At the beginning of this book, Sophie, one of the Red Blazer Girls (a group of mystery-solving 12-year-old friends who are also part of a band), is at swim practice, where her nose is broken (accidentally? on purpose?) by Livvy, her nemesis. Soon after getting her nose broken, Sophie finds out that her father has not only met Nate, her celebrity crush, he has also arranged things so that she and the other Red Blazer Girls (Margaret, Becca, and Leigh Ann) can meet him. This would be 100% good news if Sophie didn't feel a bit self-conscious about her nose.
Sophie's meeting with Nate is brief. Without checking with her parents first, she agrees to watch out for Nate's dog, in exchange for the possibility of continued contact with Nate and the $50/day pay he offers her. To further complicate things, Father Julian (if I remember right, he's a teacher at her all girls' Catholic school) has given Sophie and her friends more mysteries to solve. One of those mysteries involves two identical signed baseballs: one is real and one is a fake, and the girls are asked to figure out which one is which. Another one of those mysteries involves a family heirloom, a painting that may or may not be a real Pommeroy. Father Julian wants the girls to try and figure out if the painting is real by using a bunch of photographs to prove that his family owned it prior to Pommeroy's death in 1961.
Even though I had some serious suspension of disbelief problems as the story progressed (so many convenient doubles, and so many potentially valuable items given to a bunch of twelve-year-old girls), I enjoyed myself so much that I didn't really care. Sophie's "voice" (the book is written in the first person, from her perspective) is likable and fun.
The snappy, fast-paced writing was just what I needed to help get me out of a nasty reading slump. Had I been in a different mood, the book might almost have felt too busy and fast-paced. There were tons of things to keep track of, and, although I was sure that fakes and doubles would prove to be an important part of the book's ending, I wasn't sure how much of what was going on would end up being related. There were the baseballs (it occurred to me after I finished the book that it was never revealed who created the fake baseball, and why), the repeated hints that there was more than one little black dog named Tillie, people's comments that Livvy and Sophie looked remarkably similar, the painting that may or may not have been painted by Pommeroy, and the strange, shy artist who was so terrified of a certain someone that he never left his gallery. It was fun trying to put all the pieces together, but sometimes I just had to sit back and go with the flow, there was so much going on.
Although the cover art made it clear that the book is intended for younger readers (according to Amazon.com, ages 9-12), which usually means young protagonists, I originally guessed that Sophie and her friends were 14-years-old, maybe 15. Sophie's life is filled to the brim with extracurricular activities (swimming, her band, investigating mysteries, and hanging out with her friends and Raf, the guy she keeps saying isn't her boyfriend even though I'd argue that he is), and that's before her life is further complicated by trying to take care of a dog. Somehow all this, plus something about Sophie's "voice" and her tendency to swoon over Nate and Raf, had me thinking she was older, but it was still only a slight surprise when I came across a bit in the text that confirmed her actual age.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a nice, quick read with plenty of likable characters, and it was the kind of mystery that invited you to put the pieces together yourself if you could. Throughout the text are illustrations of the photographs the girls used to try to date the painting, so readers even get the same visual clues that Sophie and the other Red Blazer girls do.
I don't know that I'll ever read any of the earlier books in the series, but that's mainly because aspects of this book did read slightly younger than I'm used to - I'd rather read books intended for older teens and adults. That makes itself clear in my list of read-alikes, which may actually work a bit better for fans of Beil's book after they've gotten a bit older.
- Lulu Dark and the Summer of the Fox (book) by Bennett Madison - I probably should have listed Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls instead, because it's the first book in the series, but this is the only book in the series that I've read. Besides, this book also features movie people. I think this series is aimed at a slightly older audience than the Red Blazer Girls series, but those who'd like another fast-paced mystery with characters who have a trendy feel to them might still like it. I wrote a post about this book a while back, so if you're worried about its content you can read that post for a little more information if you'd like.
- All-American Girl (book) by Meg Cabot - Again, this is aimed at an older audience - I haven't read this yet, but in the second book in the series Sam (short for Samantha) is dealing with, among other things, freak outs about having to draw an actual naked man in her nude drawing classes and trying to figure out if she would like to have sex with her boyfriend (who is also the son of the president of the United States) and what she'll do if she decides she's not ready for that yet. So, Sam is a high school student, not a 12-year-old, and the issues she's dealing with are different. But for those readers who are old enough/mature enough to handle the book, Cabot's writing style (which I recall being similarly snappy and fast-paced) might appeal.
- The Maze of Bones (book) by Rick Riordan - This is the first book in the 39 Clues series. I felt like I needed to include at least one book actually aimed at the same age range as Beil's book, so here you are. I haven't actually read this, although I've spotted the books at my local Walmart and considered adding the series to my TBR list - it looks like it could be fun. Over the span of several volumes, the characters in this series compete to win a fortune by collecting 39 clues. In the first book, 2 of those clues are collected. The series sounds like it's at least as much fun as reading about the Red Blazer Girls, with elements of mystery and adventure (more far-flung than The Mistaken Masterpiece from the sounds of things, though).