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: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod ‘the Death Shop.’ A million ways to die out there.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Aria has lived her whole life within the walls of Reverie. She spends most of her time physically seated in the lounge while visiting a variety of virtual Realms via her Smarteye patch. The Realms are, the advertising slogan goes, “Better than Real”. Outside, the world is a largely barren wasteland under a sky of swirling Aether populated by tribes battling for survival.

One of those tribes is the Tides, led by their Blood Lord, Vale. Vale’s younger brother, Peregrine, is gifted with extranormal senses of sight and smell, making him an excellent hunter. His devotion to his nephew, Talon, keeps him from challenging Vale for Blood Lord.

When Talon is kidnapped, Peregrine sets out to get him back. Along the way, he finds Aria, who has been thrown out of Reverie for a crime she didn’t commit. The two form an uneasy partnership that slowly blooms into something more.


From the opening scene, in which Aria hesitantly goes along with a group breaking into a Service Dome, Rossi throws the reader right into her created world. The world-building is beautifully done, revealing necessary information at just the right pace to keep the reader from feeling lost without doing an info-dump. The sheltered (in both senses) society of Reverie and the brutal Outside are drawn with rich detail, while details of what happened to create this world are shared sparingly. The third-person narration alternates perspective between Aria and Peregrine in a natural rhythm, allowing the reader access to important information about each one without requiring Awkward Expository Dialogue.

The romance between Peregrine and Aria develops at a slow burn; there is no Love At First Sight for these two. Instead, these two complex characters bond in the course of a dangerous quest that keeps offering thrilling twists and turns. Rossi balances a strong plot with engaging (if not always likeable) characters with a deft touch.

On shelves January 3, 2012.


Final Word:
Clever sci-fi dystopian romance from a promising new author. Looking forward to the sequel!


e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request


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Book Review: Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus by Alan Sitomer

Nerd Girls: The Rise of the DorkasaurusNerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I have a 3.73 grade point average and my body looks like a baked potato. My eyes are brown, my hair is brown, and sometimes when I snack on too many fig bars and run real fast in PE, I end up with brown streaks in my underpants, too. I’m not just un-cool; I’m anti-cool. I mean, I even know hot to properly use a semicolon in a sentence. What could be more pathetic than that?

With that opening paragraph, Sitomer immediately pulled me in to Maureen’s story, and then just as quickly pushed me back out. I hate to grammar nit-pick, but splitting an infinitive in a self-congratulatory comment about the proper use of punctuation is just unfortunate.

Unfortunate is a good word for Maureen. Her two best friends both moved away over the summer, so she is left alone facing the trio of eighth-grade bullies known as “the ThreePees” (for Pretty, Popular, and Perfect). She tries to stop them from tormenting Alice, a new student who happens to be allergic to every substance known to man, but they retaliate by uploading a humiliating video of her to YouTube. Her own older brother and younger sister think they whole thing is hilarious, and her mother is the sort of unrelentingly positive thinker who simply refuses to deal with the problems right in front of her. Nearly against her will, she bands together with Alice and another class outcast known as Beanpole Barbara to get back at the ThreePees by beating them in the school talent show. Now, if only they actually had a talent….

Nerd Girls is reminiscent of Benton’s Dear Dumb Diary series, minus the illustrations. The characters and situations in this book feel about as realistic as an episode of Glee. Both teachers and students are caricatures, and convenient twists occur that simply could not happen in real life. The dialogue rushes headlong past “witty banter”, with characters uttering lines that sound like they should be accompanied by a laugh track. Barbara and Sophia, especially, get stuck with the comic relief roles. Plot points come pell-mell, with little to no foreshadowing or subtlety. The big secret that Alice is hiding is revealed in an info-dump late in the book, and, oddly, still does not explain something that seemed like it should have been a big clue. Perhaps it will be explained in a later installment in the series, if readers still care enough about the flat characters to read them.

On shelves July 2011

Book Source: e-ARC via NetGalley

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Book Review: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

The Goddess Test (Goddess Test, #1)The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spent my eighteenth birthday driving from New York City to Eden, Michigan, so my mother could die in the town where she was born.

Four years ago, Kate’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. Sure that the end is now near, she has insisted on moving back to her tiny (so tiny, it’s not even on the map Kate uses to get there) hometown in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She also insists Kate finish high school; Kate’s plan is to just keep her head down and spend as much time with her mother as possible. Still, she manages to get on the wrong side of Ava, the Captain of the cheer squad before the first week is out. And then, well, then things get weird.

After Ava dies playing a prank on Kate, a mysterious young man brings her back to life before Kate’s eyes. He claims to be Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and there’s a price to pay for Ava’s life: Kate must spend the next six months with him and face seven tests. He will keep her mother alive while she does. If she passes, she will become a goddess and Henry’s wife, spending six months of every year for eternity in the Underworld. But she is the twelfth girl to face these tests, and the others all died in the process. Can she pass the tests no one else has managed? More importantly, does she want to?

This retelling of the Persephone myth is first and foremost a romance, and readers uncomfortable with the genre may find themselves disappointed. For everyone else, this is a refreshing twist on the paranormal tales that have taken the YA world by storm, with a bit of murder mystery as well. Henry (Hades), in the role of romantic leading man, is dark, brooding, and tortured, and it will take a special leading lady to break through his emotional defenses. Kate – strong and independent, but inexperienced in matters of love and romance – faces tests of her character and moral fiber while falling in love for the first time. And also trying to stay alive long enough to pass those tests.

The book gets off to a bit of a slow and confusing start, with a prologue that provides information to the reader that Kate – the narrator – does not receive until much later. In the early chapters, the pacing is uneven, but once Kate enters Henry’s domain, the story finds its footing. Readers familiar with Greek mythology will figure out the major players (and solve the murder mystery) well before Kate does, but this is a solidly developed and satisfying romance.

Carter’s debut YA novel is the first in a series – volumes two and three are slated for publication in 2012 – and readers will be eager to find out what happens next.

On shelves in April 2011

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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Book Review: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

BumpedBumped by Megan McCafferty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Preparing to pregg is a full-time job with no days off — but I don’t have a choice. Not when there’s so much at stake.

Melody is sixteen years old, and according to the advertising jingle playing on a continuous loop at Babiez R U, she is the most important person on the planet. With just about everyone over the age of 18 rendered infertile by a widespread virus, fertile teenagers willing to bear children as “Surrogettes” have become a hot commodity. Melody’s economist parent shave been preparing her for a lucrative pregnancy contract practically since adopting her as a newborn. Miles away, in a religious community called Goodside, Melody’s identical twin sister has been raised within the Church and groomed to become an obedient wife and mother by her mid-teens. Both girls have their futures mapped out. That is, until Harmony decides to leave Goodside and meet this previously-unknown sister. Her decision will have serious consequences for both of their lives.

McCafferty plunges the reader right into Melody’s world, so the first chapter is disorienting. Melody throws out slang terms and jargon that the reader must decipher. The second chapter is narrated by Harmony, whose sheltered background provides a natural way to reveal important details without drowning the reader in exposition. The perspective alternates between the two characters over subsequent chapters with distinct voices underscoring the differences between the two.

Reminiscent of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Bumped is a fast-paced dystopian novel that distills issues of love, friendship, faith, loyalty, and family to their essence. McCafferty blends drama and humor effortlessly, populating a disconcerting world with refreshingly complicated characters. A cliffhanger ending will have readers clamoring for the sequel.

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request
On shelves April 26, 2011.

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Book Review: Junonia by Kevin Henkes

When I was a brand-new Children’s Librarian, I read Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum, and I fell in love with his picture books. He so perfectly captured the slights – large and small – that can cause a kid so much pain. (The fact that I was teased throughout elementary school for my own name may have had something to do with my particular sympathy for the little mouse.) And the drawings, of course, were adorable. I was thrilled to see that NetGalley had his forthcoming children’s novel on offer as an e-ARC, and I was not disappointed. In fact, my only complaint is that since I don’t have it as a hard copy, I can’t pass it on to my fourth-grade niece to read. I’ll just have to wait for May, I guess.

JunoniaJunonia by Kevin Henkes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alice concentrated entirely on the pelican. The bird was so odd and silly looking, a mysterious, mesmerizing wonder. Alice reached out, pressing her palms flat against the half-opened window. She’d seen pelicans before, every year that she had been here, but when you see something only once a year it’s always new, as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Everything is new here, she thought. New and exciting.

Every year, in early February, the Rice family travels from wintry Wisconsin to the sandy shore of Sanibel Island, Florida. The week coincides with Alice’s birthday, and this year is a big one: 10 years old. Double-digits. Alice looks forward to seeing the same people in the same cottages, doing the same things, as every year before. But this year is different. Mr. and Mrs. Wishmeier are there, but their three grandchildren have too much schoolwork this year and have stayed at home. Single, sophisticated Helen Blair is snowed in back in New York. Mrs. Rice’s college friend – Aunt Kate to Alice – is not staying with them this year. Instead, she has rented Helen Blair’s cottage and is bringing her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s six-year-old daughter, Mallory. All these changes have Alice off-balance, and the more she struggles to preserve her perfect vacation, the more things seem to fall apart around her.

Small illustrations at the beginning of each chapter complement the narrative, and Henkes includes a beautiful drawing of the various Florida shells that Alice collects.

Henkes brings Alice to life in simple, lovely prose. She is a quiet girl, comfortable spending time with adults. She is a girl on the edge of leaving childhood behind. She is caught between embracing the new adventures that changes bring and trying to find a way back to the security of the familiar. She is perfectly ten years old, and her complicated feelings are rendered with great skill. Recommend this sweet, wholesome coming of age story to 3rd to 5th grade.

On shelves May 2011

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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Book Review: This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson

This Girl Is DifferentThis Girl Is Different by JJ Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stranded, hurt, but I can handle it. No freak-outs. No worries. This girl is different.

Three days before the beginning of her Senior year of high school, Evie sprains her ankle hiking along the creek. She refuses to see herself as a damsel in distress, but it still comes as a relief when two local teenagers stumble upon her and help her out. Even better, it turns out that the two teenagers will also be Seniors in a few days, and they’re happy to help Evie get settled in her new school. She’s not exactly new in town, but she has been homeschooled (or, really, “unschooled”) by her mother. With plans to go to Cornell, Evie wants to experience a year of high school before heading off to college.

Once school starts, it isn’t long before Evie’s outspoken nature and commitment to social justice put her at odds with the high school Powers That Be. Her attempts to improve the situation for students, while founded on the best of intentions, risk destroying her new friendships and budding romance. She has always told herself that she is different, but can she stay true to herself and still get through a year in the Institution of School?

Evie’s unique voice is a welcome addition to the YA Lit scene. She is smart, strong, and self-confident, but also vulnerable to the emotional turmoil that comes with being a teenager. Having spent her whole life with her mother and uncle, moving from place to place, following her own interests in solitary study, she is unprepared to deal with the social side of high school. Her outrage at the injustices of school life (Why do the students have gross bathrooms while the faculty have nice, clean ones? Why are the students cooped up inside all day, instead of being allowed in the courtyard during lunch?) and the abuses of power she witnesses ring absolutely true, and her determination to do something about them will have readers cheering her on. Johnson’s debut YA title is a welcome breath of fresh air. Highly recommended.

On shelves April 1, 2011

Book Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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Book Review: Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins

Invisible InklingInvisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I imagine airplanes that argue with their pilots, drinks that change the color of your skin, and aliens who study human beings in science labs — all when I’m supposed to be doing something else.

Fourth-grader Hank Wolowitz is the first person to admit he has an “overbusy” imagination. But he knows he isn’t imagining the small, furry, invisible animal that was hiding under the sink in his parents’ Brooklyn ice-cream shop. The animal that he rescued from the neighbor’s dog. The animal that calls itself Inkling, says that it’s an endangered bandapat, and that it is not leaving until it repays the debt it now owes him. Hank can certainly use a friend; his best friend just moved to Iowa City over the summer. As if that weren’t bad enough, Hank quickly becomes the fourth-grade bully’s favorite target. Since Hank can’t get any help from the ambivalent lunchroom aides, his oblivious teacher, or his pacifist parents, Inkling is determined to solve the problem for him.

With a quick pace and an engaging narrator, this sweetly funny book is sure to please. Aside from the invisible bandapat, the story feels utterly realistic without being grim. Kids will find it easy to identify with Hank, who just wants to get through a day without having half his lunch stolen. Harry Bliss’ signature illustrations are the perfect complement to Jenkins’ quirky story. Recommend especially to readers outgrowing Roscoe Riley and Clementine.

Book Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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