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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Naomi and Lizzie are both orphans and live in the same little town in America. One day as they are sitting under a tree, a boy falls straight out of it much to their surprise. He says his name is Finn but nothing much more.

Meanwhile across the Ocean in Ireland lives a old lady and her companion who seem to know what is going on back in the USA.

The book is riddled with odd characters like Crazy Cora (who isn't crazy at all) and Witch Wiggins (who isn't a Witch either). Somehow the girls' destinies are being shaped by the old folk in the States, the old ladies in Ireland and Finn himself.

There is magic in this book, not overtly so but there is a Finn McCoul of legend and it would seem that maybe the Finn who fell out of the tree, is the same person.

I liked this book so much that I read it in one hour flat. I think children will like it too because the chapters are short and there is a little frisson of fear every now and then.

I'd recommend this book highly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sharon Creech's 'Love that Dog' is one of my favourite children's books, and since that time I have read whatever books of hers I can get my hands on. I have to say that her output, for me, is rather patchy. Some things work wonderfully, others less so. It is a mark of her flexibility and creativity as a writer that she is never dull, and her output is prolific and extremely varied. It would be hard to pin her down to a particular style or genre. This book, 'The Great Unexpected' is a kind of magical realist novel, set in an unspecified time and set between a small town in America and a small town in Ireland. It mixes the everyday life of two orphan girls, Naomi and Lizzie with the intrigues of the generation that went before them and the legends of Finn McCoul the tricksy hero of Irish mythology. It is a strange and uneven book, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, except that to me it feels rather unfinished and gappy. I love the idea of the story. I'm just not so sure about the execution of it on the page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2013
The Great Unexpected is a contemporary story of friendship, loss, first love and life's wonderful mysteries.

Naomi has never liked the unexpected. She's always felt there was something terrible about it. She lives with Nula and Joe in the town of Blackbird Tree. She has a best friend called Lizzie. Lizzie is known for her constant talking and asking of questions. She sings a lot too. They live a happy, outdoorsy life and though both Naomi and Lizzie have no biological parents, they are loved. At the very beginning of the story, a boy falls from a tree. Something most unexpected and he is a catalyst for many strange happenings.

Meanwhile, there is another story unfolding alongside this one. Mrs Kavannagh across the ocean in Ireland is plotting her revenge. She has rather a fondness for murder and so the author plays with our expectations about this.

I really enjoyed this book. It was full of quirkiness. Immediately you get a sense of Sharon Creech's voice - it's a kooky, it's imaginative and it's heartfelt too. Her way of playing with words is wonderful. You can tell that she thinks about how the words sound next to each other - like poetry. And this lyrical magical style really suited the story too. It's undoubtedly a real life story and yet there were hints of the fantastical there - a witch, fairy rings, the mystical wind and something like a miracle too.

I did find that when the story switched to Ireland, I got lost. My concentration lapsed and I lost what was happening. I had to put the book down and come back to it. But that is no bad thing; sometimes a book should be read a little more slowly. It gives you time to ponder the big questions.

I also loved that the author left some things unexplained at the end. The reader was left to make up their own mind about the question at the heart of the book - what is real?

This was a joy to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. My student book group are reading this and they are all raving about it. The Great Unexpected is an utterly charming and rewarding read.

Recommended for readers age 9+
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This tale is a joy, reader at once in the evocative world of young Naomi and Lizzie - both remarkably resilient after what they have been through. Suddenly their lives are transformed by Finn, the mysterious boy who falls out of a tree....

Vividly depicted is a small remote community in America (its reason for no dogs of interest). Eccentric neighbours reside close by, not least Witch Higgins and Crazy Cora. Meanwhile, "Across the Ocean" in Ireland, old Mrs. Kavanagh meticulously plots revenge.

Ireland? What has Ireland to do with this? Revenge? Revenge for what? All will be revealed, the book full of mysteries big and small, not to mention magic.

The girls themselves totally appeal: good-natured Lizzie, words tumbling out in profusion whenever she opens her mouth; narrator Naomi, aware of her own shortcomings but striving to improve. Both are very down-to-earth, yet full of poetic imagery - the planet visualized as "a giant blue green marble floating in the sky... did a delicate cobweb link us all, silky lines trailing through the air?"

Short chapters make the book ideal for reading aloud. Admittedly there are sad, even grim happenings but always the girls bounce back. Overall emphasis is on the heartwarming and hilarious - for most readers many laugh out loud moments guaranteed.

Naomi and Lizzie are long overdue for happier times, but will these arrive? Perhaps increasingly childlike in my old age, I confess to being completely won over by this tale so out of the ordinary. It captivates and is great.
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VINE VOICEon 3 December 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book starts off in a surreal manner. First there is a story in the prologue about a man pulling things out of a talking donkey's ear such as a loaf of bread and a sack of gold, then there is the opening chapter with a strange boy falling out of a tree on top of the main character of the book, Naomi Deane, the boy barely speaking except to say once in a while strange things such as "Don't take the gold" and "There isn't any gold".

Because of the imaginative off-the-wall beginning the story really grabs the attention, and I thought it was ideal to read to my nearly 7-year-old daughter.

The story tries to keep the same intriguing style throughout with lots of random bits with you left to try and decipher the bits in-between, but in my opinion the story gets confusing because of this, although by the end all the connections are revealed. However the beginning is still the best part and because of that I expected more of the rest of the book.

The basic story revolves around two girls, Naomi and Lizzie, and the mysterious Finn boy who fell out the tree, based in their small town of Blackbird Tree with its strange cast of characters such as Witch Wiggins, Crazy Cora and one-armed Farley.

Then there are occasional chapters "across the ocean" in Ireland following Sybil and Pilpenny who love the odd murder. The people that live in the two places are related, but the connections only come about at the end of the book. Knowing what I know now I think a 2nd reading of the book would be good so that I can understand the story fully.

Having said all that there are intriguing things in the book like a crooked bridge which has many turns as it crosses a river rather than just following a straight line, and the strange characters, but with all the disconnects the book is a bit weird and confusing.
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VINE VOICEon 3 March 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Two orphaned children live in a small town, Blackbird Tree, somewhere in America. There's Lizzie who, in times of trouble, imagines going to the moon and seeing "a giant blue-and-green marble floating in the sky" whilst her best friend and our narrator Naomi tries the same trick and sees "a million billion people ... with problems". One day a boy called Finn falls out of a tree talking about a Crooked Bridge and gold and nothing will ever be quite the same again. At the same time, across the ocean in Ireland, the wheezing Mrs Kavanagh is talking of revenge and a murder....

The Great Unexpected is a subtle and mysterious tale of two girls growing up. It is a story of love, death, friendship, and forgiveness. It sounds as though it might be predictable, or heavy, yet one of the triumphs of this book is that it is neither of these things. Instead the story has an old-fashioned quality - an innocence or innate goodness - that called to my mind an atmosphere reminiscent of classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (not the later Huckleberry Finn) and The Secret Garden. It inhabits that similar realm of the happy-ever-after for the children, even as it offers up many great "unexpectednesses" to test them.

Creech is a wonderful writer, able to create nostalgia without ever becoming mawkish. In rare descriptive passages, her language swells to poetry but never leaps beyond the scope of an 8 year old's imagination. Creech also has a real gift for writing dialogue. The natural rhythm of speech throughout is compulsive (great for reading aloud I'd imagine), and this allows the story to move on apace. Naomi and Lizzie are glorious company, and the interplay between them as friends and rivals is deftly handled. The humour is pitch-perfect too - often funny, and occasionally moving in the way that the greatest humour can be, when laughter and tears are two sides of the same coin. In fact my only complaint form-wise is that the tying up of (the many) loose ends is done in a flurry of haste at the end that is ultimately unsatisfying.

Children and adults will be equally caught up in the marvellous magical mysteries of The Great Unexpected. Its gently supernatural feel, quirky characters and quick witted conversations are rendered in rich and inventive prose that really set this book above the average children's fare: a great and unexpected read.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A novel for younger readers, ideally aged eight and up. But it is of a style such that older readers won't find it all juvenile.

It tells a complete story in two hundred and twenty two pages, and isn't part of a trilogy or a series. It's divided into fifty seven very short chapters.

The main character is Naomi, who is an orphan and who lives in the town of Blackbird Tree. She narrates in the first person. Her best friend is another orphan girl called Lizzie. Who is very very talkative.

There are some rather eccentric people living in the town.

And then one day a boy falls out of a tree. His name is Finn. He comes between the two friends, and Naomi starts to get jealous.

Meanwhile - in occasional chapters not narrated by Naomi and written in a slightly different typeset to hers - in a big house somewhere across the ocean, an old lady has put a plan for revenge into action.

Many people's lives are about to change. In ways they never expected.

This is well written with nice prose that nobody should have any difficulty with. And it does a very good job of capturing the viewpoint of someone Naomi's age. With many hints how be she views the world and reality. Any possible elements of fantasy are kept oblique, and that's just the right way to do a book like this.

The plotting is very clever and everything does come together quite nicely in the end.

But frankly it feels as if it meanders a lot along the way. The story is never quite as engrossing or as involving as it could be. Neither are the characters. And the very short chapter format doesn't really help because they feel far too short to have much of an impact.

The ending does keep one element ambiguous, but given the style of all that has gone before it works fine.

This comes from a highly renowned and respected writer who has a great reputation for quality books in this field, so I suspect my opinion might just be in the minority. And it might have worked better for me if I was in the age group of the main characters. But writing of this kind can be enjoyed by all ages, and there are stronger works of this nature out there.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This story is really very lovely. I wasn't sure what to expect, having never read anything by this author before, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well I took to the characters.

It starts with two orphans, Lizzie and Naomi. They live in Blackbird Tree, a small American town. The two girls are prone to using fantasy and imaginative situations, in order to block out whatever is troubling them. So, when a boy named Finn suddenly tumbles from a tree and talks of fantastical places and things which don't quite match up with what they already know.

Over in Ireland, at the very same time, is old Mrs Kavanagh. She is plotting revenge, and seems to be connected, in a most impossible way, to what is happening in America.

The story is magical, but not to a ridiculously high level. It centres on those values that really make a life have meaning :- friendship and tolerance, love and loss. It sounds so confusing, but somehow manages to be quite clear. This is what is so unexpected in the end - that the underlying threads of the story are so strong and simple. The flowers that decorate these themes may be quite entangled, but underneath them, the ground is firm.

The characters are funny, and enjoyable. They have little idiosyncrasies, and the reader can delight in these delicious little extras.

Overall, I highly recommend this tale. It is so complex, and yet so utterly unexpected. So perfectly gripping...enjoy!
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have love Sharon Creech's books before. This one is quite different but still a real page turned.

The story is about Naomi who lives in Blackbird Tree, with Nula and Joe, who are not her parents but the people who look after her after her parents die. A lot of children in Blackbird Tree are looked after by people who aren't their parents (so many it made one teacher leave the school in tears). Naomi's best friend is Lizzie, who is looked after by the Cupwright's after *her* parents die.

One day a boy falls from a tree. Where did he come from? Is his name really Finn? Who is he? Will his presence ruin Naomi and Lizzies's friendship? Does he have anything to do with the Finn who Nula once knew? Or the legend of Finn McCoul?

The story entwines a strand about the mysterious events in Blackbird Tree and another that comes from Ireland. It is as they entwine that the answers to some of the questions emerge.

The book is a modern fairy tale, but as with the original fairy tales, it is not about fairies or for small children; but a real legend, reminiscent of Irish folk tales.

It is a good read, with short chapters so easy to read in short bursts. I would highly recommend it for teenagers upwards, children much younger than pre-teens might not understand the emotions described and so find it a little slow moving.
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on 12 September 2015
The most annoying and frustratingly contrived book I have ever read. There is absolutely nothing believable or even remotely clever about this story. It's as though the author created a load of thinly-drawn characters who were all related or linked and decided to stick half of them in one place an half in the other, and somehow make nobody (even in a small town) able to communicate well enough to ever realise it until one convenient point. Big issues like death and grief and phobias and abandonment are either barely explored or made comedic. The characters don't talk like children, and while Lizzie certainly had a consistent voice she was more like a caricature than someone who sounded even remotely realistic. None of the characters had any depth or developed at all by the end, and even the MC's massive phobia is got over in literally a couple sentences, with no real reason other than there were a couple pages left. The point of the book appears to be the idea that we are all connected, but lordy, there was no subtlety about it. The mythological elements were thrown into the hella convoluted and contrived plot rather than woven in or explored, and Finn, the initial 'great unexpected' to appear in the story seems to have very little point or intrigue at all past the first 30 pages. Simply, a poor and incredibly rushed novel.
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