A Series of Unfortunate Events: 3 and 4

I figured I would continue with this series since I’m on a roll! The Wide Window is the last book I read in the series the first time around, and I don’t like it is much as the other two, probably because it’s hard to like the Baudelaires’ phobic grammarian Aunt Josephine. The fatal Lachrymose Leeches are a creative twist, though.

I moved on to The Miserable Mill. Lemony Snicket devotes the first three pages to explaining why the first sentence (“The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better.) is a good indication that the book will indeed be an unhappy one. Let it never be said that this series suffers from false advertising. After their banker Mr. Poe drops them off at the factory their new temporary caretaker owns, they are forced to work long hours and live in the barren barracks. And Klaus suffers from hypnosis. [Which made me think of something when I was reading this that I now can’t remember. I think it was that I recently watched something involving hypnosis.]

This is the first book where you get a sense of a sinister larger picture, in that the eye from Olaf’s tattoo is also present in a few places around town. The movie of the first three books also hinted at this. I’m intrigued to know were this is going.

I don’t think I mentioned before the author’s penchant for big words, which he then explains. It’s especially funny when his definition is based on context rather than denotation. Here are a few for example:

  • “…so far each home had been a catastrophe, a word which here means ‘an utter disaster involving tragedy, deception, and Count Olaf.'”
  • “‘…we could do a forgery,’ Klaus said, using a word which here means ‘write something yourself and pretend that someone else wrote it.'”
  • “… Count Olaf and his nefarious assistants–the word ‘nefarious’ here means ‘Baudelaire-hating’…”
  • “…his voice faking–a word which here means ‘feigning’–kindness.”

Even though Count Olaf has so far always managed to escape, the books end on a slightly upbeat note because the orphans realize that they still have each other, and things could always be worse. Nevertheless, I think I need to take a short break from the series. Despite having grown up with Roald Dahl I’m in the mood for something a bit sunnier for now.

Advertisements
Published in: on July 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The Great Airport Mystery

I was getting rid of a beat-up version of The Great Airport Mystery and decided to read through it first. It’s been a long time since I’ve read one of the classic Hardy Boys books. This is one of the revised texts from the 60s, but it’s still a very different feel from the Casefiles or Undercover Brothers series.

The book starts when Frank and Joe’s car is hit by a low-flying small plane. When they regain consciousness and look for a landing site, however, it seems to have disappeared. That night, Mr. Hardy asks them to take undercover summer jobs at the factory for Stanwide Mining Equipment Company. Small electronic parts containing platinum have gone missing from several recent shipments. The company has also gotten a ghostly message from the pilot of a mining expedition in the Caribbean that crashed. Of course everything turns out to be connected, but before the culprits are caught the Hardys will get their camera stolen, survive a hand grenade, and fly to the Caribbean and Montana. And Chet will impersonate a ghost.

I loved the passage below for the fact that Frank carries an emergency detective kit (and uses it later on when he needs an envelope to hold a clue). Would this trick actually work in real life, though? I guess Bayport must not get much traffic.

‘When Zimm comes out,’ he told Biff, ‘you take the car and follow him. I want to question the shop owner.’

‘But when will we join up?’ his friend asked.

Frank reached into his pocket and took out an emergency detective kit. From it he extracted a packet containing small pieces of vivid red paper, and handed it to Biff.

‘As you drive,’ he told him, ‘drop some of this paper every few seconds. That will leave a trail I can follow later.’

‘But what if I run out of paper?’ Biff asked.

‘If you have to follow Zimm that far,’ said Frank, ‘stay with him and find out where he goes. Then retrace your route. I’ll be following the trail on foot as far as it takes me.’

Luckily, he doesn’t run out. The trail leads to a residential street about a mile away, and Frank is able to follow on foot before a breeze threatens to blow the papers away. He then sends Biff to buy sandwiches, milk, and ice cream for their stakeout. Life is never dull when you’re a lackey for the Hardy Boys!

Published in: on July 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

A Series of Unfortunate Events: 1 and 2

I am notoriously bad at not finishing series. I stop, restart and read farther, and stop again. Part of me doesn’t want to say goodbye to characters I like, and part of me just gets distracted by other books. There’s another part, though, that hates loose ends, and I’m determined to cross some of these books off my list once and for all. The Year of the Reread seems the perfect time for that.

If you are interested in stories with happy endings,, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.

I can vividly recall the first time I heard of A Series of Unfortunate Events. My mom had dropped off her car in town for an inspection, so we walked to the library for some books and brought them back. I happened to find the first two books in this series. They were the only ones available, so I must have been around twelve at the time. I think I finished both before the car was done (I’m a quick reader). I know I read the third book at a later date, but not the other ten. My brother did buy and read the whole series, so I’m borrowing his to finally find out the rest of the story.

If you’re not familiar with the series, the premise is that Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny Baudelaire have a very unfortunate life. In The Bad Beginning, an unexplained fire destroys their house and kills their parents. They cannot touch the family fortune until Violet turns 21, so in the meantime they are sent to live with their previously-unknown uncle Olaf. His only goals in life are to hang out with his acting troupe, make the children miserable, and scheme up ways to get his hands on their money. They foil his plans in the first book, and move onto herpetologist Uncle Monty in The Reptile Room, but things take a turn for the worse when Count Olaf turns up in disguise.

The books are dark, but blatantly so, and the misfortunes of children are so extreme as to be almost humorous. Though bad things happen, it’s sort of like Hansel and Gretel about to be eaten by a witch or Cinderella made to scrub floors. What really makes these books work is the writing style of “Lemony Snicket.” The author has created this mysterious persona complete with  a shadowing profile and dedications to the dead Beatrice. He claims that he has been entrusted with these true stories to make the plight of the Baudelaires known to the public, acting as an omniscient Had They But Known narrator. It’s great.

The books are also surprisingly educational, kind of like, “Hey, kids, listen to this.” For example, in the second book he gives the following paragraph, after an explanation of what dramatic irony means:

As you and I listen to Uncle Monty tell the three Baudelaire orphans that no harm will ever come to them in the Reptile Room, we should be experiencing the strange feeling that accompanies the arrival of dramatic irony. This feeling is not unlike the sinking in one’s stomach when one is in an elevator that suddenly goes down, or when you are snug in bed and your closet door suddenly creaks open to reveal the person who has been hiding there. For no matter how safe or happy the three children felt, no matter how comforting Uncle Monty’s words were, you and I know that soon Uncle Monty will be dead and the Baudelaires will be miserable once again.

He is so upfront and matter-of-fact about the tragedies in the book that they cease to be traumatic. It’s almost like in the Addams Family, how the macabre and off-kilter are presented as normal. I can’t wait to have kids someday so  I can read these to them.

Also, random note: the orphans look through a cookbook and decide to cook puttanesca when Count Olaf asks for a dinner party. I’d never heard of this until Cornelia called it her comfort food in Belong to Me. I also realized I was entirely wrong in assuming that capers were some sort of sea food, as Snicket explains that they are flower buds from a shrub. See what I mean about these being educational?

Published in: on July 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

Thursday Throwback: The Westing Game

“Today I have gathered together my nearest and dearest, my sixteen nieces and nephews, to view the body of your Uncle Sam for the last time. Tomorrow its ashes will be scattered to the four winds.
I, Samuel Westing, hereby swear that I did not die of natural causes. My life was taken from me–by one of you!”

At my youngest cousin’s recent birthday party, he mentioned to me that he had just read The Westing Game and really enjoyed it. I replied that Ellen Raskin’s book was pretty much the best ever. Another cousin overheard us and chimed in her own praise. Thinking about it on the way home, however, I realized that despite it’s being one one of my all-time favorite Newbery winners, I had only read it once. Was it really as good as I remembered? Happily, the answer is yes.

Six families, seemingly unrelated, are all pursued by a mysterious realtor to take an apartment in the prestigious, newly-built Sunset Towers in Westingtown. A few months later, sixteen of these individuals are named as heirs in Sam Westing’s will. He was the founder of the extremely successful Westing Paper Products, for which the factory was named, and earned millions of dollars, but his life was a lonely one in his later years and he had no direct descendants.

There is a catch, however. Westing’s bizarre but legal will claims that one of those same sixteen heirs was responsible for his death, and the one who figures it out will win a million dollars. The heirs are divided into pairs, each given $10,000 and five one-word clues. The participants on the surface have little in common–a high school track star, a judge, a cleaning woman, a dressmaker, a doctor, a beautiful fiancée, a precocious thirteen-year-old, named Turtle. However, they will have to put aside their differences and work together if they want to play the Westing game. Sam Westing may have seemed mad, but perhaps there is a method to it after all.

I don’t want to say anything else for fear of giving something away, but I loved the book just as much this time around. In fact, knowing the outcomes of different plot lines, I was able to pick up many of the clues scattered throughout that I would have overlooked on a first read. It might be the mathematician in me, but I absolutely adore puzzle-type plots, and even as an adult I still find this book intellectually engaging. The correct solution makes complete and total sense, but so do all the incorrect solutions that everyone else comes up with,especially given our knowledge of the characters. Raskin treats all the clues and plot elements like pieces of colored paper in a kaleidoscope, rather than red herrings to simply display and discard.

The book is written in a third-person omniscient that jumps around among all the different characters. The only element that distinguishes this as a children’s book is that Turtle receives more time than the other characters–but no more so than in, say, a Flavia de Luce mystery. Ellen Raskin also has a wonderfully ironic sense of humor. For example, at one point the elevator becomes an unofficial bulletin board, and some of the postings are just hilarious.

My first experience with Ellen Raskin was actually her Newbery Honor book, Figgs and Phantoms. I remember being underwhelmed and thinking it was pretty weird. I almost didn’t readThe Westing Game because of it. At least I am not alone; of her four main books listed on Amazon, this one had the lowest reviews, and many agreed it was bizarre. At least the other two look promising.

Fun fact: Ellen Raskin was also a graphic artist, and actually designed the first cover of A Wrinkle in Time.

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Thursday Throwback: Jamie and the Mystery Quilt

I’m not ashamed to say that I still occasionally read children’s books, especially if they were ones I first read as a child.  I was actually probably a more voracious reader when I was younger than I am now, if that’s possible.

While browsing for series books at the latest book sale I found a couple old favorites that had me secretly jumping for joy. Two of the Miss Bianca books by Margery Sharp immediately found their way into my bag. I don’t love these as much as the movies because Miss Bianca is  more stand-offish and Bernard more subservient, but they are wonderful nonetheless. Neither is the one I most vividly remember, which features some somewhat creepy wax dolls.

After rereading The Doll’s House over the summer I remembered a book with a treasure in a doll house that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the title of. As soon as I picked up When the Dolls Woke, by Marjorie Filley Stover, I knew I had found it. The prequel, Midnight in the Dollhouse, was there as well.  I flipped through and everything was as I remembered, including the parchment over the fireplace and the exotic wooden doll Martinique (though she is not mean like I had thought). They are a bit similar to Rumer Godden’s books, which must be why I thought they were by her.

In the same box as those two was a book called Jamie and the Mystery Quilt, by Vicki Berger Erwin. I first checked this our of the local library when I was about eight, and read it several times more in the next few years, though if you had asked me now about the plot I would have been stumped. I couldn’t resist reading it as soon as I got home. My library’s copy had been missing some pages, so this was actually my first time reading it in its entirety.

Jamie absolutely loves the old house that has been passed down for generations in her father’s family. Since he died a few years ago, however, money has been really tight, and her mother has been showing the realtor Mr. Payne around with the intent of selling the house. Janie is determined to stop him. She begins tutoring one of her classmates, Kevin, after school to earn some extra money. She also wants to start bringing down some of the original furniture from the attic to try and get their house on the historical circuit. Kevin’s mother is an antiques dealer and he thinks some of it may be valuable.

In the process, Jamie stumbles across a quilt made by her great-grandmother during the Depression which is an exact replica of the house. She also finds letters from her great-grandfather hinting that hid money in the house before he died, and that he added a clue to the quilt. Before Jamie has a chance to investigate, however, the quilt is stolen from her back porch. Her mom will be signing papers to sell the house in a few days, so Jamie and Kevin have very little time to recover the quilt and save the house.

I find it amusing that the plot elements I was drawn to even at a young age are still the ones that resonate with me: old houses/antiques, mysteries, connections to people in the past, hidden treasures, and hints of romance. I could definitely fill a shelf with children’s books that have some or all of these themes (like The Family Tree). Fewer adult books seem to have all of these at once, especially the hidden treasures part, but if anyone has any recommendations feel free to pass them along!

Published in: on November 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

Murder on the Set (Nancy Drew Girl Detective #24)

I had some rough news at work this week at decided a little mystery binge was exactly what I needed this weekend. Murder on the Set was actually the third one I finished, but the easiest to review because it was such a quick read. And, of course, because I never have trouble finding something to say about Nancy Drew!

This one is the 24th in the Girl Detective series, from way back in 2007.  I try to buy them as they come out (they’re pretty much the only books I’m willing to pay full price for), but I’m so far behind I don’t think I’ll ever catch up. They’re already up to 45. It’s also been quite a while since I read the last one. It doesn’t seem like it’s been two years!

In this volume Bess is super excited that Hollywood will be practically in their own backyard. After an accident on the set of his last film five years ago, Gordon MacIntyre is back in the director’s chair for a blockbuster filmed in River Heights and starring two of Hollywood’s hottest names, Brett Harley and Fiona Gibson. Even better, he will be casting locals as extras, so Bess jumps at the chance to get close to the heartthrob. Nancy’s not so much into the glitz and glamour, but she is into mysteries, and when she hears from her dad that Gordon and Brett have received threatening notes she decides that being an extra is the perfect cover for an investigation. Unfortunately, events don’t go as either Nancy or Bess would like. Soon, Nancy realizes that danger just might be afoot, if only she knew who to warn and who is responsible.

First off, why is there NO mention of the film that took place in River Heights for books 5 and 6? Nancy keeps going on about how she gets stage fright, and can’t act, unless it’s for a case, but she already played the lead role of Esther Rackham in the movie about River Heights. I read it before I started writing about the books so I don’t recall if it was actually a Hollywood film or if Bess was an extra. I understand that it would be a nightmare to have continuity with all Nancy Drews ever written, so I’ll overlook that all three girls were extras in Double Horror of Fenley Place in the classic series, but to ignore two books in the same series is a little much. I guess they just wanted a Hollywood tie-in for the real Nancy Drew movie.

There were other contrived inconsistencies as well, such as having George suddenly driving a 1978 bucket of bolts simply so she could be asked to use it in the film. Nancy doesn’t want to tell George and especially Bess about the case, because she doesn’t know if she can trust them. Never mind the hundreds of cases they’ve helped with in the past. Bess is now five inches shorter than Nancy’s 5’7”, and even more so than George. She apparently suffers extreme mood swings between glumness and euphoria, and just for good measure is described as being cheap and never wanting to spend money. I’m pretty sure the Bess I know loves shopping.

The plot was okay, but not great. It seemed more about characters than anything else. And while I liked the longer length in this one, I felt like it really needed more substance to make it worthwhile. As I tried to write the summary above I realized that most of what happens is movie set filler, drama not related to the crime, or red herring filler. Nancy flirts with movie stars, fights with Deirdre, picks a lock, placates Bess, and talks about explosives. And repeats. We had enough handsome movie star romantic tension that at times it read like a Nancy Drew File. If this is for ages 8-12 I’m not sure why they have Nancy making out with the male lead as a stand-in actress and going on a date with a man fifteen years her senior. At the same time, it looks like her eventual reconciliation with Ned is taken for granted because those events were beyond her control, and is not a priority on either side. The author doesn’t even write a “kiss and make up” scene until the end of the book at the movie premiere, which was probably some time after the filming ended. I like the easy relationship the couple has in this series, and Nancy was definitely worried about hurting Ned, but I never thought I’d say that it was too casual.

In other relationship news, the relationship between Chief McGinnis and Nancy seems pretty official at this point. He’s an idiot who either refuses to let Nancy be involved, blocks her investigation, or takes credit when she does succeed. And, apparently, is jealous because she still succeeds with more regularity than he does. I’m still not sure whether I like the dynamic, but it does add an element of humor.

This is not one of my favorites in the series, but from what I’ve heard of later volumes I guess it could be a lot worse.

Published in: on September 10, 2011 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Thursday Throwback: The Doll’s House

How strange that a little farthing doll should last so long. Tottie was made of wood and it was good wood. She liked to think sometimes of the tree of whose wood she was made, of its strength and of the sap that ran through it and made it bud and put out leaves every spring and summer, that kept it standing through the winter storms and wind. “A little, a very little of that tree is in me,” said Tottie. “I am a little of that tree.” She liked to think of it.

I used to love reading books about dolls, and Rumer Godden had some great ones; I borrowed them first from my friend and then from the library multiple times. The Doll’s House
was all about creating a model house for two little Japanese dolls. I thought it was the coolest book ever, and can still remember it vividly. It was always my dream when I was little to have a doll house, but I had to settle for playing with the one at my grandmother’s.

When I found The Doll’s House at the book sale last week I couldn’t recall if it was one I used to read. The characters seemed very vaguely familiar, but it might have just been similarities to the other doll books. Then, about twenty pages in, Marchpane was mentioned in passing and I felt an inexplicable shiver of hate down my spine. She had not been introduced as a character yet, and I could not explain why I disliked her so, but I knew I did. Funny how strongly she must have affected me when I was a child!

The main character in the book is Tottie, a little wooden farthing doll over a hundred years old. She has been passed down in the family and currently belongs to two little girls named Emily and Charlotte. The sisters have also acquired other various dolls to put together a family. Birdie, the mother, is a celluloid doll from a party popper, who has good intentions but only room for one thought at a time in her head. Mr. Plantagenet is sturdier, but a great worrier. He belonged to a neighbor family and was much abused before being rescued by the girls. Apple is a little boy doll with a knack for getting into simple mischief.

This doll family lives in a shoebox, and dream of one day having a house like the one Tottie used to live in when she belonged to Emily and Charlotte’s great-grandmother. With dolls, wishing hard is their only way of making things happen, and in this case they wish hard enough. When an older relative passes on the house is found again, and delivered to the girls. Unfortunately, the house is in disrepair, and in order to get money to fix it up, the girls lend Tottie to a doll exhibit at the museum. Poor Tottie, however, does not understand that this is only temporary.

Along with the dollhouse, the girls inherit another heirloom, the snobby china doll Marchpane. She and Tottie have a frigid history dating way back to when they both used to live in the dollhouse. Unfortunately, Emily and Charlotte are quite taken with her exquisite looks. Everything is disrupted when they make her mistress of he dollhouse and relegate the other dolls to servant roles. Only when matters come to an extreme point do the girls realize what really makes a doll valuable.

The plot itself of this book is not necessarily my favorite; my distaste for Marchpane is too strong, and the ending is one of those “Little Match Girl” or “Tin Soldier” endings where I’m not really quite sure it’s happy. Nevertheless, Rumer Godden writes about dolls, and by extension, the children who own and love them, in a way that no one else can. She explains things so matter-of-factly that you can’t help but believe that dolls really are alive in a sense. The materials that the dolls are made out of, and their histories, are reflected in their characters. They are fully developed, and at the same time completely at the mercy of their owners. When Charlotte and Emily are in tune with the dolls they know exactly what they need and things go smoothly, but when that intuition fails the situation gets very bad indeed.

I was trying to remember all the other doll books I used to love, the ones I still own as well as the ones I borrowed. I could have sworn that there was a sequel, with a doll from Jamaica who practiced black magic. All of the other Rumer Godden books are stand-alones, though, so the one of thinking of must be different. I know it had a family living in an old doll house, like this, and they had issues with the voodoo doll, and there was a subplot with something valuable hung on the wall in the dollhouse. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I couldn’t find anything online, so if this bother me enough I might need to ask on LibraryThing.

 

Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

The Mysterious Benedict Society

I think I’ve tried to write this review multiple times and keep getting stuck, so I’m going to try the short version:

I absolutely loved The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart. It’s like a mash-up of Roald Dahl and The View From Saturday, with little bits of Harry Potter and The Westing Game thrown in. It has courageous orphans, puzzles,  useless details that turn out to be important, and mysterious characters with secret pasts. It has four unique children who are thrown into an adventure, become friends, rise to the challenge, and triumph over evil.

mysterious benedict societyReynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance all have their own strengths, and different types of intelligence. Reynie is good at puzzles, Kate is athletic and thinks outside the box, Sticky has the book smarts, and Constance…is Constance. At various points all their skills come into play, so that they are not able to succeed except as a team. They are also, despite their occasional squabbles, really nice kids. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but even as an adult, I found myself thinking that these were characters I would trust and look up to. Reynie especially seemed to have a wisdom beyond his years.

The plot was clever and engaging. Despite the length of the book, I couldn’t put it down, barely even for meals. I was never disappointed along the way; even when I finished, I discovered that the back cover had a secret message in Morse code that I had to look up the alphabet online to decipher.

I’ve already added the next two to my Bookmooch wishlist, and may break down and buy them new if they don’t turn up after a while. This is definitely a keeper.

The back flyleaf has

Published in: on July 10, 2011 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The Meg Duncan Mysteries

Persistence has paid off, as lately I’ve had surprising luck finding series books on Bookmooch, but that’s a post for another day. The only ones I’ve had a chance to read are two of the Meg Duncan mysteries by Holly Beth Walker.

I suppose this is what I get for calling the first book in the series dull, because The Ghost of Hidden Springs and The Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave were certainly different. I agree with the theory that the series had a variety of ghostwriters. As in Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds, the actual age of Meg and her best friend Kerry Carmody is never given, but based on the book length and style I stick to my estimate that they are around 11. I’m not really sure I would give these two stories to an 8-year-old to read.

The Ghost of Hidden Springs, set in Meg’s hometown, begins with the death of Miss Amelia Hannigan. She was a nice enough old lady but kept to herself in a historic mansion. Rumor has it the house is haunted, and even the town’s adults recall a tragedy of some sorts associated with it. Meg and Kerry ask the only lady in town who still remembers it, and this is where the plot gets disturbing.

Apparently when Amelia’s family first moved to Hidden Springs the town treated them aloofly for being Northerners. Only her vibrant younger sister Kathleen was able to make friends, becoming beloved by everyone. A party was planned at the house to celebrate Kathleen’s sixteenth birthday, with invitations to be sent to the many in the town, but on that fateful rainy night no one came. Kathleen was so upset that she ran out of the house crying, slipped on the wet stones, and fell into the river. No one in the town ever spoke of the invitations, they were so ashamed, but ever since then people have claimed to see the ghost of little Kathleen haunting the summerhouse by the river.

The mansion is now to be inherited by Amelia’s niece Kathleen Martin, provided that she and her mother stay in it for a month first. Afterwards she must throw a party according to exact instructions–but Miss Hannigan died before she could give the papers to her lawyer. Even her housekeeper Mrs. Grayham has no idea where they are. To make things worse, mysterious incidents have suddenly begun happening at the house, such as plates falling off shelves and steps creaking with no one around. Has the ghost suddenly turned into a poltergeist? Kathleen Martin is terrified, so Meg offers to stay with her. The older girl takes a strong liking to Meg, treating her like a sister and trusting her completely as they try to find the party instructions and get to the bottom of the strange happenings.

SPOILER ALERT

To make the disturbing factors worse, apparently the reason no one came to Kathleen Hannigan’s birthday was that Amelia was jealous of her sister’s popularity and never mailed the invitations, inadvertently causing her Kathleen’s death. Meg finds them nailed shut in the window seat of Amelia’s bedroom. Amelia spent the rest of her life mourning her sister, overwhelmed by guilt and afraid to tell the truth. The party dictated in her last wishes is meant to clear the air, inviting all the descendants of those invited to the previous party. How is this appropriate in a children’s book?

END SPOILER

The Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave is much less disturbing, though still questionably appropriate. As the title suggests, there is witchcraft involved. Meg’s Uncle Hal, whom she adores, vacations every year in Merrybones, Maine. Now the pretty young schoolteacher he met there last summer, Emily Hawthorne, has been receiving threatening letters. Even worse, her black cat Melissa has disappeared. When Uncle Hal flies up with Meg and Kerry to offer support, he also finds that stones marked with a pentacle have been left behind. Could there really be witches in Merrybones?

Emily is technically a newcomer in a town that distrusts them, but she hoped that living there as a girl until her father’s death would have made everyone more welcoming. (Apparently “Holly Beth Walker” thinks that close-knit towns automatically hate outsiders based on these two books.) It doesn’t seem to have helped; soon her cat disappears a second time. Meanwhile, Meg and Kelly find more evidence that witches are at work, and time is running out before Emily decides to leave Merrybones forever.

This was the first Meg mystery that actually had me laughing at parts, like when the girls notice the old-fashioned font in the book of spells and spend the rest of the morning pronouncing their s’s like f’s. I still don’t think witchcraft should be mentioned seriously in children’s books, though, even if it doesn’t really have any magic effects. (The Secret of Red Gate Farm and Harry Potter don’t bother me at all, though.) On the other hand, unlike most series books, the story has good people who did bad things rather than dastardly crooks. Much different from Nancy Drew!

I hadn’t planned on this post being so long when I decided to review them together; sorry about that! There don’t seem to be many sites about the series so I wanted to put out what information I could.

Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Nancy Drew Clue Crew

I’ve been so busy with grading lately that rather than invest time in longer books I’ve been sneaking in really short ones, namely the stack of Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew books that I picked up at the spring library sale. I know that if I pick up an actual novel I’ll get sucked in and neglect either work or sleep (not that this is from experience…)

image from Simon and Schuster

So far I’ve read a mix of volumes and noticed a few things in common: the crimes are trifles on a large scale but very serious to those involved. I guess it’s a precursor to Nancy’s taking on the zucchini case! Because of this catching the culprit is basically a slap on the wrist and accepted apology, but it works because usually Nancy is only investigating to clear someone else’s name.The series is also predictable in its continuity elements, which is always important to younger readers. For example, the rule about staying within five blocks from home is mentioned in most volumes, as are their standard sleuthing procedures like computer files and evidence drawer. The same classmates are mentioned in various books, not just Deirdre and Ned.

The plots, on the other hand, vary somewhat. Valentine’s Day Secret is the prerequisite Bess/George fight, while The Zoo Crew had me marveling at the stupidity of certain adults. (SPOILER) Really, it took an eight-year-old to realize that chimps trained to open doors are probably responsible for stealing other animals’ toys at night? It also felt like a take-off of the plot from The Circus Scare. Fashion Disaster and Wedding Day Disaster both feature French pedigree poseurs, though in completely different contexts. My personal favorite was Lights, Camera…Cats, about a missing animal star, even though the author seemed to think that words like “superawesome” and “superfamous” don’t need spaces (a little piece of me died).

I would never buy these new, but they’re fun little mysteries in the vein of Nate the Great or Cam Jansen, and kids will like them. I wonder what the new Hardy Boys series for younger readers will be like?

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,