Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis (Amanda Lester Mysteries No. 2)

Paula Berinstein returns to the world of Legatum Continuatum, that famed school that serves only the descendants of the world's greatest detectives. This second novel in the mystery series finds Amanda Lester and her fellow detectives-in-training returning to school after the break, only to be thrust into the middle of another crisis.

The Orange Crystal Crisis begins right after the school break, as Amanda Lester and her fellow classmates at Legatum return for the new semester. Berinstein throws her young detective right into the thick of things from page one, when Amanda overhears the teachers discussing the fact that something is missing from the school - something that could spell disaster for the school and everyone in it! Needless to say, Amanda confides in her friends - Simon, Ivy, and Amphora - and they realize the semester has yet to start, and they already have a new mystery to solve!  After stopping the Moriarty clan from spreading their poisonous pink sugar in the last book, you'd think these kids would want a break.  But, as the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary!

With 404 pages of story, Berinstein provides readers with not one, but multiple mysteries that somehow fall into the laps of Amanda and her friends - while the mystery of the missing whatzit seems to be of most importance to the school, there is also that skeleton that they stumble upon after an earthquake reveals a hidden room under the school grounds. Who is it, how did he or she die, and how did he or she wind up under the school?  And just what are those glowing orange crystals surrounding the skeleton?  And just where is Editta - no one has seen or heard from her, and she is never late for anything! Plus, there is the matter of the countless drawers down in the tunnels beneath the school - why are they there and what secrets could they hold?

And if that weren't enough - Amanda comes face to face with Scapulus Holmes!  If you thought their ancestors were always at odds, you ain't seen nothing yet. Amanda takes an immediate dislike to the Holmes boy, even though he is nothing but friendly and courteous to her. When the headmaster gives the two of them a project that they must complete together, Amanda doesn't know how she will survive it. However, all of her pride gets swallowed when she and her friends discover something unexpected about the crystals - they are alive (in a way), and the only way they can ensure they don't fall into the wrong hands is with the help of - - yup, you guessed it - - Scapulus Holmes.

Despite the length of the book, the story is constantly moving, and Berinstein weaves back and forth among the numerous mysteries without losing the reader.  We are introduced to a number of new students (new to us, not necessarily the school), as well as new teachers (again, new to us, not the school), and we get to see a lot more interaction among Amanda's friends, fleshing out their personalities.  However, I do think the author went just a bit far with Amanda's dislike of Holmes.  I realize the characters are barely teenagers, but Amanda's constant whining about Holmes and her dislike of him began to grow old after a while - and the sudden change that takes place about 2/3 of the way through the story happened so quickly, with no gradual build up, that it felt forced (and sadly, did not last).  I did, however, enjoy the inclusion of Clive into this little group of mystery-solvers.  He makes an excellent edition, and I certainly hope Berinstein continues to utilize him in future books.

And not to be nit-picky (but these next items were too glaring to not be noticed), but there were two major continuity issues that literally jumped off the page when I read them.  On page 157, when deciding how best to search the tunnels under the school, the kids decide to flip a coin - - only problem is, no one had a coin, so Simon used a virtual coin.  Then, just two pages later while they are still in the tunnels, Ivy fines Amphora for insulting Simon (an on-going thing throughout the book as Ivy tries to get Simon and Amphora to stop fighting) and Amphora easily produces a fifty p coin!  Now, just where was that coin two pages earlier when they needed to flip one?  Later in the book, as Amanda and her friends are in the common room discussing the mysteries, on page 326 it states, "Meanwhile, Editta and Amphora left and Amanda and Simon turned the subject back to the crystals."  Just three paragraphs later, at the top of page 327, when Amanda makes it clear her feelings for Nick are gone (after what he did in the previous book), the author writes, "Simon and Amphora looked at each other."  If Amphora left with Editta, how did she and Simon look at each other?  Obviously, neither of these ruined the enjoyment of the book, nor did they completely take me out of the story when I read them - but they were pretty obvious errors that I'm surprised ended up getting past the editing stage and into the final printed version.

Surprisingly, the resolutions in this mystery are not quite as clear cut as they were in the first - yes, we do find out what the missing item is, who has it, and what ultimately happens to it.  Yes, we find out exactly what the crystals are and how they do what they do.  But the remaining mysteries are not neatly wrapped up, leaving elements unanswered (perhaps to be resolved in future mysteries, as this book makes it clear that the Moriarty family is going to be an ongoing threat to the school and its students, and that there may even be a bigger threat orchestrating behind the scenes!).

Oh, and lest we forget, Amanda's passion for film-making is not overlooked.  There are some interesting developments with her continued communications with the director, Darius Plover.

Overall, this was a great read, well-plotted and perfectly paced.  Am definitely curious to see what Purple Rainbow Puzzle holds in store for Amanda and her friends.

RATING:  8 surprise birthday parties out of 10 for showing readers that being a Lestrade can sometimes be better than being a Holmes!

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