Tag Archive | Fiction

Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret

(This post is part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series.)

Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks' Secret (Amanda Lester, Detective #4)

Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What was Nick Moriarty, her ex-best friend, now her mortal enemy, doing in her bedroom? And why was that old red Formica table there, and that tiny oak cupboard, and that awful yellow beanbag chair?

Synopsis: Waking up on board the Moriarty family’s boat face-to-face with Nick – once her best friend and now her sworn enemy – is just one more confusing thing for Amanda Lester to cope with. The split between the factions of teachers at Legatum Continuatum sent half the instructors to Scotland to establish a new school, and the headmaster, several students, and Amanda’s cousins are missing. The acting headmaster is hiring new instructors, and Amanda’s mother is among the applicants. As if that’s not enough going on, her filmmaker idol is coming to England, her mother is dating a new guy, and her complicated feelings toward Scapulus Holmes are compounded by his relationship with her friend Amphora. Then there are the rare all-blue peacocks who have become mysteriously ill and an archaeological discovery that may turn the public against the detectives. Amanda and her friends have to keep a running list of the problems they need to solve!

Review: The fourth book in the series is packed with a lot of things happening at once. Background information is provided in the first few chapters, but it’s probably best not to jump into the series with this volume. The relationships between the characters take on great importance, whether they are bonds of family, friendship, or romance. The main characters all gain some development over the course of the novel. Ivy’s family plays a significant role in the story, providing details to round out her character. The perspective of the novel occasionally shifts away from Amanda, giving the reader a chance to glimpse what else is going on. The cliffhangers at the end of the book ensure that readers will be eager for the next installment! The Q&A section with the author in the back matter provides links to further information about the scientific facts that play a part in the story.

Personal Thoughts: Okay, I’m hooked. In my not-so-humble opinion, Berinstein’s writing gets better with each book, and I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle

(As part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series, Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret, this week I’m reviewing the second and third books as well as the new one.)

Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle (Amanda Lester, Detective, #3)

Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who would have thought a little twerp like David Wiffle could bring an entire detective school to its knees?

Synopsis: Things have gone from bad to worse at the secret detective school, Legatum Continuatum. David Wiffle has disappeared after apparently destroying the school’s most precious artifact. Editta Sweetgum is also missing, having run away with the Moriarty family after the showdown involving that artifact. And two other students are also missing, presumably with the Moriartys as well. The teachers are dividing into factions, lawsuits have been filed, and the entire school seems ready to fall apart. In some areas, it’s ready to literally fall apart, as earthquake damage is still under repair. Amanda’s family seems set to self-destruct, too, now that her father has taken off for Tibet. Then things get really weird, with rainbows appearing in the sky in the wrong color order, and zombies appearing in town.

Review: The third book of the series picks up right where the second left off, so some space in the first chapter is given over to recapping the events leading to this point. After that, events pick up pace, with Amanda and her friends tasked with solving a whole bunch of problems that the adults are unable to handle. The point of view remains in close third-person, so the reader gets a good idea of what Amanda thinks of things, though other characters sometimes act in seemingly inexplicable ways (simply because Amanda has no idea of the explanation). The interpersonal relations are realistically thorny, as the teenage characters cope with emotional and physical challenges. The story ends with some open questions readers will want to find the answers to in future installments of the series. Like the previous book, it has a Q&A section at the end with author that includes pointers to more information about some of the scientific curiosities that play a part in the action.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed this book more than the previous one. I feel there’s a bit of a Roald Dahl influence, especially in the larger-than-life characteristics of the adults versus the more realistically drawn young people.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis

(As part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series, Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret, this week I’m reviewing the second and third books as well as the new one.)

Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis (Amanda Lester, Detective Book 2)
Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Life was already weird enough at Legatum Continuatum, the secret school for descendants of famous detective, in England’s Lake District. After the events of the last few months, including her father’s kidnapping, two murders, a teacher’s disappearance, an explosions, and a criminal plot to corner the world’s sugar market, she was battered, fed up, and downright depressed, especially since one of the kidnappers had turned out to be the boy she thought was her best friend.

Synopsis: As classes resume at Legatum Continuatum after the Spring Holiday, Amanda and her friends are joined by a new student: Scapulus Holmes. Nearly everyone is impressed and/or intrigued by him, much to Amanda’s disgust. But she has other things on her mind, too, as she overhears the teachers panicking over a missing object, her filmmaking idol Darius Plover asks for her input on his new film, and one of her classmates is several days late returning from the break. And then there is an earthquake, causing extensive damage and revealing some unusual orange crystals and a skeleton. Amanda and Scapulus are going to have to find a way to work together to keep the crystals out of the hands of the Moriarty gang and maybe help the school recover the mysterious missing object.

Review: The second book in the Nancy-Drew-meets-Harry-Potter-minus-magic series picks up the loose ends from the first volume and weaves them right in to a new adventure. The characters are realistically flawed, and their interactions ring true to anyone who has spent time around tween and early teens. The cast of characters is diverse without feeling forced, which is refreshing. Less refreshing is the fat-shaming that occasionally pops up in the close third-person narration, which generally reads as Amanda’s internal voice. All of the characters are facing challenges and hiding secrets, sometimes putting them at odds with each other just when they need to come together, and sometimes making their character development uneven and unconvincing. Berinstein brings in some interesting scientific ideas, taking understandable artistic license, and includes pointers to more information in the Q&A section at the back of the book.

Personal Thoughts: I want to like this book more than I did. At one point, Amanda explains that, “Voiceovers are stupid. You’re telling rather than showing the audience what you want to get across.” That rather summed up one of my issues with the book, which is that too much is told flat-out in the narration rather than revealed through dialog or action. Still, I like the world and the characters too much to stop reading.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Up to This Pointe

Up to This Pointe
Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve been in Antarctica a total of eighty-three minutes, so I’m positive more exciting surprises will probably (hopefully) reveal themselves, but for now, the most intriguing thing about McMurdo, the American science station, is all the condoms.

Synopsis: At seventeen, Harper Scott is on the verge of achieving her lifelong dream. Since they were very small, she and her best friend, Kate, have been following The Plan. The Plan involves total dedication to ballet, and it culminates in both of them joining the San Francisco Ballet shortly after their early graduation from high school. But Harper doesn’t have Kate’s undeniable natural ability, so despite all the years of hard work, one audition might just crush her dreams. When things get suddenly and surprisingly complicated, Harper decides to follow her distant relative Robert Falcon Scott’s footsteps to Antarctica. She manages to land a highly coveted research assistant position for the six-month winter at McMurdo. No matter how far she goes, though, the problems she has to deal with come right along.

Review: This is a finely-crafted young adult novel, packed with descriptive details that bring life in San Francisco and Antarctica to life. The chapters alternate between Harper’s present, in Antarctica, and what happened back in San Francisco several months earlier. The sharp dichotomy between the first two chapters sets the tone for the book, as the reader knows where Harper ends up, but has no idea how she got there. Enough information about ballet is provided that readers without a background in dance can understand, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. Life at McMurdo, too, is explained through the eyes of a newcomer without any tedious “information dumps”. For reader who do want to know more, there is a short bibliography at the end, listing recommended books and films.

Personal Thoughts: I’ve long been fascinated by Antarctica, and I dearly hope to visit one day. (I found all but one of the books on Antarctica in the bibliography already in my to-read queue here at GoodReads.) I loved the glimpse into the life of those staying there long-term, rather than tourists. I kind of wish they hadn’t gone for the ballet pun in the title, but that’s really just me.

Recommend to: Fans of character-driven contemporary realistic fiction

Source: e-ARC courtesy of NetGalley

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Book Review: Roller Girl

Roller Girl
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


At first I couldn’t tell what was going on – just a bunch of skating, hitting, and falling.

Synopsis: Astrid and Nicole have been best friends since first grade, after an incident involving the class Mean Girl, Rachel. They do everything together. Astrid assumes this means that they’ll spend the summer following fifth grade together at Roller Derby Camp – Astrid’s newfound passion. She is stunned to discover that Nicole has other plans, namely, Dance Camp… with Rachel. With middle school looming and things changing all around her, Astrid rolls into the toughest summer of her life.

Review: A smart and funny realistic look at that stage so familiar to anyone who was once an almost-teenager, when friends start growing into their own people, and sometimes growing apart. Astrid speaks, thinks, and feels like a regular kid, someone you might know (or remember). She likes the way things are and doesn’t want them to change, but she ultimately faces those changes with good humor and strength. There are lessons in her story about growing up, accepting yourself and others for who they are, and working hard to achieve a dream, even when it doesn’t turn out quite the way you hoped, but it avoids didactic condescension easily. Totally charming.

Personal Thoughts: I happen to love roller skating, and I am a little sad that I didn’t encounter the whole roller derby phenomenon at an age/time/place when I might have joined in. I’ll just have to live vicariously through Astrid, I suppose. I loved everything about this book, from the painfully realistic depictions of the way pre-teen girls interact to the wonderful relationship between Astrid and her mother. (There’s a fourth-wall-breaking moment in which Astrid literally winks at the reader about an interaction with her mother that cracked me up.) I adore this book.

Recommend to: Fans of Raina Telgemeier… and pretty much any tween girl, actually. (Although I’d *love* to see some tween boys reading this one.)

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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Book Review: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1)

The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #1)The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would very much like to know why my mother named me “Enola,” which, backwards, spells alone.

Synopsis: Enola receives three fourteenth birthday gifts from her mother: a drawing kit, a copy of The Meanings of Flowers: Including Also Notes Upon the Messages Conveyed by Fans, Handkerchiefs, Sealing-Wax, and Postage Stamps, and a small hand-made book of ciphers. The same day, her mother vanishes without a trace, and Enola must contact her much older brothers in London – Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. Dismayed by the way the grounds of the estate (and Enola, in his opinion) have been left neglected, Mycroft makes plans to send his sister to boarding school for an education befitting a proper young lady of the late 1800s. Enola has no interest in such an education (or, for that matter, being a proper young lady), so she makes her own plan to escape to London and search for their mother on her own. As if eluding her brothers and keeping herself out of danger weren’t enough, she quickly finds herself tangled up in the mystery of a missing young Lord as well.

Review: With a smart and feisty teen-age heroine, this historical mystery is a pretty easy sell. Enola’s free-thinking ways stand out against her brothers’ much more of-the-time views on women. The period as well as the varied settings are evoked with strong, carefully chosen details. My only complaint is the choice of “Marquess” for the missing boy’s title, since that term is particularly confusing for American kids, but that’s a bit of a nitpick. The very real dangers faced by a young girl (and a young boy) in London are portrayed in an age-appropriate yet suspenseful way. This first volume of six wraps up one mystery while leaving enough dangling ends to make the reader want to have the next volume handy.

Recommend to: Historical and mystery fans ages 8 and up.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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Book Review: Mysteries According to Humphrey (According to Humphrey #8)

Mysteries According to Humphrey

Mysteries According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A mystery is like a puzzle. It can be something unsqueakably scary, like a thing that goes THUMP in the night.

Synopsis: It’s hamster Humphrey’s second year in room 26 of Longfellow School, and by the beginning of October, he’s getting to know his new classmates. Mrs. Brisbane has just started reading “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”, and Humphrey is just as disappointed as everyone else when she stops in the middle of the story to move on to another lesson. Disappointment turns to dismay when Mrs. Brisbane doesn’t return to school the next day, then is replaced (temporarily, Humphrey hopes!) by a substitute teacher named Mr. E., who seems to want to play with the students instead of teach them. Humphrey decides to follow the example of Sherlock Holmes and sets out to investigate Mrs. Brisbane’s disappearance as well as a few other mysteries as only a determined class pet in a cage with a lock-that-doesn’t-lock can. And, maybe, along the way, he’ll find out just what happens in that story about the man with the red hair.

Review: This is the eighth installment of the “According to Humphrey” series, and he is just as charming as ever. Fans of the series will enjoy this new adventure, but reading all the previous volumes isn’t strictly necessary. At the end of each short chapter, Humphrey shares something he’s learned in his “Detectionary”, and there is a list of the “Top 10 Tips for Beginning Detectives” at the end of the book.

Recommend to: Middle grade readers looking for a fun and funny light mystery, as well as fans of books in this series and other animal fiction series.

Source: E-book checked out from my public library (via Overdrive).

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Book Review: The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files #1)

The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files #1)

The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Please allow the SPFD to welcome you more formally. Go to The Dancing Men (if you’re hungry, they make an excellent ploughman’s lunch) and ask for a saucer of milk for your snake. Then all will be revealed.

Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old Xena is sitting on the front steps of a London hotel with her little brother, Xander, when a strange man presses a note into her hand. The kids barely have time to read the peculiar message before the ink disappears from the paper. Once they learn that “The Dancing Men” is a nearby pub (and that a “ploughman’s lunch” is something they might actually like), they can’t ignore their curiosity about it. The clever siblings might be a bit more curious than most, though, since they happen to be the American descendants of the famous Sherlock Holmes. After inheriting his casebook of unsolved problems, they quickly find themselves on the trail of a century-old mystery the Great Detective himself never solved.

Review:
Barrett introduces a pair of protagonists with immediate appeal for young readers. Like any siblings, Xena and Xander occasionally bicker and even embarrass each other, but when push comes to shove, each has the other’s back. Because they are American kids newly arrived in London, explanations of British culture and customs come up naturally in the narrative, rather than as awkward exposition for the reader. Nods to the original Sherlock Holmes stories are sprinkled throughout and sometimes explained (the saucer of milk for snake reference slips right by, but the Irregulars get a quick description). The mystery itself is very simple, and the characters never face any real danger or violence, making this a great selection for newly independent chapter-book readers as well as slightly older mystery fans. Once they’ve finished this quick-paced adventure, readers can continue to follow the Holmes siblings in three more series installments: The Beast of Blackslope, The Case that Time Forgot, and The Missing Heir.

Recommend to: Fans of mystery and adventure ages 8-12.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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Book Review: Secret Letters

Secret LettersSecret Letters by Leah Scheier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I knew that Adelaide would wish to visit the detective and present her case to him as soon as possible. And I would be there by her side, of course, to support her as she told her story. But I had my own reason for visiting Mr. Holmes and my own story to tell him, and so I had to reach him before she did — and I had to speak to him alone.

Synopsis:
Since losing both parents to typhoid fever four years ago, Dora Joyce has lived with her Aunt Ina, a very proper Victorian matron determined to mold the inquisitive, headstrong girl in her own image. During the day, Dora has been laced into corsets and taught to waltz, but in the evenings, she’s been studying the adventures of the Great Detective chronicled in the Strand magazine. Following his methods, she has sharpened her observational skills. She has good reason to believe she might be able to emulate Mr Holmes better than most: a deathbed confession from her mother that the detective is Dora’s father. Now, with her cousin facing a blackmailer threatening to destroy her marriage, Dora finally has a reason to seek out the detective in London. The day she arrives at his Baker Street address, however, she is stunned by the headline screaming from the newspapers: Sherlock Holmes Killed in Switzerland.

The detective she and her cousin finally do consult leaves Dora distinctly unimpressed, but his young assistant sparks her interest. His name is Peter Cartwright, he knew Sherlock Holmes, and he seems to find her at least a little interesting, as well. Dora decides that she – with Peter’s help – will go undercover to solve the mystery herself, as any child of the Great Detective would.

Review:
Scheier’s debut novel is a Sherlockian pastiche with a twist of romance in with the mystery. Several mysteries, actually, since the title might refer to a number of letters and a number of secrets, all of which tangle around each other, catching the spirited teenage heroine in the middle. Dora chafes at the restrictions society – by way of her Aunt – places on her, and she longs to be accepted for the person she really is. She finds a true peer in Peter, who looks beyond surfaces just as she does. Class distinctions of the period are explored through Dora’s disguise as a house servant at Hartfield Hall, a role she manages to fill surprisingly (if perhaps a tad unbelievably) well, while she ferrets out clues.

The first few chapters have to introduce a lot of material about the characters and the setting, but the action picks up pace after that. Plots and sub-plots intertwine as ulterior motives abound above and below stairs at Hartfield. Sly nods to the original stories pop up here and there – little Easter eggs for those familiar with the Canon. This is a satisfying blend of mystery, adventure, and romance, with just enough comedic moments (usually resulting from Dora being a bit too clever for her own good) to balance the more serious elements.

Recommend to:
Historical fiction and mystery fans, ages 12 and up.

Twitter-Style Review: Historical mystery with a touch of romance, perfect for the budding Holmesian.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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Arthur and the Great Detective

Arthur and the Great Detective by Alan Coren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

“So I have been considering what kind of Englishman goes to America for a very short stay, carries a magnifying glass and a swordstick, and is well known to the New York police, and there was only one-“

“Conclusion,” finished Sherlock Holmes, nodding. “Yes, Arthur, there usually is.”

In the seventh installment of Coren’s Arthur series, young Arthur William Foskett is travelling alone on a transatlantic sailing, headed back to school in England. The early days of the voyage are plagued by bad weather, and most of the ship’s passengers take refuge in their cabins, leaving the dining room to just Arthur and two other men, who turn out to be none other than Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

Even after the weather clears and the passengers re-emerge, it’s hardly smooth sailing for the S.S. Murgatroyd, as there is a robbery on board. Not to worry, though: Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Foskett are both on the case.

This is a charming, very funny mystery for young readers, with plenty of amusing references for those already familiar with Holmes. I haven’t read any of the earlier books in the series, but I’m going to be keeping an eye out for copies of Arthur and the Bellybutton Diamond and Arthur and the Purple Panic, both of which also feature Holmes and Watson, and neither of which are held by my library.

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