Archive for August, 2020

Review of Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds, by Ian Wright

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds

100 New Ways to See the World

by Ian Wright
illustrated by Infographic.ly

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

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

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

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

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

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

brilliantmaps.com

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

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

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Review of Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

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

Ahhhhh! Such a magnificent series!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RobinLaFevers.com
hmhbooks.com

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

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Review of Monster and Boy, by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

Monster and Boy

by Hannah Barnaby
illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Godwin Books (Henry Holt), 2020. 138 pages.
Review written August 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Monster and Boy is a charming beginning chapter book that tells about what happens after a mother tells her son during a bedtime story that there is no such thing as monsters.

The monster who lives under the bed and loves the boy hears the mother say this. He can’t resist. After the mother leaves, he decides to prove that she was wrong and shows himself to the boy. But things quickly get out of control.

“Hello,” the monster said.

The boy was silent. The monster thought maybe the boy couldn’t see him, so he made himself light up.

“Ta-da!” the monster said.

The boy took a deep breath and opened his mouth, and the monster knew he was going to scream.

The monster panicked. He did the only thing he could think of.

He swallowed the boy.

There’s a chapter discussing this with the reader. Then I like the part about what happens next:

The monster was instantly sorry that he’d swallowed the boy. The boy felt strange in his stomach, heavy and nervous. The monster did not like how it felt, and also he missed the boy terribly.

Then he heard a small voice from inside himself.

It was not his conscience. It was not his soul.

It was the boy.

“I’d like to come out, please,” said the boy.

“I’d like that, too,” the monster replied.

So their first problem is getting the boy out of the monster. But when they manage that, it turns out that the boy is now very small. So they must figure out how to get him back to his normal side.

This turns out to involve adventures downstairs (Monsters are terrified of going downstairs.) and an encounter with another monster – the boy’s little sister. Oh, and a swim in the toilet bowl.

It’s all wonderfully entertaining. The sentences are simple, and there are pictures on every page, but this story will make you laugh even if you mastered reading long ago.

The back cover says this book is introducing a new illustrated chapter book series, which is fantastic news for kids gaining confidence in their reading.

mackids.com

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

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

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

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Review of We Used to Be Friends, by Amy Spalding

Friday, August 21st, 2020

We Used to Be Friends

by Amy Spalding

Amulet Books, 2020. 362 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is ultimately a sad book. It’s about the Senior year in high school of two lifelong best friends and how by the end of the year, they weren’t friends any more.

However, although I’m not generally a fan of sad books these days – I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one. The story is gripping and you get to understand who the girls really are and how this could have happened, even though it wasn’t what either of them wanted.

I hope that a lesson readers will take away from the book is that people who love you can’t read your mind if you don’t tell them what’s going on, but also that you probably need to be receptive. Anyway, it’s not a book about lessons – but it’s a book with friendship dynamics that seem very real, so don’t be surprised if readers pick up some insights.

The story is told out of chronological order, in a way that makes you very eager to know how each part happened. The chapters alternate the perspectives of the two girls, and the book opens with James (one of the girls) headed off to college, wishing Kat were there to say good-by. And then we scoop back to the beginning of the year, when Kat found out her boyfriend had slept with another girl. It’s not too many chapters in when Kat replaces him with a girlfriend.

The skipping around keeps things intriguing. I was honestly amazed that the author pulled off the non-chronological order. I did go back and read the first chapter after reading the last one. Right at the beginning, James mentions that they wrote letters and put them in a time capsule four years ago – “back before Kat’s mom died, or my mom left.” We find out more about those things later in the book.

This is a novel about friendship in high school. And life. And pressures. And secrets you never meant to be secrets. And popularity. And how you care about people. It’s refreshing and it’s fun, besides being touching. And Amy Spalding tells a really good story.

theamyspalding.com
amuletbooks.com

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

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Attucks! by Phillip Hoose

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Attucks!

Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City

by Phillip Hoose

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 212 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 14, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I am not a fan of sports books. Ho hum. Who really cares?

So I was completely surprised to be mesmerized and pulled into this story of an all-black high school in Indianapolis that built a championship basketball program, despite discrimination.

Phillip Hoose puts a special note at the front of the book about an interview he did with Oscar Robertson in 1986 about basketball fever in Indiana.

One scrap from that conversation inspired the book you’re reading now.

“You know,” Oscar said, “when the Ku Klux Klan started our school, they really didn’t understand what they were doing.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“They did something they couldn’t foresee by making Attucks an all-black school. The city of Indianapolis integrated because we were winning. All the black guys, the really great players, went to Attucks. We were winning all those games, and the coaches didn’t like it. And then a lot of black kids started going to other schools . . .”

What could he be talking about? A high school in a major American city – in the North – started by the Ku Klux Klan? And a basketball team integrating that city?

Oscar wasn’t laughing.

Could it be true?

So Phillip Hoose is telling the story of winning basketball teams, building a championship basketball program, and one of the greatest high school basketball players ever – but he does all that against the backdrop of overcoming racism and the whole city of Indianapolis building pride in the championship team at the all-black high school.

There are spoilers in the note at the front. The author doesn’t hide that Oscar Robertson led the Attucks team to state championships in 1955 and 1956. But how they got there – That’s a story!

The Prologue actually begins before Oscar was even in high school – with the game where his big brother had an amazing game-winning shot with seven seconds left.

Then the main text goes back to the founding of Cristpus Attucks high school in 1927 – yes, it was started by the Klan in order to separate the black kids who had been moving to Indianapolis from the south. He carefully gives us several threads to follow, including how the basketball program developed as well as Oscar’s childhood, obsessed with basketball from an early age.

The first basketball coach at Attucks was concerned that his players not offend anyone – which doesn’t make for the toughest team. But even when they got an excellent coach, the larger white schools wouldn’t play against them, and they weren’t even allowed in the statewide tournament until 1942.

The author includes several seasons, including some with real heartbreaker games. He highlights many of their great players (not just Oscar, the Big O). It all builds to a breathtaking finish and a description of their undefeated season when they became state champions.

And I should probably stop saying that I don’t like sports books. This one was outstanding.

philliphoose.com
fiercereads.com

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

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

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

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Review of The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Monday, August 17th, 2020

The Water Dancer

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
read by John Morton

Random House Audio, 2019. 14 hours, 14 minutes.
Review written August 10, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

With regular library audiobooks, I confess, if it’s due and I have almost finished listening, sometimes I do renew to get a little more time. But I listened to this book on eaudiobook. I knew there were several holds. So I ended up staying up until 3 am to finish listening.

The story is mesmerizing, and John Morton’s wonderful deep voice brings it to life. It’s the story of Hiram, one of the “tasked” on a Virginia plantation before the Civil War. His father is the plantation owner, but his mother got sold further south when he was very young. But he’s found favor with his father and has been made the personal servant of his half-brother.

As the book opens, something strange happens involving a blue light and a river and the road they are taking disappearing. Hiram’s white brother drowns, which changes things for Hiram. Listeners learn about his life growing up on the plantation, the struggles the “quality” are having as tobacco uses up the Virginia soil, and Hiram’s growing desire for freedom.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that Hiram has some otherworldly powers, but doesn’t know how to harness them. He becomes involved in the underground, and even meets Harriet Tubman, who can powerfully wield “conduction” herself.

I was tempted to speed up the audio as I finished so I wouldn’t have to stay up until 3 am after all, but the narrator’s deep, rich voice has a meditative quality to it, and speeding it up ruined the peace I felt from listening to it. And it was totally worth the lack of sleep.

This is a powerful story which looks at history from a new angle.

ta-nahesicoates.com

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

Source: This review is based on an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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

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Review of Madame Badobedah, by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Madame Badobedah

by Sophie Dahl
illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

Walker Books, 2020. First published in the United Kingdom in 2019. 52 pages.
Review written August 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Madame Badobedah (rhymes with ooh-la-la) is a picture book, but it’s on the long side and has three parts, so it’s more for young elementary school students than the usual preschool picture book crowd. Those who can settle into the story will be completely charmed, as I was.

Our narrator, a little girl named Mabel, lives in a Bed and Breakfast, the Mermaid Hotel. The book begins on a day when they get a new guest, an old lady who comes with two dogs, two cats, a tortoise on a cushion, and 32 suitcases. She gets installed in the Mermaid suite on the top floor.

Mabel, who likes to do a little spying, quickly determines that Madame Badobedah (the name Mabel has for her) is a villainess on the run after her jewel heists. After all, the bag Mabel carried for her was so heavy, she knew it contained gold bars. Madame Badobedah doesn’t go out much, and Mabel does some surveillance through the keyhole.

But one day, Madame Badobedah invites Mabel in, and they have tea together. These visits become more common, until Mabel is even willing to share the secret of the Mermaid Room.

We end up with a charming and imaginative story about an intergenerational friendship, one which brings joy to both participants.

walkerbooksus.com

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

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

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Review of My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, by Jason B. Rosenthal

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me

by Jason B. Rosenthal
read by the author

HarperAudio, 2020. 7 hours on 6 CDs.
Review written August 11, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

On March 3, 2017, beloved children’s author Amy Krouse Rosenthal (okay, she wrote things for adults, too, and even made films, but being a children’s author is what I loved her for) had a column published in the New York Times, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It told about her impending death from ovarian cancer, which indeed happened ten days later, but also about what a wonderful man her husband was, how beautiful their life together, and hoping that he would start a new love story after her death, because she wanted him to have a happy life.

This book is Jason’s follow-up. It tells about his life with Amy and their joyful partnership, about the two years he cared for her after her cancer diagnosis, and about dealing with grief. Amy gave him the gift of a platform to talk about end of life, the grieving process, and meeting life after loss with resilience.

As a divorced woman, I’ve dealt with loss. I’m glad that Jason acknowledges that he was lucky to have the loving relationship he had. And Amy blessed it with her last loving act of writing that column. Divorced people (especially those blind-sided by a spouse who leaves before they realize anything’s wrong) don’t get that benediction, but we still have to deal with the absence of someone we love. I appreciated that Jason doesn’t shy away from telling about the good times as if to avoid pain. And his insights are helpful for anyone dealing with loss, even if on the surface, your loss seems quite different from the too-early death of a beloved spouse.

Another thing I have in common with Jason is a succession of losses. Both my parents died, two months apart, last Fall. In the two years since Amy’s death, both Jason’s father and Amy’s father died, as well as the dog that was their family’s companion for many years. Loss piled on top of loss has its own difficult impact. Jason expresses so well the process of dealing with loss upon loss while remembering the love and joy. He doesn’t pretend to have it all together. He talks about times of weeping. And he is again and again thankful to Amy for urging him to fill those empty pages with a new love story.

Listening to Jason’s own voice makes it all the more personal. Listening to this audiobook feels like a brother or a close friend sharing their life and offering encouragement. I understand why hundreds of people have written to him. Amy’s column alone makes me wish it just so happened that I was right for him. (For starters, I don’t live in Chicago.) I have no doubt he’s going to again be a wonderful husband to some lucky woman. (And he has started dating someone. I’m a little envious that he was able to find someone “organically” without using online dating, but hey, everyone’s life is different.)

The part about his life together with Amy was full of joy. I drooled at the description of the home they built – with a wall covered with bookshelves from the basement to the third floor. And I love that they set goals for their relationship while on their honeymoon. They traveled the world together. They made room for quality time with their children and with each other. And they were each other’s biggest fans.

But he’s also got encouraging and uplifting things to say about his life now and about dealing with loss and having resiliency. This is not a sad book, even though it’s centered around a very sad event. It’s the story of a joyful and loving partnership and about someone learning to continue to live a joyful and meaningful life after that partnership ended far too soon.

Like I said, it feels like the author is talking to you personally. I will resist the urge to add to the pile of letters he’s received. Let me just say it now: Jason, thank you for this book. Thank you for telling Amy’s story and your story. Thank you for giving others a window into navigating the journey of loss and new beginnings.

jasonbrosenthal.com

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Source: This review is based on an audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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

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Review of Magic for Marigold, by L. M. Montgomery

Friday, August 7th, 2020

Magic for Marigold

by L. M. Montgomery

McClelland-Bantam, Toronto, 1988. Originally published in 1929. 274 pages.
Review written August 3, 2020, from my own copy, purchased for me by a friend at Green Gables in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.

I’m still rereading all my L. M. Montgomery books, in honor of the trip I got to take to Prince Edward Island last Fall. I’ve slowed down my reading since the trip, but am still plugging away. After this one, I only have six of her novels left, and then the posthumous short story collections.

This particular copy of Magic for Marigold was brought to me from Prince Edward Island by a friend who had visited in 1988 – when the book had gone out of print in the United States but was coming out in paperback in Canada. The funny thing is that she brought me back two books – this one and also The Blue Castle — and they turned out to be my favorite (The Blue Castle) and least favorite (Magic for Marigold). Also interesting is that these two books were written the same year of L. M. Montgomery’s life.

Rereading Magic for Marigold many years later, I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first time, because I knew what to expect. There’s no romance, and it amounts to essentially a series of short stories about a little girl as she grows from birth to age 12. L. M. Montgomery is a brilliant writer of short stories, and taken that way, this book is as delightful as her others.

Many themes that show up in the author’s other books are present here. Marigold’s father died before she was born, and she lives with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother in the ancestral home, part of an enormous family of relations. The foibles of family are at the heart of many of the situations Marigold faces.

They live in a small farming community on Prince Edward Island. I always love the names L. M. Montgomery invents for farming communities on Prince Edward Island. This one is Harmony.

Marigold is an imaginative child with an imaginary friend she can meet with if she follows a certain ritual. Her trouble making flesh-and-blood friends is one of the ongoing themes of the book, though her imagination is seen as a strength, not a weakness.

One thing, though, I’m afraid I hate this time through – the ending. Marigold has finally made a good local friend, a boy. But then another new boy comes into town and the first boy stops playing with Marigold or doing things with her. Well, after a tiff between them, he comes back to Marigold – but then makes up with the other friend. Marigold learns that sometimes you need to share your friends, and that’s fine. She figures out she shouldn’t pretend to like things she doesn’t like – such as hunting snakes and digging for worms. That’s fine, too.

What I don’t like is what her aunt tells her. There’s some good stuff about how we have to share our friends with others. But I didn’t like when she inserted gender into it with these words: “We – women – must always share.” And with that background, Marigold’s last line bothered me: “’And I’ll always be here for him to come back to,’ she thought.”

As a friend, okay. I’m still a friend to my friends who go through a spell of not having time for me. I do like the principle that you can have more than one friend at a time. That even best friends can have more than one friend at a time. But that feeling of waiting in one place? No, Marigold, go off and have adventures, too! When that boy comes back, it’s okay if you’re busy having fun with other friends yourself.

But that’s a small thing. As with every single L. M. Montgomery book, reading this gave me a feeling of joy and a reminder to notice the beauty around me. And now I can think back to my time on Prince Edward Island and imagine the characters in that stunning setting.

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

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Review of The Hand on the Wall, by Maureen Johnson

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

The Hand on the Wall

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 369 pages.
Review written March 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Hand on the Wall is the third and final book in the Truly Devious mystery series, and ties everything up beautifully. Yes, you have to read these books in order. You will be rewarded with an exquisitely crafted series.

In this trilogy, each book gives you pieces of the mysteries in the past and in the present, and each book gives you parts of the solution. You get information about the past mystery in flashbacks as our hero, Stevie Bell, figures out clues. You also have at least one death in each volume. In this book, Stevie and the reader figure out what happened.

This book also has the added drama – perfect for a mystery – of a bunch of students blizzard-bound at the ever-so-interesting isolated Vermont campus created by the eccentric millionaire Albert Ellingham. A blizzard always makes a good backdrop for murder! Can Stevie figure out the solution before the snow melts and she has to go home?

I so appreciate all the atmosphere and nods to great detective fiction that Maureen Johnson slipped into this book. Both mysteries – past and present – have layers to them so that even stretched over three books, they didn’t lag. And enough happened in each book to feel that it deserved to be a book and not just cram the whole thing together.

But the final volume, pulling everything together, was indeed the most satisfying. This is a mystery series with teens taking the starring roles, including the brilliant detective and the person getting a little too close to the truth for her own good. Mystery and danger both! And the fantasy of a school where you can study what you’re good at – even if that talent is finding a murderer.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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?