of A Christmas Garland, by Anne Perry

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

A Christmas Garland

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, New York, 2012. 194 pages.

There’s nothing like a nice murder mystery for Christmas! Reading Anne Perry’s Christmas mystery has gotten be a tradition with me. I was sorry to miss last year’s, since I was judging the Cybils Awards. This year, I’m a second-round judge, so I was able to make up for lost time and read last year’s.

This one is historical, which Anne Perry does so well. We’re with British soldiers in India in 1857, during a large mutiny, shortly before Christmas. Lieutenant Victor Narraway has just arrived in Cawnpore, and he’s given an assignment:

Latimer smiled bleakly. There was no light in his face, no warmth of approval. “You will be aware of the recent escape of the prisoner Dhuleep Singh,” he went on. “And that his guard, Chuttur Singh, was hacked to death in the course of Dhuleep’s escape?”

Narraway’s mouth was dry. Of course he knew it. Everyone in the Cawnpore station knew it.

“Yes, sir,” he said obediently, forcing the words out.

“It has been investigated,” Latimer’s jaw was tight, and a small muscle jumped in his temple. “We know Dhuleep Singh had privileged information regarding troop movements, specifically regarding the recent patrol that was massacred. We also know the man could not have escaped without assistance.” His voice was growing quieter, as if he found the words more and more difficult to say. He cleared his throat with an effort. “Our inquiries have excluded every possibility except that he was helped by Corporal John Tallis, the medical orderly.” He met Narraway’s eyes. “We will try him the day after tomorrow. I require you to speak in his defense.”

Everyone is sure Tallis is guilty. As the Colonel said, the matter was investigated. But they want to uphold the rule of law and be sure he gets a fair trial. So Narraway is to defend him. A daunting task for Narraway, and one which he can’t win, and which no one wants him to win.

When he talks with Tallis, the man claims he is innocent. He was sorting medical supplies and no one saw him, but he did not kill the guard. Narraway likes him and wants to help, but it certainly looks like he will hang.

Out of this situation, Anne Perry creates a riveting mystery which ends with nice warm Christmasy feelings. Perfect for the season.

AnnePerry.net
ballantinebooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/christmas_garland.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 Poems to Learn by Heart, by Caroline Kennedy

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Poems to Learn by Heart

by Caroline Kennedy
paintings by Jon J Muth

Disney Hyperion Books, New York, 2013. 192 pages.
Starred Review

Caroline Kennedy has collected in this book a rich treasury of poems, all worth committing to memory, and also worth reciting aloud even if you haven’t memorized them.

There’s a nice variety here, including poems I’ve known since childhood and were recited by my fellow students, such as “Casey at the Bat,” as well as much newer poems, less well-known poems, and even some poems by students.

She divides them into sections with similar themes, using a line from one of the poems to title each section. We’ve got “Here I Am and other poems about the self,” “I Dreamed I Had to Pick a Mother Out and other poems about family,” “I’m Expecting You! and other poems about friendship and love,” “I Met a Little Elf-Man, Once and other poems about fairies, ogres, and witches,” “Where Can a Man Buy a Cap for His Knee? and other nonsensical poems,” “It Is the Duty of the Student and other poems about school,” “We Dance Round in a Ring and Suppose and other poems about sports and games,” “Four Score and Seven Years Ago and other poems about war,” “The World Is So Full of a Number of Things and other poems about nature,” and “Extra Credit” (extra difficult poems to memorize).

It took me a very long time to read this book, because I read it a little at a time, trying to read as many poems as possible aloud to myself. But each time I checked the book out, it was on hold when three weeks were up, and then it took weeks for my hold to come in again. This last time, I made extra effort to finish reading it before my time was up! I’m amazed that it’s been out for months, but all copies are still on hold. I didn’t realize there were so many lovers of poetry in our county, but that fact makes me happy.

One thing’s for sure, the next time a child or a parent comes to the library looking for a poem to recite, I will give them this book – if we are lucky enough to actually find it on the shelf! This is a treasure trove of delightfully recitable poems.

disneyhyperionbooks.com

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

Sonderling Sunday – Escaping the Wormbeards

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. Tonight I’m going to again look at Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy.

Last time, we left off on page 195 in the English version, and Seite 247 auf Deutsch. Jo is in a tight spot, surrounded by Wormbeards (Wurmbärte).

Oh, it starts right off with a nice one:
“deafening roar” = ohrenbetäubendes Brüllen
(“ears-numbing bellow”)

“and a powerful force knocked everyone on their backs”
= und eine ungeheuerliche Kraft schleuderte alle zu Boden, wo sie rücklings landeten
(“and a monstrous force hurled all to the ground, where they backwards landed”)

“heightening howls” = gellenden Heulen

“tossed around” = herumgeschleudert

Fun to say:
“paper dolls” = Papierpuppen

“barking and shrieking” = kläfften und heulen

“fences and walls” = Zäune und Wände

“to throw off the lizard-dogs” = um die Echsenhunde abzuschütteln

“A lizard-dog’s jaw nipped at her thigh” = Ein Echsenhund schnappte nach ihrer Wade

“East Squeamings” = Ost-Heikel (“East Squeamish”)

Interesting. In the fish market, the translator translated “squishy blobs” with one word: Quallen, which means “jellyfish.” That’s probably what they were?

“slimy stones” = glitschigen Steinen

“crashing through the stalls” = durch die Buden krachten

“reckless glee” = rücksichtslosem Eifer

“hissing smoke” = zischte und qualmte (“hisses and smokes”)

“swinging clubs” = Knüppel swingend

“surrounded” = umzingelt

“whirled and yanked” = herumgewirbelt und herumgezerrt

“roiling crowd” = keuchende Menge (“coughing mass”)

I like that there’s a word for this:
“mask of scabs” = Schuppenmaske

“riot” = Aufruhr

“cobbled” = gepflasterte

“half-assembled” = zerlegte (Google translates this word as “decomposed.”)

This is fun:
“Woo!” = Juhu!

“a gargantuan, flapping, snorting, screeching bird” = ein riesiger flatternder, schnaubender, kreischender Vogel

“got up” = aufgerappelt

“unreliable weapons” = unzuverlässigen Waffen

“cheeky” = hinterhältig (“underhanded”)

“lost causes” = aussichtlose Aufgaben

And, with lost causes, we wrap up Chapter Fifteen! Juhu!

Now you know that many more useful phrases in German! You know just what to say if you see someone with a Schuppenmaske or you’re in a situation where you need um die Echsenhunde abzuschütteln.

Review of The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, by Alexander McCall Smith

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

The Mystery of Meerkat Hill
A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers

by Alexander McCall Smith
read by Adjoa Andoh

Listening Library, 2013. 1 hour on 1 CD.

The Mystery of Meerkat Hill is a second mystery about the heroine of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency when she was a little girl. The book form is a short chapter book with illustrations, perfect for kids ready to start on chapter books. The audio form has rich African accents, and is a delight to listen to.

Precious already has her trademark matter-of-fact approach to life. In this story, she makes some new friends who have a meerkat as a pet. Later, the friends lose their cow. Precious helps them track the cow and figures out a clever way to show it is theirs.

You’ve got a mystery, lots of animals, and a story set among kids living in another country. I’m excited to be able to offer this to kids, and the CD makes a wonderful family listening experience as well.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/meerkat_hill.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 Fire in the Ashes, by Jonathan Kozol

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Fire in the Ashes

Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

by Jonathan Kozol

Crown Publishers, New York, 2012. 354 pages.
Starred Review

This book is made up of stories — stories about some of the poorest children in America, but children whom Jonathan Kozol has known and cared about for twenty-five years. So we get to see them rise into adulthood. Some of them do not go on to productive lives, but most of them do, and the readers rejoice with Jonathan.

He begins the book with a note to the Reader, which begins like this:

Over the course of many years I have been talking with a group of children in one of the poorest urban neighborhoods of the United States and have written several books about them and their families. Readers ask me frequently today if I’ve kept in contact with the children and if I know how many have prevailed against the obstacles they faced and, in those cases, how they managed to survive and how they kept their spirits strong amidst the tough conditions that surrounded them.

It has not been difficult to keep in contact with most of these children because so many of them, as they have grown older, have come to be among my closest friends. They call me on the phone. They send me texts and e-mails. We get together with each other when we can.

The stories that follow are stories of particular children. But these stories put faces to poverty. They make us care. I can’t think of a better way to raise concern for problems in urban America than to get us to care about the children and families growing up there.

Sometimes life is more astonishing than fiction, and more inspiring, too. Even if you don’t want your awareness of issues raised, this book is worth reading for the stories alone. You will care about the wonderful people he features and follows into adulthood.

JonathanKozol.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/fire_in_the_ashes.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.

Review of Sophie’s Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Sophie’s Squash

by Pat Zietlow Miller
illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2013. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Something about this quirky book completely won my heart. I mean, how could the author think of this? Turns out, it’s based on something her own daughter did – which makes sense, since no one could make this up. Thanks to Travis Jonker from 100 Scope Notes for bringing it to my attention!

Here’s how the book begins:

One bright fall day, Sophie chose a squash at the farmer’s market. Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas.

It was just the right size to hold in her arms.
Just the right size to bounce on her knee.
Just the right size to love.
“I’m glad we met,” Sophie whispered. “Good friends are hard to find.”

At home, Sophie used markers to give her squash a face. Then she wrapped it in a blanket and rocked it to sleep.

When it was time to make supper, Sophie’s mother looked at the squash. She looked at Sophie.
“I call her Bernice,” Sophie said.
“I’ll call for a pizza,” said her mother.

From there, Sophie has an always-happy companion.

But this book is much more realistic than some others like Arnie the Doughnut. I love the portrayal of Sophie’s parents, with lines like, “Well, we did hope she’d love vegetables.” And “Why don’t we donate Bernice to the food pantry before she rots?”

Before long, Sophie’s father calls Bernice “a little blotchy,” but Sophie insists she only has freckles. Finally, Sophie takes Bernice to the farmer’s market to cheer her up and gets advice from a farmer. She makes Bernice a bed of soft soil for the winter – and there is the happiest of endings when Sophie discovers Bernice’s children and gets two new friends who are just the right size to love.

The pictures in this book are perfect. Imaginative Sophie with her perky pigtails goes through all the emotions of love and loss and new discovery.

This absolutely charming book is a completely new take on the classic story of Two Best Friends.

patzietlowmiller.com
randomhouse.com/kids

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/sophies_squash.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.

Review of Sense & Sensibility, by Joanna Trollope

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Sense & Sensibility

by Joanna Trollope

Harper, 2013. 362 pages.
Starred Review

Sense & Sensibility, by Joanna Trollope, is simply a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility. You come away from it feeling like this is exactly how Jane Austen would have written it if she were writing today. There are no gimmicks. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the gimmicks — like a science fiction retelling of Persuasion. But this is the same story told in modern times.

And I loved it! Sense and Sensibility is not one of my favorite Austen books, but even knowing what would happen, this one kept me up reading all through the night. A little thing that bugged me in Jane Austen’s version — that Marianne is so fragile she gets sick if she gets wet — was nicely explained by Marianne’s asthma, which is what killed their father.

I don’t have to tell you the plot, because this is really for people who’ve already read Jane Austen’s version. Joanna Trollope did a magnificent job of modernizing it to today’s situations and sensibilities.

As I write this review, I looked at the website mentioned on the flap, theaustenproject.com, and I learn that this is the first of Jane Austen’s six novels to be rewritten. I’m not sure how I will feel when they start tackling my favorites, like Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, but this first one is so excellent, that bodes well for the rest of the series.

joannatrollope.com
theaustenproject.com
harpercollins.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/sense_and_sensibility.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!