Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum

✰✰✰½ "Dick is dead." Thus, begins Meldrum's latest novel, Amaryllis in Blueberry. Set mostly in the 1970s, we follow the Slepy family as they escape their secrets and head off to Africa. The Slepys aren't your average family. There's Seena, who is self-absorbed and doesn't pay much attention to her family. Dick, the father, is obsessed with Seena to the point where he must have total control over her. Then there are the three daughters all named Mary, each with their own secrets and rebellions. The youngest, Amaryllis, is different from all the rest. Not only is she dark complected with blueberry eyes, but as a synesthete she sees things the others don't.

As the family grows accustomed to their new life in Africa, each member begins to unravel. Follow the twists and turns of this story to discover how Dick ends up dead as the story begins with the end. This is a book with a little bit of everything: murder, infidelity, secrets, lies, an unplanned pregnancy, and inter-racial relationships. In fact, it's the secrets that propel this story forward.

The Bottom Line: This book moves back and forth between two worlds, Michigan and Africa, and seems to shift time and space with ample flashbacks. It is told from multiple points of view; as the narrators change, the story builds. Each person adds a little piece of the puzzle. At times I found this dysfunctional family to be both fascinating and repelling. While the imagery is vivid and beautiful, I found it difficult to like the Slepy family. This is a challenging read, but worth the effort for those who enjoy contemporary, literary fiction and coming of age tales. There is a strong use of symbolism with references to both religion and mythology. This book was different from anything else I've read, which made it interesting. It would be a great pick for a book club; a reading guide is included with discussion questions and a conversation with the author.

Details: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. Paperback published by Gallery Books in 2011. 384 p. ISBN: 978-1439156896 Note: I received a free copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰ Amateur sleuth and chemist, Flavia de Luce, is back in her third mystery. When Flavia accidentally sets a gypsy's tent on fire at the town fête, she decides that the least she can do is to allow the old woman and her caravan to stay on the de Luce family property. Unfortunately, Flavia had no way of knowing that the gypsy had previously been blamed for a child's disappearance many years ago. When the gypsy is attacked and beaten in the middle of the night, it's up to Flavia to figure out why. The investigation heats up when the gypsy's granddaughter, Porcelain, shows up and one of Flavia's suspects turns up dead. Flavia must figure out if the crimes are connected while uncovering many other secrets along the way.

The Bottom Line: The Flavia de Luce mystery series is one of my favorites. Like the first two books, A Red Herring Without Mustard, is an engaging tale told from Flavia's point of view. Flavia's passions for chemistry (especially poisons) and forensics continue to grow. As clever, spunky, and independent as ever, Flavia is growing up fast and at times can seem wise beyond her years. However, with this book Flavia's father and older sister, Ophelia, start to show some concern for the neglected 11 year old. Also, we get to learn more about the secrets of the family estate, Buckshaw. This quick read is highly recommended for everyone who loves cozy mysteries. It is appropriate for young adult and adult mystery fans.

Details: A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2011. 400 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-34232-2

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review: Fractions = Trouble! by Claudia Mills

✰✰✰✰ Everyone has something they need to work extra hard at to learn. For some it's spelling, for others it's science, and for third grader Wilson Williams, it's math. Oh, and not just any math...FRACTIONS! Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you look at it) Wilson's parents hire a math tutor to help out.

As Wilson tries to keep his struggles and the tutor a secret, his friendship with his best friend, Josh, begins to suffer. As Wilson learns about fractions, he is reminded of the importance of friends and family along the way.

The Bottom Line: This quick read is for everyone who has ever struggled to learn something. The themes of family, friendship, and overcoming challenges make this book a winner for kids in grades 2 - 4. Highly recommended for both kids and parents.

Details: Fractions = Trouble! written by Claudia Mills & illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Hardcover published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2011. 128 p. ISBN: 978-0-374-36716-9

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review: Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery by Tracy Kiely

✰✰✰✰ This fun whodunit centers around the crime solving adventures of Elizabeth Parker, an amateur sleuth and Jane Austen fan. After Elizabeth's uncle dies, a body is discovered underneath the swimming pool of the recently sold family home. The family is shocked to learn that the body is none other than Cousin Reggie's former husband-to-be, who disappeared eight years earlier under suspicion of embezzlement.

Soon Elizabeth settles in to help her Cousin Ann get Uncle Marty's affairs in order. The intrigue heats up when Ann's former boyfriend, Detective Muldoon, shows up to investigate the case. Unfortunately, it seems that just about everyone is a suspect. Although Elizabeth's aunt and boyfriend try to discourage her from getting involved in another mystery, Elizabeth has no choice but to help when her sister, Kit, catches the crime solving bug.

Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery includes an entertaining cast of characters. The action is lively, and there's a little for everyone: sibling rivalry, romance, family secrets, and, of course, murder.

The Bottom Line: This is the third book featuring amateur sleuth Elizabeth Parker, who tells the story in a chatty style. Parker is an avid fan of Jane Austen, and the story is peppered with many references to Austen's works, especially Persuasion. This was the first book in the series that I have read, and I look forward to reading more. I enjoyed the family dynamics of this clever and witty mystery. Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery is lots of fun; it's a great weekend read. Highly recommended for fans of cozy mysteries. Fans of Jane Austen may also want to check out this series.

Details: Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery by Tracy Kiely. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-312-69941-3 Note: I received a complimentary advance uncorrected proof from Minotaur Books in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.