Second Look: Sarah Jude’s THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS

This is one of those books I was so, so excited for.  It released a few weeks ago, so I’m glad I got to read it so soon.


Sarah Jude’s The May Queen Murders
Houghton-Mifflin, 2016

What It’s About:

Ivy lives in the small village of Rowan’s Glen.  Set in the hills of the Missouri Ozarks, this is a community that takes care of itself and doesn’t trust outsiders.  (See more below about the setting.)

When her cousin and best friend, Heather, begins to pull away, Ivy begins feeling lost.  What makes it worse is that she thinks Heather has fallen in love with her secret crush, Rook.  Ivy also begins to see bad omens and tries to warn Heather that she is in trouble, but Heather doesn’t listen.

To add to the gothic nature of this novel, there’s local lore of a madman who lives in the woods, Birch Markel.  Birch was responsible for the death of a young girl 25 years previous, but was never apprehended by the local sheriff.  When dead animals begin showing up around the Glen, Ivy worries that Birch is coming for her cousin.

And she’s not necessarily wrong.

What I Thought:

I was slightly disappointed, but that doesn’t mean that I stopped reading.  I was too intrigued to not know what happened at the end.  Plus, I’ve been reading pretty fast lately, so I figured it would be worth it to finish it in a few days, since it wouldn’t take me a week…

I’ll explain some of the disappointment as I go on with the review.

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Second Look: Robert Galbraith’s THE CUCKOO’S CALLING

OK, I know I’m late to the game on this book.  But I finally got a chance to read it, and man.  I was not disappointed.  I ended up staying up last night to finish it.  (Mind you, I read the bulk of this within the last 2-3 days.)


The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Mulholland Books, 2013

 What It’s About:

Cormoran Strike, a private detective, is hired to find out the truth behind supermodel Lula Landy’s apparent suicide.  Strike, at first, doesn’t believe it’s anything other than suicide, takes the job when he’s offered twice his rate because he’s hard-up for money and in debt.

As the story progresses, Strike begins to put puzzle pieces together and, ultimately, figures out the truth behind Landry’s death (murder).

The story is told in alternating perspectives.  While most of the narrative focuses on Strike, Galbraith (I’m not referring to Rowling, since she published under a pen name) also weaves in Robin’s perspective at times.  (This is important, see below.)  Robin is a temporary assistant that comes to work for Strike at the beginning of the novel, but ends up staying on (temporarily) until the case is over.

The story focuses on the rich and elite and fashion-famous people of London, England.  At heart, though, it’s an extremely well-told mystery and detective story.

What I Thought:

I’m not sure I can be completely cohesive in my response.  Mostly, because I loved it so, so hard.  If this book were a person, I’d be like this:


So, I’ll try to break it down for you.  But I will say this.  If you’re like me, and have waited 3 years to actually read this novel, you need to go out right now and get it.  RIGHT NOW.


Get it?  Good.  Now read it, then come back and read my review.

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Second Look: TEN by Gretchen McNeil

The Story: Ten teens are invited to a weekend of partying, drinking, and hooking up on a private island. After stumbling upon and watching a creepy DVD (which can be seen in the book trailer for Ten, which we posted from Gretchen McNeil’s blog a couple weeks ago), the teens start dying one by one. After attributing the first few deaths to accidents and coincidences, the remaining teens finally realize that not only are the deaths intentional, but someone is out to get each and every one of them. With no phones, no internet, and no way off the secluded island, the remaining teens have to find a way to survive the rest of the weekend.

The Low Down: There’s simply no other way to explain Ten, except to say that it is the love child of And Then There Were None and the murder/mystery TV series, Harper’s Island. And if you’re not familiar with Harper’s Island, I highly recommend you add it to your Netflix queue immediately.

Go ahead… I’ll wait.

(PS. If you’re interested in actually watching the series, don’t do too much Internet digging because you will find LOTS of spoilers. Just sayin’)

Ok. Now. Back to the book. Ten is a good, old fashioned, “whodunit” murder mystery at its core. Throughout the book, you can’t help but think, “is HE the murderer?! No, wait… is SHE the murderer?!! Wait! Maybe those two are in on it TOGETHER!”

Ten has a strong female lead in Meg, a wannabe writer who is ready to leave her clingy, dependent best friend behind in favor of heading for UCLA. She’s a real character with real teenage attitudes and problems (except for the whole being-stalked-by-a-killer thing). The characters were likeable except for a select few (who aren’t supposed to be likeable), but don’t worry… they may not survive. *evil laughter*

As far as content is concerned, there are some obscenities peppered throughout, but not much more debauchery than that. There are some allusions to sex, but nothing on screen. The murders are a bit gruesome (such as an impalement and an arrow straight through the heart), but are not graphically described.

The Bottom Line: Ten is a suspenseful, page-turning horror-mystery. It’s not “action packed” per se, but the pacing keeps the story moving. It’s a good read for fans of mystery fiction, or for anyone who’s starting to explore the genre. I approve!



Second Look: Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator by Josh Berk

Note: Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator will be released on March 13, 2012. 

The Story: Meet Guy Langman: Lazy, unmotivated, and purveyor of some really corny jokes. Guy can’t think of one reason why he would want to join the after-school Forensics Club, but still his best friend Anoop talks him into it. Over the course of several meetings, Guy, Anoop, and a handful of other misfits find themselves learning the ins and outs of fingerprinting, handling evidence, and chain of custody.

It’s all pretty cool, until someone breaks into Guy’s house and steals his recently deceased father’s treasure (and yes, it is real, legit TREASURE). It gets even weirder for the would-be crime solvers when they compete against Forensics Squad members from a rival school, and one of the squad members turns up dead with a fingerprint linking him to the burglary at Guy’s house. Surely this is a case for… (dun, dun, duuuuunnnnnnnnn!) THE FORENSICS CLUB!

The Low Down: After the awesomeness that was Josh Berk’s debut novel The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, I was expecting more of the same from Guy Langman. Sadly, I was slightly disappointed. That’s not to say Guy Langman isn’t good, because it is. The mystery is fun (though slightly predictable), the one-liners are hilarious, and I approved of the shout out to my hometown (even though it was referenced as a place where someone was arrested on an assault with a deadly weapon charge… which actually seems about right). In my humble opinion, though, it just doesn’t have the depth that Hamburger Halpin has in terms of the storyline. Berk’s writing hasn’t changed, but the complexity of the story seems a lot more shallow. Then again, that might make it more appealing to teens who don’t want to invest their time into a lot of deep drama.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to give this one an official parental advisory warning. The jokes are great, but are raunchy and usually penis-related. There’s also a smattering of “that’s what your mom told me last night” type jokes (all of which, I will not lie, made me giggle like the immature adult I am). But really, what do you expect from teenage boys? To be honest, that’s as true a dialogue as I’ve ever heard in a YA book!

The Bottom Line: While not as great as Hamburger Halpin, Josh Berk’s signature quirky sense of humor comes through loud and clear with many laugh-out-loud moments. Pair that with a good mystery and some inappropriate-but-oh-so-funny boner jokes, and you’ve got a decent sophomore effort in the form of Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator.