Archive for September, 2018

Review of The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Random House Audiobooks, 2018. 12 CDs.
Starred Review

I’m reviewing another audiobook for adults! Our Newbery committee agreed not to listen to audiobooks of eligible books, since that might influence us one way or the other. So I’m using my commute to listen to books for adults. After reading The Woman in Cabin 10 and thoroughly enjoying spending time with a thriller, I was excited to see the library had an audio version of Ruth Ware’s latest thriller.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a completely different story from The Woman in Cabin 10, but it, too, sets the stage, lets you thoroughly understand the characters – and leads up to a completely tense, edge-of-your-seat, the-author-wouldn’t-really-let-her-die-would-she? moment.

At the beginning of this book, Harriet (known as “Hal”) Westaway receives a letter from her lawyer informing her that her grandmother has died and she needs to go to Trepassen House in Cornwall to receive her inheritance.

The thing is – Hal’s grandmother died before she was born. Her mother was single (said her father was a student she had a one-night stand with) and though she was named Westaway, her birth certificate lists a totally different name than the supposed grandmother of the letter.

But Hal is in deep financial trouble. When her mother died, Hal continued her tarot-reading booth on the pier in Brighton. But that’s not a reliable income, and she got in trouble borrowing money from a loan shark after her mother’s death, and now he wants her to pay back several times what she originally borrowed.

What if she just goes to Cornwall and tries to claim the money? They’re rich. Surely it won’t hurt them for her to take a little.

But when Hal gets there, she finds people with faces, not just selfish rich folks. Though there are some disturbing things about the house.

And then she finds out two things. One is that her mother spent time at Trepassen House right around the time Harriet was conceived. The other is that Mrs. Westaway named Hal in her will – and left her the bulk of her estate, passing over her three living children and the missing daughter who had the same name as Hal’s mother.

This book moves slowly, building the scenes and the relationships step by step by step. Which makes it all the more powerful when it comes to the terrifying, but ultimately satisfying, ending.

The narrator is the same one who read The Woman in Cabin Ten — and though Hal wasn’t as desperate a woman as that narrator, I enjoyed Imogen Church’s way of voicing her just as much. Though it’s no secret I’ll enjoy listening to anyone who has a British accent – she does a good job on top of that.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers, here’s another outstanding one.

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

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

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

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

Review of Snow White, by Matt Phelan

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Snow White

by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2016. 216 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another amazing graphic novel by Matt Phelan. I’ve loved his art ever since I saw it in The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.

This is a retelling of “Snow White,” set during the 1920s and 30s in New York City. Who knew you could fit Snow White into such a setting?

And it’s beautifully done. Samantha’s mother gets drops of blood on the snow not from pricking her finger on a needle, but from her cough with drops of blood. Ten years later, her father meets the “Queen” of the Ziegfeld Follies. Instead of running into the woods, Samantha runs into Hooverville, where she’s helped by seven boys who won’t tell her their real names.

The stepmother seems to have some sort of magic. And she’s very good with poison.

The story is told with very few words – in fact, at times I would have liked more to tell me exactly what was going on. It’s possible I was being lazy and not paying enough attention.

But whether or not I caught every detail – this story is striking and wonderful. Now here’s a twist on the fairy tale that I’ve never seen before.

candlewick.com

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of Super Late Bloomer, by Julia Kaye

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

Super Late Bloomer

My Early Days in Transition

An Up and Out Collection

by Julia Kaye

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2018. 160 pages.
Starred Review

This book is published for adults, though it will definitely have an audience with some teens, but it’s not a children’s book, so I think I’m okay to post the review during my Newbery reading year.

This is a memoir in comic format, taken from the Up and Out webcomic. Julia Kaye is a transgender woman who transitioned as an adult. This book tells the story of her transition.

I loved this book. My own daughter is transgender and transitioned as an adult – so I think it helped me understand what she’s gone through and is going through.

The comic format, even using simple lines, is great for showing emotion and helping the reader feel what the author was going through. You can feel some of the pain of gender dysphoria and feel why misgendering causes ongoing pain and insecurity. The book communicates that even though there are ongoing causes of pain as someone transitions – that doesn’t mean transitioning is all a mistake. It doesn’t magically make all issues go away.

I’m hoping that transgender folks will enjoy this book to read about someone else having experiences similar to their own. And cisgender folks can enjoy it to get an inkling of the kind of bravery it takes for transgender people to present themselves to the world as who they truly are. As well as better understand and empathize with fellow human beings.

We may not all be transgender. But we all know what it’s like to feel different, to feel like people are staring at you, or to be unhappy with the way we look and the way people respond to us. This book helps the reader understand what we have in common.

Instagram.com/upandoutcomic
andrewsmcmeel.com

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring, by Rebecca Bond

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

Pig & Goose

and the First Day of Spring

by Rebecca Bond

Charlesbridge, 2017. 48 pages.
Starred Review

This is a beginning reader in the classic “two friends” tradition. We learn how Pig meets Goose on the first day of Spring.

Here’s the start of the book and the story “A Spring Morning”:

It was spring at last.
Pig was in a good mood.
“The sun is shining!” said Pig.
“The sky is blue!” said Pig.
“Goody gumdrops!” said Pig.
“I am going to have a picnic by the pond.”

Pig is anthropomorphic, wearing a dress and gathering things from her cozy home into a picnic basket. On the way to the pond, Goose lands beside her. She admires how well Goose flies, so Goose offers to teach her.

You can figure out how the flying lesson will end up! But I like the way they collapse into a pile of good-hearted laughter after they try it. And then they go together to eat the picnic by the pond.

The second story is “A Picnic Lunch.” They share lunch and talk about how spring is the best season but then agree that all the other seasons are best, too. Pig naps in the sunshine and dreams of flying like Goose. When she wakes up, she learns that Goose can also swim. What an amazing new friend she has!

That story ends with Pig inviting Goose to the party she’s having that evening, her First-Day-of-Spring Party.

The final story is about the party. Pig introduces Goose to her many friends. Pig made wonderful food to eat, tells delightful stories and jokes, and laughs and dances with her friends.

After the party, Goose tells Pig how wonderful she is – and I like that the author doesn’t have to explain to the reader why that is, they’ve already seen how delightful she is. Even her exuberant cry (repeated often) of “Goody Gumdrops!” tells us how enthusiastic she is about her joys.

[I used to like to say “Goody Gumdrops!” when I was a kid. Made me wonder if Rebecca Bond is the same age as me. Well, she’s 8 years younger, but that’s not too far off. Do kids today say “Goody Gumdrops!”? Maybe now they will.]

This is a picture book about friendship and about simple joys. And I like the way it shows us that each friend has something of their own to offer.

I’m glad we can peek in on the start of this beautiful friendship.

[Note: I was looking up Rebecca Bond’s website and discovered, sadly, that she died August 2, 2017, at 45 years old. So the friendship of Pig and Goose will only be developing in our imaginations.]

charlesbridge.com

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of I Woke Up Dead at the Mall, by Judy Sheehan

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

I Woke Up Dead at the Mall

by Judy Sheehan

Delacorte Press, 2016. 278 pages.

Here’s how this book begins:

I woke up dead. At the mall. Still dressed in the (hideous) mango chiffon bridesmaid gown I was wearing when I died. My hair was still pulled back in an elaborate ponytail that was meant to look windswept, but trust me, it would have survived a tsunami. This proves that if you use enough product, your hair can endure things the rest of you can’t. My shoes sparkled in the light. My French manicure was unchipped. I was surrounded by waves and waves of mango chiffon.

Isn’t this perfect? I had actually kept my mouth shut, opting not to tell the bride that I’d never be caught dead in mango. Now here I was. Dead. In mango.

It turns out that the place where Sarah woke up dead is the Mall of America in Minnesota. She was from New York City. Most of the people can’t see her, but then she meets Bertha, her Death Coach. Bertha informs Sarah that she was murdered. (How can this be? Sarah didn’t know enough people to have enemies.) Bertha puts Sarah into a support group with other murdered teens from New York who need to move on. If they don’t move on, they’ll become mall walkers, walking through the mall reliving their deaths.

The teens in the group, one of whom is amazingly attractive, get to visit their own funerals and one day out of their past lives. All with the hope that this will help them let go and move on.

But when Sarah learns who killed her and that her father is in danger, she doesn’t want to move on without helping her father first. That little problem of falling in love isn’t going to help her move on, either.

Do I have to mention that I don’t think for a moment any of this will happen after anyone dies? Do I have to mention I don’t agree with the theology here? But this is a tremendously fun novel. I binge-read it in one sitting and enjoyed myself greatly. There’s mystery – who killed Sarah? There are fun characters and creative world-building. (How does this whole death thing work?) The characters are great, and they all have interesting back stories (which ended up getting them killed).

This is a fun read that leaves you smiling – about death. Sure, maybe you’ll think a little harder about how you live your life. But mostly you’ll enjoy watching a good kid named Sarah navigate a difficult and unfamiliar situation by not necessarily following the rules, but doing the best she can.

judysheehan.com
randomhouseteens.com

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Newbery Notes – 24-Hour Book Blitz Finish Line

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

I finished my 24-Hour Book Blitz! And yes, some of that reading was done out on my balcony, even though it was a hot day for it.

My time stats are that I did manage to use more than half the time for book-related activities, a total of 13 hours and 50 minutes.

I spent 8 hours, 50 minutes reading,
1 hour, 15 minutes blogging (counting my Starting Line post and posting Sonderquotes last night),
2 hours, 15 minutes writing reviews,
and 1 hour, 30 minutes “housekeeping” — entering data into spreadsheets. This last included recording all the books I received from publishers in the last week — my grand total of books received is now 438 books.

As for what I got done, I finished reading 10 books and read 2 partial books. Most of the books I read were quite short, but the total was 1,305 pages read. (And remember that all pages are not created equal.)

I wrote 3,256 words.

I discovered that some books were missing from my spreadsheet when I wrote the Starting Line post, and my Picture Book worksheet wasn’t totaling all the pages. But these new totals should be correct for all the Newbery-eligible reading I’ve done so far:

196 Middle Grade Books (20 of those not finished) — 42,008 pages
53 Young Adult Books (7 not finished) — 14,924 pages
400 Picture Books (400 even!) — 14,935 pages.

Grand total: 622 finished books, and 71,867 pages.

It’s always fun to spend a day reading, though I didn’t really hit on treasures this time. I read a lot of short books, thinking I’d have time to write reviews — but didn’t get many reviews written. I now have a stack of 9 books to review (up from the 5 or 6 I started with), which I hope I can get to tonight before I do more reading.

Still, it feels good to mostly use my time off well — and I love that reading is using my time well! How lucky am I?

My next Book Blitz I hope will be Columbus Day, and the weekend after, I’m taking a 4-day weekend away for a reading retreat. Meanwhile, happy reading!

Review of Barking to the Choir, by Gregory Boyle

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

Barking to the Choir

The Power of Radical Kinship

by Gregory Boyle

Simon & Schuster, 2017. 210 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a second book by Fr. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with gang members in Los Angeles and founded Homeboy Industries, which gives jobs to former gang members.

This book continues the inspiring stories from his first book, Tattoos on the Heart. What’s so amazing about these books is that Father Boyle honestly sees the gang members he works with as wonderful people – people he can learn from himself. And with his stories, he enables the reader, also, to see them as valuable people, loved by God – even delighted in by God.

Father Boyle genuinely learns from the homies he lives among. I liked this quote:

We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it. I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . and the world stays stuck. The homies are not waiting to be saved. They already are. The same is true for service providers and those in any ministry. The good news, of course, is that when we choose to “savor” the world, it gets saved. Don’t set out to change the world. Set out to wonder how people are doing.

He’s here divulged something of the secret of his ministry. He’s not trying to save gang members – he’s savoring them, genuinely feeling privileged that he gets to know them.

And that kind of love changes lives.

This book is about kinship. About community. About enemies becoming friends. And the astonishing love of Jesus that enables that.

Human beings are settlers, but not in the pioneer sense. It is our human occupational hazard to settle for little. We settle for purity and piety when we are being invited to an exquisite holiness. We settle for the fear-driven when love longs to be our engine. We settle for a puny, vindictive God when we are being nudged always closer to this wildly inclusive, larger-than-any-life God. We allow our sense of God to atrophy. We settle for the illusion of separation when we are endlessly asked to enter into kinship with all.

There are a whole lot more inspiring quotes in this book, and they’ll gradually show up on Sonderquotes.

Read this book! You will be challenged. And you will be blessed.

HomeboyIndustries.org
SimonandSchuster.com

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Newbery Notes – September 24-Hour Book Blitz

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

I’m beginning a 24-Hour Book Blitz. My first reading marathon since May.

At the time, I hoped to do a 24-Hour Book Blitz every month, and a 48-Hour Book Challenge every quarter. Well, summer got away from me. Last week, I got my first reading day off since the summer began (too busy with Summer Reading Program!) — and I only got in 4 hours of reading. Yikes!

But Labor Day was coming up! So I spent Saturday cleaning my house — to get rid of distractions. And tonight at 6:50 pm, I began a 24-Hour Book Blitz. The idea is to focus on nothing in that time except reading — and writing reviews.

Okay, but I also have about 30 books received from publishers that I need to enter in my spreadsheet. Before I began reading, I had a stack of 5 books to review — and in those two hours, I was reading short books and need to write more reviews. I didn’t do my daily posting of a review and Sonderquotes yet today, so I’m going to allow that — so we’ll see.

But it’s all good. I will certainly get more reading done than on a normal day off. And, believe me, I need to write those reviews as soon as possible after I finish a book. With all the reading I’m doing, I am *definitely* forgetting what individual books are about.

I had other things to think about in the summer, and now things will begin heating up. The schedule is that the committee is still suggesting books to each other on the 15 of every month. We all read all of those books. So far, 90 books have been suggested. I’ve read all but 3 of those.

But in October, the nominations start! Each committee member nominates 3 books in October, 2 books in November, and 2 in December.

There’s a strategy to nominations. Those are the only books we will consider for the award (except possibly books published in December that someone suggests at the last minute). My plan is pretty simple: I’ll nominate my top three books in October. But in November and December, I will probably not necessarily nominate my next favorites. I will probably choose books that have not already been nominated, to get them on the table. But we’ll see. It’s possible I will read a nominated book for the first time and decide that’s the one I want to win, and want to put my name behind it, too.

At this point, I think I know what my top three (for October) will be. But it’s an interesting place now. Imagine this: You read a book that you wholeheartedly love. Now you have to ask yourself: Why do I love it? Do I love it because it’s a distinguished book? Or just because I have a special connection to it? Or maybe because it’s my favorite genre?

Mind you, if I do have a special connection to it — for example, suppose it’s set in the neighborhood where I grew up (and no eligible book fits that, by the way — but there are other connections) — well, maybe that means I’m better equipped to notice how well the author portrayed that. Or am I just biased?

Again, if it’s a book in my favorite genre, just exactly the sort of story I like best — does that mean I’m better equipped to tell if this particular example is distinguished, or am I just biased?

On top of that, I need to not only determine whether a book is distinguished, but also be prepared to convince 14 other people that it is distinguished. What pages, what chapters, what plot points can I point to in order to show this book is distinguished?

The good part of that is that I’m going to be rereading my favorites many times. The down side of that is that I’m going to be rereading the nominees that are not my favorites many times, too. Though I may notice new riches.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that certain ideas seem to come in waves. I won’t give any examples, because I don’t want people to know what I’m talking about — except that sometimes it’s simply odd when two books have a similar detail. But there are several that have a very similar scenario as the basic idea. I’m afraid that the second or third time I read about a set-up — even if it’s done more skillfully than the previous books — some of the impact is lost. This is a downside of reading every new children’s book you can get your hands on!

However, that’s part of the good part of working with a committee. The process of choosing a Newbery winner — with 15 people you have to convince — actually works well. The cream rises to the top. Already there have been wonderful suggestions. And somebody’s going to notice if the third instance of one particular scenario is the most distinguished one.

I also want to talk about my book reviews. When the Newbery reading year started, I was way, way behind on posting reviews I’d written. Now, I’m not allowed to say one word online about any eligible book. So I was afraid I’d have to give up my website for a year.

But — it turns out that I was so very far behind in posting reviews, pretty much ever since I was on the 2016 Cybils panel for YA Speculative Fiction — that I still have 100 reviews yet to post. I am trying to post an old review every day — and I very much hope I will catch up before the Newbery is announced.

Now, I’m also writing reviews of Newbery-eligible books as I read them — the only way I can possibly remember what I’ve read. I will post my favorites after we make the announcement. After that, I’ll probably keep the reviews in reserve in case I ever don’t have a review ready to go and I want to post. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’ve been rambling on long enough. Let me give my stats before my 24-Hour Book Blitz. Then we’ll see how much they change by tomorrow night. Here are the Newbery-eligible books I’ve read (beginning last October or so):

Middle-Grade Books (Newbery winners usually come from this category, but they don’t have to. Books for ages 0 to 14 are eligible): I’ve read 190 books, 18 of which I did not finish, for a total of 41,230 pages.
Young Adult Books: 49 books, 7 not finished, for a total of 14,165 pages.
Picture Books: 396 books, for a total of 13,607 pages.

The grand total is 610 books finished, at 69,002 pages!

I’ll let you know the new totals after my 24-Hour Book Blitz!

Review of The Great Leopard Rescue, by Sandra Markle

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

The Great Leopard Rescue

Saving the Amur Leopards

by Sandra Markle

Millbrook Press, Minneapolis, 2017. 48 pages.
Starred Review

This is an ideal elementary-level science book for kids. Lots of beautiful photographs of the striking Amur leopards, the history of these big cats, and a look at how scientists are trying to save them from extinction.

The story covers decades – Amur leopards have been endangered for a long time – but it’s also very immediate. This year – 2017 – there is a plan to ensure new leopard cubs are born on the taiga.

The plan is elaborate – the parents will be Amur leopards chosen from zoos. Two pairs of leopards will give birth in two huge pens, where they will stay for two years until the cubs are ready to hunt on their own. This is to establish a second wild population, in case any disaster should befall the remaining wild population living on the recently established Leopard Reserve.

It’s all very interesting and lavishly illustrated with photographs. Perfect for animal lovers and science lovers both.

lernerbooks.com

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?