From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5-8–Abandoned as a baby, Annika is found and adopted by Ellie and Sigrid, cook and housemaid for three professors. Growing up in early-20th-century Vienna, she learns to cook and clean and is perfectly happy until a beautiful aristocrat appears and claims to be her mother, sweeping her off to a new life in a crumbling castle in northern Germany. Annika is determined to make the best of things, and it takes a while for her to realize that her new "family" has many secrets, most of them nasty. With the help of Ellie, Sigrid, the professors, and friends old and new, Annika escapes from a ghastly fate and learns to face the truth about her relatives. Winding like a braid through this story is a mystery involving a chest of worn costumes and junk jewelry left to Annika by an old woman she has befriended. This is a rich saga in the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett, full of stalwart friends, sly villains, a brave heroine, and good triumphing over evil. Annika's determination to do the right thing is both laudable and utterly frustrating, especially when readers realize that her loyalty is misplaced. Almost every character is distinct, but the ones that stand out are the "regular folk," individuals whose sense of decency propels them into amazing acts of courage. Vienna itself is colorfully portrayed, brimming with pastries, coffee, and dancing Lipizzaner horses. An intensely satisfying read.–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library
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*Starred Review* Gr. 4-8. Ibbotson's latest is a galloping historical novel set in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Abandoned as an infant, 12-year-old Annika lives in Vienna with the cook and housemaid who discovered her as well as their employers, a sibling trio of eccentric professors. Annika helps with the housework and grows up comfortably in the warm house on a beautiful square, surrounded by friends. Still, Annika dreams of reuniting with the unknown parents who abandoned her, and when an elegant, charismatic woman appears, birth certificate in hand, Annika embraces her as her long-lost mother and agrees to move to the family's remote northern castle. The grand estate isn't what she expected, though, and she fights waves of homesickness as troubling clues begin to emerge about her new family. Ibbotson leads her characters through a delightful, breathless adventure that skillfully enfolds deliciously cruel villains, crumbling aristocratic families, stolen jewels, and a cast of lovable, intrepid professors and children determined to rescue Annika from danger. Viennese-born Ibbotson layers her suspenseful story with exquisite details that contrast the city's cozy clamor with the bone-chilling northern landscape, beautifully echoing Annika's plight. Masterful entertainment in the tradition of Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
(1962), this will please Harry Potter readers, too. Hawkes' lively black-and-white drawings extend the adventure and nostalgic flavor. Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved