Monday, 7 March 2016

My Review of "Amanda Lester & the Pink Sugar Conspiracy"

Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy (Amanda Lester, Detective, #1)
This is the first episode in a new trilogy of mystery novels for 9-14 year olds and will be published in May.

Twelve year old Amanda Lester is determined to become a film director and refuses to follow in the family tradition of becoming a detective. However, her parents have very different ideas and before Amanda knows what has hit her, she has been shipped across the ocean from America to the Lake District to a secret location and enrolled at "Legatum Continuatum: The Enduring School for Detectives." Here she joins other children also descended from famous detectives and begins her training in the art of detection and police work. Suddenly her day is filled with a timetable of "Cryptology", "Disguise". "Profiling" and "Introductory Pathology" - or "Dead Bodies" as the students call it. Initially a very reluctant detective and poor student, Amanda does not relish the prospect of the class project of having to solve a crime. However, as various events unfold and the plot thickens, Amanda finds that she cannot ignore the mysterious happenings and, along with her new friends, she sets out to put her recently acquired knowledge into action. The sudden and shocking disappearance of her father forces her to really find out whether she has what it takes to be a number one detective- whether she can truly rise to the occasion and solve the crime, face the criminals and save her father before it is too late.

Amanda is a girl who finds it hard to fit in. She's used to being alone and finds making friends difficult. Things rarely seem to go her way and she seems to frequently and inadvertently end up in trouble and or creating chaotic situations. As her arch enemy tells her, "You vomit over people, you get everyone lathered up pretending to be a monster, you make your own rules and you think you can get away with anything. You can't. You're a laughing stock and you will never be a real detective." However, over the course of the novel she finds out she is also brave, plucky, ambitious, focused and rebellious and these are good things in the world of detection and mystery solving! She is a positive role model for young girls. She realises that actually only the strongest will make it in as a detective and she proves to herself that she is capable of combining her love and knowledge of film making to aid her in her quest to save her father.

There are obvious comparisons with the "Harry Potter" books - rather than the world of magicians this is the world of detectives. They are both boarding schools, they are both secret, they are both for children of detectives but sometimes these links are weak and tenuous and the lessons are completely invented subjects related to the genre of the books. But J K Rowling's series also echoed many other authors' work and Berinstein's concept will certainly appeal to many - I can already count on both hands children I know who would enjoy this new trilogy. In contrast to "Harry Potter", these books are much more comic. They are written in a more chatty, informal style with a lot of dialogue, action and rapid plot development.

My only concern was that the book seemed to hover a little between the 9-12 and teenage bracket. Amanda herself is 12 years old but sometimes she felt older. Also some of the vocabulary was a little challenging in places - for example frivolous, illogical, violation, and reciprocate where all used over the course a few pages but alongside slang words like freaked and angsty.  It may mean that a reader at the younger end of the age range needs a bit of support at times. I think all in all children will ride along happily and get to grips enough with the plot and events to make sense of it all and it won't spoil their enjoyment -and of course, I am completely, whole heartedly in favour or books which will develop a reader's vocabulary!

This is an exciting, energetic, humours and entertaining read full of imagination and creative ideas. I'm sure it will capture the imaginations of many children and Amanda will prove to be a successful new character in the world of children's fiction. There is a great section at the end about other fictional detectives, questions for a reading group and an interview with the author which I though were all a really good idea.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book before publication in return for a fair and honest review.

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