Sophie Young and Grace Yang are back in this second mystery by Kristen Kittscher. Admittedly, this second entry in the series is not quite as entertaining as the first. The mystery is good enough, but Kittscher seems a bit uncertain with the story as to whether she wants a dead-on mystery or whether she wants a cross between Sweet Valley High and the Dana Girls. The story wavers too much between the girls fighting about Sophie's desire to spy and Grace's desire to "fit in" and be a part of the Winter Sun Festival's royal court of princesses, and the actual mystery itself. This, in turn, leads to a lot of pages that feel like too much padding to the story. By the end of 388 pages, I was left wondering if perhaps the story could have actually been told in closer to 288 pages.
Sophie, Grace, and Trista know something is very amiss, and when the new president falls face down in his soup at a reception dinner, the girls suspect someone is out for revenge! Is it the enraged mother, whose daughter was not named queen of the festival? Or is it the former official who was demoted to "pooper-scooper" duty for the parade? Or could it be the Festival's treasurer, who sent a very suspicious e-mail that could indicate he is mishandling the Festival's funds? With too many suspects and not enough clues, Grace convinces Sophie and Trista to do something they would never dream of doing - going undercover as pages in the Royal Court of the Winter Sun Festival. This means they will have to wait hand and foot on the Queen and her Princesses during the three days leading up to the big parade - but, it also provides them unlimited and unrestricted access to the huge mansion that serves as the Festival's headquarters.
The investigation serves up a lot of potential motives and opportunities - - and when the girls are locked inside of a refrigeration unit used for storing the Festival's flowers (and poor Trista is majorly allergic!), they realize that someone not only knows they are investigating, but also knows they may be getting close to uncovering the truth. But when Trista stumbles onto a clue that could reveal the killer's identity, she finds herself locked on a runaway float, and Sophie and Grace must break away from the page duties in the middle of the parade and chase the runaway float before it goes careening off the side of the cliff, taking Trista with it!
Kittscher provides some interesting twists and turns with the big reveal at the end, leading readers to wholly suspect one person, and then turning everything on its head in the last few chapters. I will admit there was one underlying clue throughout the entire book that seemed glaring, but even I had a difficult time connecting it to the murders until close to the end. And perhaps the intended audience for this series might enjoy all of the girl-centric sub-plots (the fighting over spy-business vs. girl-business, the fight over Sophie revealing one of Grace's most embarrassing moments, etc), but for me, those elements felt unnecessary to the story and merely thrown in to pad the book and remind readers that these two young sleuths were girls with "typical" girl problems.
With only two books, it appears this series may be at an end already, as there is no third book listed on Amazon.com or on the publisher's website. Perhaps, after all, I wasn't the only one who felt this second book did not hold up quite as well as the first...
RATING: 6 inspirational posters of seals out of 10 for reminding readers that beauty goes far beyond skin deep and for providing a surprise twist with the identity of the killer!