Archive for September, 2011

Ten Years of Sonderbooks!

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

I missed it! I was in the hospital dealing with the minor problem of a stroke, and I let my TEN year anniversary of starting Sonderbooks slide right by!

Sonderbooks was originally an e-mail newsletter. I preferred to call it an e-zine, which posted 107 “issues.” I began in August 2001, with Sonderbooks #1. I’m not sure on which day, but at the start of the month, because I posted four issues that month. At the time, I planned to make it a weekly e-zine, and planned to simply post all the books I’d read that week. Publication slowed down at times. Eventually, I tried to read a book from each category and include one Picture Book Pick and one Old Favorite in each issue.

It wasn’t long before I pursued my dream and converted it to a website. I had so much fun discussing the books I’d reviewed with library customers! I was working at Sembach Base Library in Germany, which is a small community, so I became friends with many of our customers, and posting the reviews got us talking to each other more. I loved doing it, and reviewed every book I read. I continued to post it in issues, updating the website at the same time as I sent out an e-zine with that week or month’s reviews. Here are links to all 107 issues of the e-zine.

At the end of the summer of 2006, my life was in major upheaval. My husband left me and moved to Japan. I had to leave Germany and move back to the States. My oldest son went off to college in Florida. I lost my job (because my husband’s term in Germany was up). I began graduate school in Library Science, deciding that if I had to support myself and work full-time, I’d like to do it as a librarian.

With all that going on, I got way behind in posting reviews. But then I got to take a class in Web Site Development. I decided it would be simpler to post reviews one at a time on a blog — and simply post them on the website one at a time instead of in issues. I revamped my site with a logo that my friend Deborah Gregory made for me, and started out with a new look. Here are the 1,250 reviews before the 2006 change.

Even though the blog format is perfect for reviews, I haven’t been willing to give up the main site. There you’ll see the covers of the two most recent reviews I’ve posted in each category. You’ll find links to authors’ websites and to related reviews. I also have links between all the books in each category. Each category also has a main page where I list all the books reviewed since the site revision. I may start having to separate out some categories (like Teen Fantasy), but for now I just keep adding them on.

Of course, as long as I was adding a blog, I also added a blog for Sonderquotes, quotations from books I was reading; Sonderblessings, a simple list to remind me to be thankful; and Sonderjourneys, my personal journeys and musings about life. In case you were wondering? “Sonder” is a German prefix that means “special.” (“Sander” doesn’t mean anything.) Also in case you’re wondering, as a kid I was very very tired of having my name confused with Sandra, so I was thrilled to find German words beginning with Sonder and claimed this German-English title as my own.

My biggest frustration with Sonderbooks? When I began, I was only working 20 hours per week, and I still struggled a bit to keep up with writing reviews for all the books I was reading. Now I’m working full-time, and I’m currently way behind. I know, I know — I should decide not to review some of the books I read. Honestly, if I don’t have much that’s good to say about it, I won’t review a book. However, right now I have quite a stack of books I really loved. Can I get them reviewed soon? Well, while I was out on sick leave, I did catch up and got all the library books I’ve read reviewed. So now I just need to catch up on the books I own. (Why library books first? They have a due date of course!) I’m going to try to blaze through them this weekend, but it’s probably too big a stack to actually finish. If the year ends up, and I still haven’t caught up, I will have to admit defeat.

Because at the end of each year, I love compiling a list of my favorites. There are now ten lists of Sonderbooks Stand-outs posted. Be sure to browse these favorites.

So — ten years from an e-mail newsletter to family and friends to a website and blog that gets as many as 10,000 hits per month! And I’m having so much fun doing it!

In the future, I’d like to get another list of all the reviews going, and I’d like to keep post lots more lists of Sondy’s Selections. But meanwhile, I’ll be happy if I can catch up on writing reviews! And I’m wildly looking forward to Kidlitcon11 in Seattle next weekend, where I hope to meet other like-minded bloggers. Back in ’01, I didn’t know anyone else like me, an enthusiast wanting to go on and on about books, particularly children’s books. Now the internet has acquainted me with a whole blogiverse of people like me!

Review of I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird, by Robert B. Haas

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird

My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals from a Helicopter

by Robert B. Haas

National Geographic, Washington, DC, 2010. 64 pages.
Starred Review

This book is a delight to look at. Robert Haas is an aerial photographer. In this book, he tells the story of getting his stunning images — and he also includes the images.

He tells about his methods; it sounds much more difficult than I ever would have guessed. He usually flies with the door off the helicopter and not one, but two, safety harnesses. It’s very cold up there with the door off, so he wears many layers of clothes.

In this book, he focuses on some images that have a story behind them, like the time he saw a herd of African buffalos being hunted by lions. Another time, he found a bear in Alaska just coming out of its den from a winter’s hibernation. He also does amazing photography of sea creatures, and once the pilot almost lost control right over a large group of sharks.

My favorite image, though, is the one that goes with this description:

“One of the most beautiful sights from the air is a large flock of flamingos moving around in shallow water. The flock forms one shape after another and leaves different patterns as it sweeps across the water. One time off the coast of Mexico, I came across a large flock of flamingos that changed its shape every few seconds, and I kept shooting and shooting for a very long time. And then, when I was just about to leave, I noticed something that was simply unbelievable — the hundreds of flamingos in the flock had actually formed the shape of a flamingo! I was able to capture that shot, and it has become one of my best known photos.”

I’m taking a class on the Caldecott Medal, and we have been discussing whether a photographer will ever win for the most distinguished picture book. I hope last year’s committee gave this book consideration, since the images are truly stunning. This book will be enjoyed and marvelled over by children and adults alike.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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.

Review of The False Princess, by Ellis O’Neal

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

The False Princess

by Ellis O’Neal

Egmont USA, New York, 2011. 319 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely romantic fairy-tale-type story that will keep you guessing. Fans of Ella Enchanted and The Goose Girl and Princess Ben (like me!) will enjoy it.

Nalia has grown up as crown princess of Thorvaldor. But after her sixteenth birthday, her parents summon her and tell her that her entire life was a lie.

Every royal child of Thorvaldor gets a prophecy from the Oracle. The prophecy Nalia learned was a bland one about peace and prosperity. But on that memorable day, her supposed parents tell Nalia what the prophecy really was:

“According to the oracle, there was a chance the princess could die, murdered, before her sixteenth birthday. It was not certain, but the chance was great enough that, when she sought the foretelling, all the oracle saw was blood, and the princess dead in this room.”

The king and queen were sure this would be their only child. They were ready for desperate measures:

“He stopped short, his eyes fixed on mine. When he spoke again, he sounded tired, like a man at the end of a long journey. ‘We hid the princess away so that she would be safe until after her sixteenth birthday. And we replaced her with another baby, a false princess. You.'”

The court magicians take off the glamour that’s been on Nalia all her life, and she loses her birthmark. She learns that her name is Sinda Azaway. She doesn’t even get to say good-by to her best friend, Kiernan, an earl’s son, and she’s sent to live with her aunt, who thought she was dead.

The king and queen send gruff Aunt Varil a gift she can’t even use. Aunt Varil is a dyer, and Sinda tries to help, but it turns out she’s no good at dyeing or any other kind of labor fitting to her new station. However, she does learn she has an innate magical talent (which no one in the royal family ever does), and is dangerous unless she learns how to control it. She tries to get into the magical academy in the capital, but can’t afford it. However, she finally gets a break when a kind lady wizard takes her in as an apprentice. And then she’s close to the castle and finds out something’s funny about the “real” princess.

This is a very good yarn, another delight for people who enjoy fairy tales (like me!). The plot is complex, with plots and counterplots — almost too complex, but not quite. There’s a nice touch of romance, and plenty of action. Sinda is in a unique position to find out what’s going on, and also in a unique position to set things right. Her journey to do that is perilous but fascinating, scary but exciting.

This is a wonderful first novel! Ellis O’Neal has spun a complicated tale and done a great job of getting it all across, and making it a delight to read. This is just the sort of book that I read and wish I had written myself! I’m really looking forward to Ellis O’Neal’s future offerings!

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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.

Review of The Silver Bowl, by Diane Stanley

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

The Silver Bowl

by Diane Stanley

Harper, 2011. 307 pages.
Starred Review

I read this book during the 2011 48-Hour Book Challenge, and completely loved it. It helped make the challenge a beautiful experience.

The Silver Bowl is traditional fantasy, but with a very unusual plot. You won’t know what to expect, and you will be enchanted and delighted with the story.

Molly is the seventh child of a poor man with a mad wife, so she’s sent away to work at the castle when she’s only seven. Her mother guesses why Molly is “troublesome,” because she gets visions like Molly’s. Molly’s mother is on her deathbed, but she gives Molly a necklace her father made, and some advice:

“Now listen to me and remember what I say: when these things happen in the future, try not to draw back in horror and surprise, or to cry out. It’s natural to be frightened, I know, and it may be that you haven’t the skill to hide it. If that is the case, then you must spin some tale. Say a spider bit you or that you are prone to fits. But whatever you do, don’t tell anyone the truth.”

Molly means to follow her mother’s advice. But then she’s set to polishing a beautiful silver bowl, and the bowl gives her visions — visions of a curse on the royal family, a curse about to strike. Who can Molly tell? Will anyone believe her? Can she save the king?

I love Molly’s feisty character in this book. And the people she meets and makes friends with among the castle servants are well-fleshed-out, too. I especially like the Donkey Boy, Tobias. Here’s the scene when Molly is new to the castle and meets Tobias:

“I was put under the charge of a big girl named Bertha, who’d worked there for several years. She enjoyed ordering me about as though she were a duchess and I was her lowliest servant. Yet she was just a scullion, same as me, except that she was trusted to handle the fine and delicate things, while I attended to the pots and the spoons, and whatever could not be broken.

“On my third day she happened to go to the privy, leaving some goblets on the sideboard waiting to be washed. They were made of fine crystal, etched with cunning designs and rimmed with gold — worth a fortune I’m sure. I should never have touched them. But I thought to impress Bertha by showing how helpful I could be. Perhaps she would be kinder to me then. And so I picked up one with my soapy hands.

“You’ve already guessed that I dropped it.

“The donkey boy was standing in the doorway. His hair was in his eyes, his nose ran, and his mouth hung open. Naturally, I took him for a dimwit. Never did I dream he could be quick.

“But quick he was. He saw the goblet fall; and suddenly there he was, upon his knees, hands outstretched. He caught it before it hit the ground, lost his balance, rolled over onto his side, then onto his back, all the while holding it safely aloft. At last he rose to his feet again and handed it back to me — after which, having spoken nary a word, he returned to his place by the door.”

This is a beautiful book about a little servant girl who tries to save the kingdom.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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.