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Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen

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Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen Wendelin Van Draanen, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

Samantha "Sammy" Keyes is passing time with her grandmother's binoculars when she spies a man taking money from a purse across the road on the fourth floor of the Heavenly Hotel. Unable to take her eyes off the sight, the thief looks up and sees her looking. Stunned, Sammy does the one thing completely inappropriate to the situation -- she waves.

Sammy says, "It's not like I was trying to get into trouble," but she seems to have a definite knack for it. Not only is Sammy living with her Grams illegally (while her mother has gone off to Hollywood to be in pictures), but now she has just gotten herself on the bad side of a criminal. This is only the beginning of a stressful few days for Sammy that will include being suspended on the first day of school and getting in trouble with the police, all the while trying to keep her living arrangements a secret.

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief is the first in the popular series of ten (so far) children's mysteries by Wendelin Van Draanen. It won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Children's Mystery and is filled with utterly engaging characters and situations that entertained even this jaded mystery fan.

This review is a little different from my other ones because I didn't actually read this book -- I listened to it. The C/W MARS library network of Massachusetts has opened a Digital Book Catalog online where anyone with a local library card can download audio books (also e-books), which can then be played on the computer or burned to a CD within the checkout period. The books then check themselves back in. I highly recommend trying it out. (Residents of other states should check their local library's Web sites to see if they have a similar service available.)

Tara Sands, the voice behind Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, as well as the others in the series, is a real find. She gives Sammy just the right touch of youth, spunk, and attitude to contrast with her genuine sweetness. Sands is also equally at home with other voices like Grams, various police officers, and other adults. With just the right amount of exaggeration, she adds a humorous touch that lightens the proceedings (though they never really get that dark) and makes each character individual. It is easy to hear why her performances have won Audiofile Earphones Awards.

Wendelin Van Draanen has written a highly entertaining first mystery in Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, but I don't think I would have enjoyed it quite as much without Tara Sands reading it to me.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form in The Gardner News. Copyright 2006.

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