Tag Archives: puzzles

Amy Snow

Amy Snow

Title:  Amy Snow
Author:  Tracy Rees
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-5011-2837-0

Book Summary:
In 1831, Aurelia, eight-year-old daughter and only child of Lord and Lady Vennaway, once again disobeys her governess and rushes out to play in the newly fallen snow on her family’s English estate.  Headstrong and spoiled, but also compassionate and inquisitive, Aurelia is shocked to discover an abandoned infant left in the snow.  Although her parents disapprove of the child, they are unwilling to deny anything to their only child.  And so, Amy is raised in the household.  She spends most of her time below stairs and out of the Vennaway’s sight, but Aurelia is ever diligent and stops in very frequently to be with Amy and comfort and guide her.  As Amy grows older, she provides a comforting balm to Aurelia’s flighty personality.  Grudgingly, the elder Vennaway’s allow Amy into the schoolroom to take lessons with Aurelia when the tutor recognizes the effect Amy has on the young heiress.

Although Amy has Aurelia’s love and devotion, life at Hatville Court is challenging.  She helps the servants with the chores, but Amy learns quickly that it is best that avoid all contact with Lord and Lady Vennaway.  She isn’t able to make a connection with the servants, because they think she is above them.  The bond however between the girls is as close as sisters and eventually, Aurelia makes Amy her personal companion.

Aurelia’s parents push for a marriage which would eventually give them the heir they so desire, but these plans are cancelled when Aurelia is discovered with a terminal illness.  Amy serves Aurelia in her final days as a nurse, but immediately following her death, funeral, and reading of the will, the Vennaways make it clear that Amy is to leave Hatville Court.  Prior to her departure, Amy is secretly visited by Mr. Clay who presents Amy with a letter from Aurelia that he was charged to deliver to her before she left Hatville.  Even in death, Aurelia is taking care of Amy and sets her on an adventure that would change her life.

The coded letter starts Amy on journey that enables Amy to discover not only who she is but also who she wants to be.  Her quest takes her to various locations around England and she meets a cast a characters, including a warm and welcoming family, a cantankerous old woman, and two dashing gentleman who vie for her heart.  The end result of the clues, puzzles, and hidden signs leads Amy to a conclusion that could threaten no only herself, but Aurelia’s legacy.

Book Commentary:
What a delightful story!!  I was intrigued by the puzzles and clues that were left to Amy, and the author does a wonderful job at allowing the reader to solve the mysteries along with her.  The story is truly a coming-of-age story with a great deal of mystery and subterfuge.  The author alternates the story between Amy’s present day situation and the story of her life with Aurelia though the memories.  Although the memories often help Amy solve the clues, they also provide so much insight about Aurelia and the relationship between the girls.

Amy is an admirable character and the reader enjoys watching her growth and discovery; however, even though Amy is the title character, I felt the story was really that of Aurelia.  Her depth of compassion, rebellion, and understanding of the world around her is evident through the quest she devises and I really felt she grew into herself posthumously through Amy’s own self-discovery.

The story is rich in detail about clothing and social mores and conventions; the reader feels Amy’s own spark of surprise and delight as her knowledge of the world grows.  The story is also full of entertaining and memorable secondary characters who help Amy on her journey.

Who might like this book:
Although a completely different type of story, I was reminded of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Darby series and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, in that the main characters truly learn the story of someone’s life after their death.  In all three cases, the story of the deceased character is told through letters, mementoes, and remembrances of other characters.  It is a really interesting way to tell a story.

The novel includes a wonderful interview with the author and a collection of book club discussion questions.  I really enjoyed the author’s writing style; she has one other book published called Florence Grace.  It is currently sitting in my Amazon wishlist!

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Book Scavenger

Book Scavenger

Title:  Book Scavenger
Author:  Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Publisher:  Henry Holt
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-62779-115-1

Book Summary:
Twelve-year-old Emily’s family is on a quest to live in 50 houses in 50 states.  Her mother is a blogger and writer and hoping to publish a book about their adventures.  Leaving New Mexico is hard for Emily but the excitement of moving to San Francisco is complimented by the fact that it is the home to Bayside Press, Garrison Griswold, and the home base for the Book Scavenger.

Book Scavenger is an online game where participants write clues that lead to books hidden all over the world.  The game is described as “a community of book lovers, puzzle lovers, and treasure hunters,” and Emily is just a few points away from the Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin level.  Mr. Griswold is about to reveal his newest and most exciting puzzle quest yet but is violently attacked before he can reveal the game.

As someone who has moved often, Emily struggles with friendships but is lucky that James lives just upstairs and loves puzzles as well.  When Emily and James visit the site of the Griswold attack, they find a copy of The Gold-Bug.  They quickly discover that this book isn’t part of the Book Scavengers game but may be a clue to Mr. Griswold’s big announcement.  They are not the only ones in search of The Gold-Bug however, and some of the other interested parties have old grudges and will go to great lengths to solve the puzzle.  Emily and James learn quickly that they cannot trust everyone and they must rely on their own wits and skills and each other as they decipher the clues and race to find the spectacular prize. If they aren’t able to solve the clues quickly, the end result may be something much more sinister.

Book Commentary:
What a completely fun book!!  I actually picked this up for my daughter and became totally engrossed in the story.  What a concept of solving puzzles and finding books!  The game itself is a wonderful creation and the story is just as engaging and exciting.  It reminds me a bit of The Westing Game, The 39 Clues series, and The Red Blazer Girls series; the puzzles help the story to progress and the reader becomes involved in solving the clues.  I only wish the game were real and I could play!

Emily and James are very likeable characters and Emily’s family provides great supporting action.  There is a lot of humor, coupled with the frustrations and trials of life as a middle schooler.

Who might like this book:
Although this is technically a young adult book, I truly think anyone who loves books, mysteries, or puzzle-solving will enjoy this adventure.  It is a well-written and engaging story. There is an obvious appreciation and love of books evident throughout the story.  Emily and James travel all over San Francisco on quite an adventure, but as a native to the city, James is very believable as a tour guide.  There are numerous references to famous landmarks and anyone familiar with the city will enjoy and recognize the sights and locales.

I highly recommend this book.  It would a great read for a middle school classroom and serve as a starting point in the study of codes and puzzles.  I hope the author writes more!