The Talking Snowman (Judy Bolton #3.5)

By Margaret Sutton and Linda Joy Singleton

The Talking Snowman by Linda Joy Singleton is an addition to the Judy Bolton canon based on an unfinished manuscript by Margaret Sutton. It was completed as a gift to the Judy Bolton author, who included some revisions when she was sent the first manuscript draft. Chronologically, It takes place at Christmas time between the third book and the fourth, so it is book number 3.5.

Judy is mystified when her snowman that she just built along with Honey and Peter Dobbs says hello to her father and tips his hat as he comes up the sidewalk. Later, the snowman repeats his unusual talent to Judy and Horace by telling them to go to the clothespin factory. There are no footprints in the snow to indicate someone is hiding behind the snowman. It is a good little problem. I know I was baffled. If it was a hidden walkie-talkie, how did he tip his hat? Meanwhile, there is some trouble brewing in town between two rival gangs, one from the blue-collar Industrial High, and the other from the more well-off and privileged Boy’s High School. It started off as a snowball fight, but things start getting really serious when rocks start to get thrown as well as snowballs. Benny, one of the Industrial High boys and a friend of Judy’s high-strung friend Irene, is arrested. When Judy’s mother is found knocked unconscious in a ditch and ends up in the hospital, it gets personal for Judy.

By the end of the book, the talking snowman is credibly explained, and the two groups of boys make friends when the truth comes out about who was responsible for the rocks and the feud getting started to begin with.

There was a lot to like in this. I liked the real hometown mystery rather than the FBI stuff of the later Judy Boltons. The local problem of rich boys and poor boys not getting along escalating to an actual riot was true to life and high stakes. The resolution made sense and was even exciting. Judy was smart and did some real detective work.

Part of the story concerning Mrs. Bolton had a lot to say about children taking their mothers for granted and even feeling a sense of ownership of them. A couple of times in the story Judy gets upset and concerned when she thinks her mother is hiding something from her or appears somewhere where she didn’t expect to see her. As if her mother didn’t have a right to be her own person. At one point, Mrs. Bolton flat-out tells her to mind her own business. It is only when Mrs. Bolton accuses her of treating her like a criminal that Judy realizes how out of line she is.

Many of Judy’s friends put in an appearance and their personalities and characteristics are on point. It nicely foreshadows her relationship with Peter. I found this just as good as the best of the Margaret Sutton-authored Judys.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Hidden Clue (Judy Bolton #35)

“Dad’s right,” Judy’s brother Horace put in. “Don’t you remember the Prophet’s words to the woman with the baby?” He said, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s Longing for itself. “They come–

“You and your quotations!” Judy interrupted before her brother could finish. “I suppose you’re going to tell me they come trailing clouds of glory.

“No, that’s Wordsworth.

This is # 35 of the original 38-book Judy Bolton series and things are winding down. The Hidden Clue piggybacks on the former book, The Puzzle in the Pond in which Judy, Peter, and the rest of the community take in orphans displaced due to a fire at an orphanage. In Judy’s temporary care at Dry Brook Hollow are 4 or 5-year-old “Sister” and her baby brother. No one knows their names or history because they were just dumped on the orphanage’s doorstep one day.  When anyone tries to question Sister, she is very vague and her answers don’t make sense. One day, Judy buys a doll for her but leaves it at the toy store which used to be a drugstore. When she goes back to get it, it has turned back into a drugstore again and all of the dolls she saw in the window are gone. The clerk denies everything and acts suspiciously. While in town, she takes Sister to the Library where Maud Wheatley who we met a while back in a former book is the librarian. Sister runs to her thinking, for some reason, that Maud is her real mother. Maud does not handle it well and ends up lying to the child, agreeing that she is her mother (when she is not).

As things unfold, Sister lets some things slip about her past, Including that she once had a “Winnie” doll, a not-too-nice woman called ‘Auntie Grumble” who was supposed to take care of her, a chess board, a group of men in a truck, and her old house burning down. Unfortunately, Judy does not know which of these disclosures to take seriously.  She writes all these clues down, and from there Peter and the FBI get involved. Peter and Judy pursue the clues to Chicago where the mystery is solved and Sister and the baby happily end up with a family.

This is not a favorite, but It is certainly far from the worst in the series. I love that it is mentioned that Judy and Peter go to visit Roberta. A lot of things did not make sense, some situations are very hard to swallow, and Judy is kind of obtuse about some things. And a little whiny. The biggest reason for not being too fond of this one is that Sister got on my nerves, and I didn’t like the way Maud behaved around her. She came across in a negative way that I don’t think was intended by the author. But maybe it was. It’s true that Margaret Sutton’s characters are multilayered and many are neither all good nor all bad. What surprised me, in this book about orphans and “real parents” versus adopted parents was Judy’s insensitivity to Peter’s being an orphan until he was adopted by his grandparents. And her friend and sister Honey’s very troubled background before being adopted. In her zeal and focus on finding Sister’s “real parents” it’s like she forgot her own family’s history. She remains oblivious even with Dr. Bolton’s disapproval and broad hints to check herself. The clue-stick finally makes contact in the end. In addition, the big case of transporting stolen baby dolls across state lines was underwhelming. Couldn’t we at least have had them stuffed with drugs or firearms?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Puzzle in the Pond (Judy Bolton #34)

by Margaret Sutton

“Is this–your typewriter?” she asked when she could find her voice.
George Anderson glared at her. “You knew this stuff was here, didn’t you? I’ve read about you, always snooping around in empty houses and giving that brother of yours ghost stories for the Farringdon paper. you’re Dr. Bolton’s daughter, aren’t you?”

Peter has been assigned by the FBI to round up the rest of the Mott gang from The Secret Quest so Judy and Peter are finally back home. As the book opens, she is up in her attic gathering ephemera for the Roulsville library display cases. The doorbell rings, and before you know it, she is hot on the trail of another adventure. Her young friend Holly’s typewriter has been stolen! Their hot pursuit of the suspicious green car leads them to a shady furniture dealer whose stock seems to have been waterlogged at some point.

While in the neighborhood, they visit the Jewel sisters of the previous book and meet their friend Meta, who is the sad and mysterious matron of a nearby orphanage. While there, they visit the beaver dam not far from the house and are joined by Horace and Honey. This is where the puzzle in the pond reveals itself. Imagine Judy’s shock when she spies, sticking out of the dam, a distinctive table leg from a piece of furniture that was in her old house in Roulsville?! The contents of the Bolton home had been believed lost forever after the flood had devastated the small town 6 years ago. (The Vanishing Shadow, Judy Bolton #1). How did the table leg get to the pond which is upstream from the flood? While investigating the curious appearance of the table leg, we meet Danny, a resident of the orphanage who has been waiting 6 years for his father, who was once engaged to Meta, to come for him. Peter gets involved while trying to locate the rest of the Mott gang and it appears that Danny’s father might be involved in criminal activity.

I enjoyed this much more than the previous 3 Judy Bolton mysteries. I like it when Judy is back home and we meet old friends in familiar surroundings, which are often smoothly incorporated into the mystery. This one includes a lot of history and background from previous books, which further adds to the enjoyment. Honey, Peter’s sister, and Horace, Judy’s brother are now in a better place than in the previous book, and are “almost engaged.” Judy Bolton is best when read in order as time does progress and one book builds on the other, unlike with many other girls’ series.

Margaret’s talent for creating multilayered characters is at the forefront in this one. Holly has been a fixture since book #23, The Black Cat’s Clue, as a teenage friend Judy has taken under her wing. But she is often silly and flighty. George Anderson, Danny’s father, has a hair-trigger temper and flies off the handle easily. He is sulky and suspicious of everyone. Despite this, he does love his son and finds a happy ending with him and his former fiance. Even Danny comes across as “a vicious little monster” at one point. In the middle of the investigation, the orphanage burns to the ground in a dramatic scene. True character is revealed including the character of the community as a whole as everyone pitches in to help with the orphans, including the Bolton and Dobbs families.

There were several unlikely events and unanswered questions in this one. Primarily, how did the Mott gang morph from industrial espionage involved in rocket science to looters and traffickers of stolen furniture? Will Alden Launt, Honey’s sneaky co-worker and member of the Mott gang, be arrested at last? How did George, who abandoned his toddler son for 6 years in order to scrimp and save to open a business and make a home, afford a fancy honeymoon? It’s best for the adult reader not to scrutinize some things too closely, I guess. And, as always, some threads may be picked up in future books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3)

By Candice Fox

“So you didn’t do it?” “No,” Amanda said. “But I’m going to. I’m gonna smack that bitch so hard her grandkid will be born with my handprint on its face.”…“Aman-duh,” she imitated me. “You’re the one who told me I wasn’t angry enough about her pushing my bike over. I don’t get angry, Ted. I just sear my visage deep into my enemy’s brain with the flaming cattle brand of my devilish trickery. Then, in their nightmares, it’s my name they hear whispered on the winds of darkness.”

This is the third in the trilogy. I skipped the second one and cut right to the chase. I loved the characters and wanted more of Ted and Amanda, but the anxiety of Ted being unfairly hated and hounded by virtually the whole country of Australia took too much away from my enjoyment. In the second one, that I skipped, the true perpetrator of the heinous crime that Ted was imprisoned for was caught and Ted is no longer a suspect. Since the pervert was killed by the father of the girl though and was not tried in the courts and the court of public opinion, his innocence is not cut and dried. But it was enough to officially remove Ted as a person of interest. Even though he still has to deal with some ignoramuses, much of the cloud has been removed from over his head so I was able to concentrate on the case Ted and Amanda are investigating and enjoy them as characters and the side stories that involve them. Amanda on the other hand got herself into some hot water in the second one, so the tables are turned as far as being a target of the local police force. She is not vulnerable like Ted was so it wasn’t a huge worry.

The case that Amanda and Ted are called in to assist with was much more interesting and suspenseful than the case in the first book. An 8-year-old boy is missing so the stakes are high. As in the first book some aspects of the case were pretty outlandish or just wrong.

A character is arrested for going to the police for reporting a crime against children and in the process told them he too was a pedophile. But he never acted on his impulses. Can you be arrested in Australia for just wanting to do something illegal? I don’t think so.

**a little spoilery**

The crime is planned out in advance but the perpetrator has to rely on his/her ability to brainwash a group of children. A child psychologist with that deep knowledge of child behavior might know this might be possible, but there would be no way for even them to be sure enough to bet their life on it. It would only take one kid’s refusal to go along with the crowd to ruin everything. Yet the culprit has no doubt or worry about it. 

Towards the end of the book after a shocking event, the author gets mixed up as to who was a witness to it and who wasn’t. 

**big spoiler**

Ted saw the croc take Sara. Ted was the witness, not Amanda. Amanda was nowhere near. But Ted is allowed to go home and Amanda is kept at the scene to help the cops look for her body “because you know exactly where Sara disappeared from.” **end spoiler**.

This has huge consequences as to how everything played out.

As in the first book, the police obstinately ignore logic and evidence, (proof actually) that contradicts what they want to believe. And boy are they sorry in this one.

So apparently Candice Fox really really does not like local law enforcement. But for one exception, every one of them was either the scum of the earth and/or really really stupid. Especially as they are the bane of our dynamic duo’s existence, not to mention a menace to everyone else. Ted and Amanda keep getting work throughout the series because of their incompetence. It was bothersome and I think the books would have been better if there was some balance there.

But the mystery of the missing probably dead boy, Amanda’s relationship with the bikers, her confrontations with a crazed policewoman, the investigation itself, and the shocking twists and turns carried me through the book. Amanda is fascinating and priceless. Ted makes a sympathetic hero most of the time. Although justice was not fully served for everyone in the end, it was served enough to satisfy me. If this is the last in the series, I will be sorry. But it does make a fitting conclusion if it is. It looks like things are going to work out pretty well for both Ted and Amanda, and I wouldn’t want a continuation of the series to ruin that hope.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 14, 2022

The Secret Quest (Judy Bolton # 33)

By Margaret Sutton

Always there was some bright hope there, like the sun itself, lighting the way. Mysteries would puzzle Judy for a time and then be solved…But always the quest would go on.

Still in Washington D.C., Judy and Honey, who is on “vacation” from her job as a fabric designer, get involved in industrial espionage involving solar energy-fueled rockets. After picking up the wrong suitcase at the airport the girls pursue the owners, two old-fashioned elderly ladies to return it and get Honey’s clothes back. Inside the old ladies’ suitcase is an antique coffee mill with some mysterious diagrams hidden inside. Peter recognizes something fishy is going on. Also fishy is Honey thinking she saw a shifty new co-worker with the ladies. We find out that Honey’s career might be in jeopardy. Finally, they figure out that the sisters have returned to their home near Roulsville with Honey’s suitcase.

But before they cut short their D.C. trip to follow them, they run around Washington and, at The Smithsonian, they meet a young solar scientist that Honey is attracted to (She is irritated with Horace), go to a very progressive Unitarian Church (The sermon is about the sun-worshiping Akhenaten, the first monotheist), and are waylaid by President Kennedy and Jackie’s (“Isn’t she beautiful?”) motorcade. On the way home, they visit Gettysburg, where they have to lure the ever-present Blackberry out of a cannon with some sardines which Judy just happens to have handy. When they get home they find Honey’s workplace on fire and learn that Horace has gotten attacked and beaten up. Goodness!

When they get to the big old isolated house of the elderly sisters, Dorcus and Violetta Jewel, they are not exactly welcomed with open arms. The old ladies are being victimized by their nephew who is an imposter, of course. Because their real nephew is the shy nice scientist, Henry Jewel, whom they met in D.C. This guy is on the F.B.I.’s 10 most wanted list! After convincing the women that the creepy guy upstairs is not their nephew, outsmarting him, and narrowly avoiding disaster (violent poltergeists, getting shot, and drowning) everything works out. In the end, the Jewel family is re-united, the scientific diagrams are safe in the hands of our government, Honey’s job is secure, and she is “almost” engaged to Horace. Peter gets to work from home and is put in charge of rounding up the gang responsible for all of the mayhem, which, surprise, includes Honey’s scary rival at work.

This one had some positive aspects but it kind of made my head hurt. I liked that some of the characters from the last mystery (The Whispered Watchword) were seamlessly incorporated into this one. There was lots of science and history which I liked, we briefly meet up with Lois and Lorraine back in Roulsville, the Horace/Honey courtship was advanced a bit, and the wrap-up at the end was nice. The characters were well developed. However, there were too many crazy coincidences. Four men (five if you count the imposter) in or talked about in the story had the same name, which was confusing. There were a lot of perplexing and nonsensical decisions made and developments that occur.

After New York City, a cross-country road trip to Yellowstone Park, and two books set in Washington D.C., I hope we can just stay home for our next adventure, The Puzzle in the Pond.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 8, 2022

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1)

by Candice Fox

I bunked the pedophile trend in every possible way, and that frightened people. The Australian public had convinced themselves that they knew what child sexual predators looked and sounded and smelled like. They thought they had a handle on things. And then along comes Ted Conkaffey. A wholly new, and more sophisticated, breed of monster.

This is the first entry of a trilogy. I vetted the series carefully since there wasn’t a guaranteed “happy ending.” By which I mean, in a book that is not a romantic comedy or chick lit, that justice is done and closure is achieved. The little I read about it satisfied me that this would be a good bet.

Ted Conkaffy’s life is virtually destroyed by a false accusation of brutally raping a thirteen-year-old girl. He was imprisoned for 8 months until the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. To everyone, including his now ex-wife, this means he was guilty but got off on a technicality. He has to flee Sydney from the constant hounding by the press and the public for his own mental and physical health and also to protect his ex-wife and their baby daughter. Literally everybody hates him.

He settles in a very small town a few miles north of Cairns and, on the advice of his attorney, contacts Amanda Pharrell for employment. Amanda is a brilliant private investigator and Ted was a detective before he lost his job so he is well-qualified to work as a P.I. Unfortunately, no one is qualified to work with Amanda. She is an eccentric piece of work with some mental health issues who spent 8 years in the pen after being convicted as a teenager of stabbing a friend to death. She’s kind of impossible to describe, so I’ll stop there. I was very engaged with both of the main characters and their fates. They were interesting and likable. While working on their first case together, we also learn about their pasts and the crimes which brought them down. We know that Ted is innocent, but are not so sure about Amanda especially since she confessed and happily (really!) served her time.

Despite the occasional flashes of humor and the wry first-person voice, this was pretty dark. Ted’s lawyer is the only one who believes in him as the novel begins, and we never even meet him. Besides Amanda, who really doesn’t care either way, through most of the book he only gains one other ally. By the end he has one more, and we gain some measure of hope for Ted’s eventual exoneration. He is abused by the police, hounded by violent vigilantes and the tabloid press, and hated by old friends and complete strangers. When we think we see some light at the end of the tunnel it is quickly dashed. I just couldn’t stand it.

I didn’t find the case that Ted and Amanda were working on particularly interesting and the solution, I thought, was implausible. The pace was interrupted by the insertion of a nutcase’s fan letters to the author whose disappearance Ted and Amanda are investigating. They were necessary to the mystery, but were repetitive and got boring. In addition, I still don’t understand why Ted was not exonerated by law enforcement before his life was ruined. The evidence, though strong, was circumstantial, and forensics of his person and his vehicle should have shown he couldn’t possibly be guilty of the horrific crime. It’s never laid out how this could possibly have happened, and Ted is too passive and accepting of the situation. And the case against Amanda was just as weak.

The writing was engaging and entertaining, and it is an exciting book with very likable protagonists. There were just too many aspects that didn’t make sense, and that frustration brought my rating down.**3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 3, 2022

Finlay Donovan is Killing It (Finlay Donovan #1)

By Elle Cosimano

“You told me to bring plastic wrap.” “I told you to get plastic sheeting.” “Same thing.” “No, it’s not. Plastic wrap goes around sandwiches. Plastic sheeting goes around dead people. It’s bigger and sturdier. More like a shower curtain.” “You told me not to bring a shower curtain because it would make us look guilty!” “Because nothing screams innocent like a rotting corpse in three thousand feet of Cling Wrap!”

…“She chuckled darkly. “And to think you were worried about a damn shower curtain. Nothing says ‘serial killer’ like a chest freezer in a garage.”

This was a fun comic mystery, based on a really good idea for a fun comic mystery. It kind of reminded me of the Stephanie Plum books and this one is also the first of a who-knows-how-long-it-will-be series of books. Finlay is a recently divorced financially strapped single mother of two pre-school children. Her only source of income is her career as a not very successful writer of romantic suspense novels. While discussing some plot ideas and being pressured by her agent to satisfy her contract, they are overheard and misunderstood. Finley finds herself being hired to kill a strange woman’s husband. Of course, as much as she needs the money, she has no intention of following through, but one thing leads to another, and (you know how it goes) she finds herself burying a Russian mobster’s dead body on her ex-husband’s sod farm. As she tries to cover her tracks and, aided and abetted by the irrepressible Vero, her friend/nanny/accountant/housekeeper she digs herself deeper and deeper (pun intended) into trouble and danger. With both the police and the Russian mob closing in, not to mention her literary agent, I had to keep reading to see how she was going to extricate herself from her predicament(s). It reminded me of a surreal I Love Lucy episode. Or a game of whack a mole.

By the end of the book, thanks to a darkly comic twist, she escapes both arrest or being murdered by the mob. She also figures out the real murderer, ends up being financially solvent, pursued by not one but two very hot suitors, snagging two huge advances for two sure-to-be bestselling mystery series, and secures custody of her two children. I forgot to mention that her douchebag husband was threatening her with taking away her children on top of everything else.

Despite the fun, I probably won’t be reading any more in the series. Elle Cosimano has already written the third book, and I didn’t appreciate the ending of this one which was a cliffhanger and nothing but a setup for book #2. I don’t like that. And I see the handwriting on the wall. This series will never end a la Stephanie Plum, and reading never-ending series featuring a “torn between two lovers” scenario is just not my cup of tea. I like closure. Wake me if she decides between the hot young attorney-to-be and the hot detective.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 25, 2022

Good Girl, Bad Blood: A Sequel to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

by Holly Jackson

I did not enjoy this as much as the first one. Pip is drawn in very reluctantly to another dangerous mystery when Jamie, the older brother of one of her friends, Connor, goes missing. In the first book, Pip goes to some dark places in solving the mystery of who really killed Andie Bell and clearing the name of her boyfriend Ravi’s brother. But when the police won’t do anything because Jamie is an adult and he is low on the risk assessment scale, Pip feels she has no choice. Also, she is in a unique position. She knows her podcast would be a powerful tool to get the word out to find Jamie.

I listened to this on audio and am not sure that’s the best way to “read” a murder mystery where you want to sift through clues, pause and reflect, and backtrack at times. The narration was good and I did enjoy the multiple actors and sound effects. I was kept interested by the question of what happened to Jamie and why. And if he was still alive. It did not look good for him, for sure. I felt like one of the reveals came out of nowhere with no foundation being laid. Even if the reader wasn’t played fair with, it was entertainingly shocking and it did make sense, I thought. Once we were given the information out of nowhere. Besides that, a few things affected my enjoyment of this one. Jamie’s character was presented in such a way that I really didn’t care about him that much. Pip’s reactions to some happenings were a little problematic for me. And towards the end, the emotion was overwrought. Her behavior was probably realistic but, sometimes, when you put it all on the page, there’s nothing left for the reader to feel.

A lot of the threads have a satisfactory optimistic conclusion, but some of them do not. The fate of the rapist Max Hastings, who was indirectly responsible for some of the tragedy in the first book is one of the ones that do not. Pip does something risky and badass to deliver her own justice, but I do not like comeuppances left to my imagination. I want retribution, pain, and suffering! Perhaps in the next book? Perhaps not. Pip seems like she is not in a good place and things with her seem destined to get worse before they get better. If they do. I was left a little pessimistic about Pip and humanity in general. The first two were enough for me, I think. **3 out of 5 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 19, 2022

The Whispered Watchword (Judy Bolton #32)

By Margaret Sutton

Judy, Peter, and Blackberry are in Washington D.C. and get involved with investigating the mob. Since Peter got shot in a previous book, he is there for a refresher course and brings along Judy and for some reason, Blackberry. While there, he is assigned to investigate a crime syndicate ring. The manager of the hotel they are staying at is being threatened into paying protection money. If he doesn’t pay, his little daughter will be kidnapped and even killed. He does not know where to turn as he refuses to give in to the mob, but will not go to the FBI or the police because he fears reprisals. To make matters worse, his own relatives are involved with the mob unbeknownst to him. A senator who is fighting for tougher crime laws is also in danger. Yikes. To add to Judy’s concerns, Blackberry is missing from their motel room. There is a lot going on in this one. (Blackberry is Judy’s cat )

This one gets pretty messy. I will say that Margaret does a good job of incorporating the mystery with an educational tour of the Capitol for her young readers as well as providing a cautionary tale on joining a crime syndicate. I loved Judy’s musings on freedom and patriotism. We also spend a lot of time in the less savory parts of our nation’s capital. The middle chapters are taken up with Judy being led around in circles by her sketchy new “friend” Liz who tells her that her husband is an FBI agent when he is really working for the mob and related to Mr. Rocklin, the hotel manager. Liz is a confused 17-year-old who can’t decide between protecting her stupid husband or doing the right thing and being straight with Judy about what is going on. I struggled with Liz and what her game was.

To make a long story short, Judy is imprisoned in an abandoned building (again!) while rescuing Rosita, Mr. Rocklin’s 8-year-old daughter from a violent death. Blackberry, himself kidnapped by the mob, is found safe and sound making himself at home in the Capitol building basement ridding it of its mice problem. Judy cracks several mysteries in this one.

There were some weird things about this one that I could not overlook.

Why did Mr. Rocklin think Blackberry was a warning from the Mob when his motel allowed cats?

Why did Peter and Judy even bring Blackberry on a long car trip to Washington? Is it any wonder something bad happened to him?

Why did Walter Krut, one of the head mobsters, think Blackberry’s collar was made of solid gold? (He didn’t, but I only figured this out after a careful re-read.)

After getting led astray by Liz (another problem) Judy gets an offensive and sanctimonious lecture from one of Peter’s colleagues (and tour guide) on her wifely duties being married to a G-man (with Pamphlet!). Nope. Just nope.

Judy, lost and driving on the mean streets of D.C. in the pouring rain, hails another passing car to ask for directions. While driving. With her windows rolled up. Successfully.

The victimized Rocklin family was not very sympathetic. In fact, they were kind of hateful. and that especially includes Liz’s husband Charlie who was a wet noodle. I don’t believe for a minute that he was going to go back to rescue Rosita, despite what he told Liz.

Judy uses a childhood yell that only Peter would recognize to call for help when she hears a siren outside the abandoned house. “Hip deminiga folliga sick de hump de lolliga yoo hoo!” Luckily Peter is with them and answers in kind. I bet his FBI buddies got a real kick out of that.

The FBI intercepts an attack on the senator’s life mid-speech. (Shades of The Manchurian Candidate!) Right when he was pulling out a deadly fountain pen. (Poison dart? It couldn’t have been a very high-caliber firearm. Or maybe he was going to scribble him to death.)

Once Rosita is rescued, her father refused to press charges against his cousin by marriage for her kidnapping and attempted murder. WTF? Is he insane!?

So while the bones of the story made sense and were interesting a lot of the details did not hold water and it was distracting and bothersome. The problems could have been fixed easily. They were not major holes. I feel like Margaret was let down by her editor. On to The Secret Quest!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 17. 2022

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #1)

by Holly Jackson

I might seem like the ideal student: homework always in early, every extra credit and extracurricular I can get my hands on, the good girl and the high achiever. But I realized something just now: it’s not ambition, not entirely. It’s fear. Because I don’t know who I am when I’m not working, when I’m not focused on or totally consumed by a task. Who am I between the projects and the assignments, when there’s nothing to do? I haven’t found her yet and it scares me. Maybe that’s why, for my senior capstone project this year, I decided to solve a murder.

This was a nifty mystery with great likable characters I really cared about. And, just as important, clever and engaging writing and dialogue. It was really fun. Very Veronica Mars.

5 years ago Andie Bell, a pretty and popular high school senior, was murdered by her boyfriend who commits suicide within 24 hours. His confession was on his phone, and her blood was under his fingernails. He asked his friends to lie about his whereabouts at the time of the murder. It was cut and dried. Except Pip, our heroine, doesn’t buy it. Sal Singh was just too nice to be a murderer. As her senior project, she decides to re-examine the case and hopefully prove him innocent.

Although the focus is on the sleuthing, clues, and puzzle, we also get to know and like Pip’s friends, her family, and her partner in crime-solving, Sal’s brother, Ravi. As all of the witnesses, family, and persons of interest are interviewed, many secrets are revealed and shocking revelations abound. As the interviews are recorded and the evidence and clues mount up, the reader knows no more and no less than Pip and Ravi. Everything is presented to the reader, including Pip’s speculations and theories. In short, despite its modern trappings and current social concerns, it is, at its heart, an old-fashioned classic murder mystery. And also as in a classic murder mystery, the detective was a lot smarter than I was. The one time I thought I caught on to something that Pip and Ravi had missed, it turned out to be a red herring. I was fooled and shocked by turn, and none of my #1 suspects were guilty. Of murder.

Well into the last half of the book, we have two big reveals, and a couple of sighs of relief. But we’re still not done. The final 20% of the book is surprise after surprise. But everything made sense. At least when some things seemed implausible, an attempt was made to explain. I appreciated that. It was quite a ride and culminates in an exciting conclusion and satisfactory “two months later” wrap-up.
This is the first of a trilogy and I want more!

As an addendum, this novel was set in Connecticut, and I had no clue until a one-word slip up at the end that the author was British and I was reading an Americanized version of the original. It is a YA, so I guess they thought American teens wouldn’t get British cultural references and expressions? Or places? They did that to Harry Potter too, except for settings. I’m glad to see the second and third books are set in England. Good for them. Hopefully it’s the same version word-wise too. I’m interested in what University Pip is going to because I know it’s not the American one of the first book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 27, 2022