This book is Eva Ibbotson's love song to her native city, and for anyone who's ever loved anything Germanic, this book is for you.
Even though she started life as a foundling, 12-year-old Annika has the best life ever. It's 1909, and she lives with Ellie, the cook for three sibling professors in Vienna; Sigrid, another servant; and of course the three professors, who have become sort of uncles and aunt to her. She is friends with everyone on the street, from the huge Bodek family (all boys; Stefan is her age) to the florist. She even lives within walking distance of the famous Vienna Riding School. Annika's world is one of rich sights, delicious food, and most of all, love and security. And then, everything changes when a gracious noblewoman woman shows up to claim Annika has her long lost daughter, and Annika leaves her beloved Vienna for a new life northern Germany.
But Großpriesnetz isn't quite what she expected (peasants do not live in cold houses; they have cook stoves to keep them warm, she realizes). She may be a noble now, but the food is meager, needed clothing comes seldom, and the house is bare and freezing. The von Tannenbergs have little left but their pride. Unfortunately, their trials don't make them into particularly nice people. If Annika is bent on seeing the best in her family, the reader has no illusions about what they are really like. And slowly, even Annika must admit that something is not right.
In some ways the book reminds me of A Little Princess, but there's a lot more to it. A mystery, gypsies, Lippizzaner horses, a cookbook, fabulous jewels, a dramatic rescue involving a harp case, and a love of Austria to make even someone who's never been there feel just a little bit homesick.
Recommended age: 10 and up
Review by Rose Green, occasional contributor