Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Phyllis Whitney Spotted Shell and Mystery of the Gulls

With this post, I will begin reviewing the Phyllis Whitney mysteries for young people.  I noticed as I read the books that several titles that are mentioned as others' favorites are titles that I did not enjoy.  The same happened with Cherry Ames.

While I did not enjoy all of Phyllis Whitney's books, I also avoided the same strong negative reaction that I had to Cherry Ames.  I did greatly enjoy a number of Whitney's books. 

I purchased The Secret of the Spotted Shell last year in a local store.  It was purchased so that I could try a book by Phyllis Whitney, since I have read such positive reviews of her work.  I will review it first, then I will proceed in the order that the rest of the books were published.

In The Secret of the Spotted Shell, Wendy Williams arrives in the Virgin Islands to live with her cousins.  Wendy's reception is not what she expected.  Her cousin, Gordon Cole, is missing and feared dead in Vietnam.  His wife, Marion, is in shock and in no condition to welcome a newcomer to the family. 

Wendy soon becomes aware that another newcomer, Mr. Helgerson, is interested in a spotted shell from Gordon's collection.  The spotted shell holds a secret message that could ruin Gordon's reputation if it gets into the wrong hands.

Wendy scowls all the time.  This annoyed me.

I enjoyed this book enough that I decided to purchase as many of Phyllis Whitney's juvenile mysteries as I could find.

In The Mystery of the Gulls, Tally Saunders and her mother arrive on Mackinac Island.  The Saunders will inherit a hotel provided that Mrs. Saunders can successfully run it for the duration of the summer.  If everything works out, the Saunders will sell the hotel so that they can purchase a house, which is what Tally wants more than anything.  Tally and her mother quickly discover that they are unwanted at the hotel and that someone is trying to keep Mrs. Saunders from being successful.

I enjoyed the setting of this book.  The tone of the book is just right, and I greatly enjoyed it.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ted Wilford #11 Baseball Mystery and #12 Rainbow Gulch

In Ted Wilford #11, The Baseball Mystery, Forestdale hosts a baseball tournament.  Ted helps run the tournament.  Soon, Ted suspects that some of the players are fixing the results under someone's orders.

The information about baseball was too much for me.  I didn't understand all the descriptions, since I only have rudimentary knowledge of baseball.  The baseball games were not interesting to me, since I am not interested in baseball at all.

This is why I didn't choose to read this book as one of my first few Ted Wilfords.  I purchased Shamrock first, read it, but was not able to determine if I wished to continue.  I was able to purchase this book and Greenhouse Mystery at the same time.  When I chose the second book to read to make a final decision, I chose Greenhouse Mystery because I suspected that a book about baseball would not accurately tell me whether to purchase additional books in the series.

I did enjoy Ted walking from one part of the two to another.  My favorite series books are almost always stories that feature the characters walking and exploring very close to their home or wherever they are staying.

I got a little confused telling the teams and coaches apart.  It would have helped if the name of the city would have been used more often with the name of the team.  I was partway through the book and had forgotten which team was the Forestdale team, which caused my confusion.

The story ends quite abruptly, and I was surprised to turn the page and realize that I was finished.  I felt like at least one more part of the plot could have been resolved a bit more, but I know why it was left loose.  The reader can't get bored with a book when the story ends quickly without excessive explanation.

Even though much of the baseball discussion was over my head, I greatly enjoyed this book.

In Ted Wilford #12, The Mystery of Rainbow Gulch, Ted and Nelson stay at Bob Fontaine's ranch.  As the boys arrive, a plane crashes, and one occupant vanishes.  Meanwhile, a mystery surrounds an old hermit, and footprints indicate that someone has been watching the ranch.

A fire that spreads through the woods towards the end of the book is quite thrilling.  I couldn't be sure how it would work out, since a fire in another book didn't work out well at all.

This is a very good book.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Secret Circle Mysteries #9 Disappearing Dogs, #10 Spaniards Rock, and #11 Wildcat Well

In Secret Circle Mysteries #9, The Mystery of the Disappearing Dogs, dogs are disappearing all around Toronto.  Two rival gangs, Annex and Spadina, put aside their differences in order to find out who is taking the dogs.

This book was written in order to expose the cruel experiments that were being done on animals in the early 1960s.  There are some graphic descriptions of what was done to dogs and cats under experimentation, and I could have done without reading those descriptions.

Since this book was published in 1963, I was curious as to when regulations about animal testing went into effect.  President Johnson signed the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 into law in the United States, and the Canadian Council on Animal Care was formed in 1968. 

This book doesn't have an obvious single protagonist.  It's a group of children, so the reader doesn't get attached to any of the characters, which lessens the impact of the story.  I found that I didn't really care.  I did not enjoy this book very much.

In Secret Circle Mysteries #10, The Secret of Spaniards Rock, Bob and Sue Channing vacation near Spaniards Rock.  A couple of men who are staying there act suspiciously, and the children soon suspect that they are criminals who might be holding the residents of the lighthouse captive.

This is another story where the mystery is obvious from the beginning.  A large roll of five-dollar bills washes ashore, and the serial numbers are in order.  One of the men claims the roll of bills.  The men do some type of work in a building which has loud machinery.  Gee, what could the men be doing?

I began skimming towards the end, not because the text was uninteresting, but because I knew what the mystery was and how it would be resolved.  I saw no point in reading every detail.

In the final Secret Circle Mystery, The Mystery at the Wildcat Well, Rory must go to live with his father, who works on an isolated oil rig.  Rory overhears a conversation which indicates that a spy works on one of the rigs.  Later, Rory learns that his father's rig is the one with the spy, but his father won't believe him.

Some parts of this book dragged for me, especially the lengthy description of the drilling process.  The description is not as long and tedious as in the first Sandy Steele book, but it's still a bit excessive.  It seems that I'm learning a great detail about drilling for oil as I read various books this year, and I'm learning far more than I want to learn.

I enjoyed this story.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ted Wilford #7 Stolen Plans and #9 Big Cat

In Ted Wilford #7, The Stolen Plans Mystery, Ted has two mysteries.  Mr. Sawyer, who works for the newspaper, has disappeared.  Meanwhile, petty thefts have occurred at many stores in Forestdale, and those stores are the ones participating in the Town Crier's contest, in which a computer will choose the winning entry.

The two mysteries which turn out to be completely unrelated to each other.  In most series books, multiple mysteries in the same book always turn out to be the same mystery.  This is another example of how these books are not as predictable as the typical series book.   

The identity of the thief is extremely obvious.  I was pleased when Ted and Mr. Dobson draw that conclusion fairly quickly instead of acting like they have no idea.  It's an insult to the reader when a solution is obvious and the characters act like they don't know.

The cover art is hideous.

In Ted Wilford #9, The Big Cat Mystery, Ted tracks down rumors of a leopard in the woods near a summer camp.  Only one person has seen the leopard, and another person has found tracks.  Ted and Nelson try to determine whether the leopard is real or whether someone is perpetrating a hoax.

On page 11, the camp manager suggests that someone has started the leopard rumor in order to drive the camp out of business.  Nelson proves himself to be a levelheaded young man.
"I should think a story like that might help business," said Nelson shrewdly.  "Wouldn't it attract a lot of curiosity seekers out here?"
Thank you, Nelson!  In most series books, it is assumed that anything scary will always drive all people away.  No, some people like excitement!

The next paragraph spoils part of the plot, so skip it if you don't want any type of spoiler.

Nelson finds what he believes to be an adult black cat.  Later, the boys learn that the cat is actually a black leopard cub.  I looked at photos of black leopard cubs, and they do not look like domesticated cats.  The boys should have known that the cat was not ordinary from the moment they saw it.  This part of the story is neat, but I found it not very believable that they would have made that mistake.

Aside from what I just mentioned, these books are realistic in a way that most series books are not.  There is a fire, and without getting specific, the end result is not good at all.  In most series books, fires are always put out just in time.  Not so in this book.

This is an excellent story.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Secret Circle Mysteries #7 Missing Emerald and #8 Vanishing Birds

In Secret Circle Mysteries #7, The Mystery of the Missing Emerald, Johnny Villairs comes close to witnessing the theft of a valuable emerald.  Little does he know that the cigarette package he picked up outside the store has the stolen emerald hidden inside.  Johnny's innocent habit of picking up interesting items plunges him into a dangerous web of mystery and intrigue.

This book has a character named Gormley and another named Emerson.  The name Gormley reminded me of Oliver Pritz Gormly of the Dana Girls book, The Clue of the Rusty Key, and Emerson made me think of Emerson College from the Nancy Drew series.  Not only that, but the title of the book is very similar to the title of a Trixie Belden book.

Johnny's father is disabled due to a stroke.  He is confined to a wheelchair, can't move well, and has trouble speaking.  The Secret Circle Mysteries include bits of realism that don't often appear in the traditional series book.

At one point during the story, someone ransacks Johnny's home, obviously in search of the emerald that Johnny doesn't know he picked up.  Johnny's mother doesn't believe Johnny and his sister when they insist that they didn't ransack the entire house.  We are talking about the entire house which has been totally trashed with things pulled apart, knocked over, and so on.  Johnny's mother thinks the children did it!  If the children don't normally tear the entire house apart when they play, why is she so certain that they did this time?  Hello!  It's called an intruder!

This book is good, but the location of the emerald is apparent to the reader from the very beginning.  Johnny, of course, has no idea, but it's so obvious.  The publisher even made sure that the reader would know, since the publisher's summary says where the emerald is!  I didn't read the summary before beginning the book, because so many publisher summaries give away major details that I would rather not know at the beginning of the story.  Even without the publisher telling me, I knew as soon as Johnny picks up the cigarette package that the diamond has to be inside.

I overall enjoyed this book, but the story wasn't very compelling since the solution was apparent from the beginning.

In Secret Circle Mysteries #8, The Valley of the Vanishing Birds, Jeff Gardner and his sister, Mattie, look for whooping cranes.  He hopes to find a secret valley described by his grandfather where the whooping cranes nest.  Another party is also looking for the whooping cranes, and soon, Jeff and Mattie have reason to believe that the men are poachers.

According to the story, only 32 whooping cranes remained in the world.  According to online resources, around 40 to 50 remained at the time of this story.  Regardless, the whooping crane was gravely endangered when this story was written, so the idea of someone killing a few of the birds as trophies is quite awful.

I enjoyed this story.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ted Wilford #3 Star Reporter and #5 Empty House

In Ted Wilford #3, The Star Reporter Mystery, Ronald Wilford searches for Barry Knight, a newspaper reporter.  Barry has earned quite a few enemies in his career, and Ron suspects that one of those people might have acted against Barry.

Ted does not appear in this book until page 71.  This story is primarily Ron's mystery.

On page 128, Ron explains, "His crime wasn't what we would call a major one, and anyway our society has made enough progress so that we don't hold a son responsible for what his father may have done."  This idealistic thinking sounds wonderful, but in my experience, far too many people even today hold all relatives accountable for another relative's actions.  I know this from personal experience.  It's sad, but true. 

I like that in these stories that once the main characters figure something out, the reader gets to know.  In some series books, the main character figures something out but acts mysterious, not telling anyone else, including the reader. 

What's nice about independent series is that they don't follow the predictable pattern of the typical series formula.  You wouldn't have an entire Dana Girls book told from the perspective of Lettie Briggs.  I must say though that the idea of entering Lettie's warped mind would be interesting.

Like the other Ted Wilford books, the plot moves slowly but is interesting.

In Ted Wilford #5, The Empty House Mystery, a man advertises in the Town Crier for a lost notebook that has a zipper with a lock on it.  The notebook is turned in, and Ted decides to deliver it to the man's address.  The trouble is that the house is empty.  The phone rings, and the man tells Ted to leave the notebook.  Later, Ted realizes that he was tricked, but even more puzzling, the house has no phone service.  How did the phone ring?

I laughed every time the boys insist that telephones must have wires.  From page 141:
"Who's there to answer?  There's nobody home.  Well, what do you make of it?  Another telephone, and no wires."

"What's the matter, you old-fashioned or something?  You think telephones need wires?"
If the boys only knew...

This is an excellent book.  There's something about an empty house, especially when a telephone rings with no telephone service.  Spooky!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Secret Circle #5 Muffled Man and #6 Clue of Dead Duck

In Secret Circle Mysteries #5, The Mystery of the Muffled Man, Chris Summerville and his friend, Dumont LePage, plan an ice-fishing trip to a nearby lake.  The boys are disappointed when Carol Fitzpatrick arrives, and they have to entertain her.  The boys are relieved when Carol turns out to be likable and willing to participate in adventure.

Several times, Carol is able to give the boys advice on what to do because she learned about it in a book.  I thought that was neat.

The book is kind of like a Blythe Girls book.  The young people get lost in the snow, and anything bad that can happen to them does happen.

This is an excellent book, and I greatly enjoyed it.

In Secret Circle Mysteries #6, The Clue of the Dead Duck, Young Ab and Morgan ditch school to go duck hunting.  During their excursion, Morgan is knocked out, and Young Ab disappears.  Morgan is the prime suspect in Young Ab's disappearance, and he must prove his innocence.

Young Ab's home is Morgan's foster home.  If Morgan cannot prove his innocence, then he will lose his home, which is the first foster home Morgan has ever liked.  The situation is desperate for Morgan, and the content is a bit dark in this book.

This book is rather emotional, so some readers might not like it as much.  It's still a good story.  The ending drags just a little bit, but it's not bad.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ted Wilford #2 The Locked Safe Mystery

In Ted Wilford #2, The Locked Safe Mystery, Ted is put in charge of a charity carnival.  After the close of the carnival, all of the money collected is stolen from the school's safe.  The prime suspect is the assistant principal, Mr. Clayton, who suddenly left town right after the carnival and shortly before the money was discovered missing.  Everyone is certain that Mr. Clayton is guilty, except Ted, who sets out to prove Mr. Clayton's innocence.

This book is a good whodunit.  I paid careful attention to the scene in which the money was stolen, and I had a hunch as to the identity of the culprit.  Even though I thought I knew, I was not at all certain and was greatly intrigued throughout the story as further information was revealed.  I was correct in my hunch, but I still did not know until the end exactly how the theft occurred.  I was thoroughly engaged as I tried to figure out how it was done.

I enjoyed this passage from page 26.
If a vote had been taken on the dullest thing in the paper, Ted felt sure the book-review column would have won easily.  As Nelson once remarked, "It might be fun to read a book, but who wants to read about a book?"  Few students had read, or would read, the particular book reviewed, and the whole thing seemed too much like an English exercise.
I agree, and it does not escape me that I have quoted this passage in a book review.  Since I find long summaries boring, I tend to keep quite short any summary I make of a book's plot.  I find that many series book reviews tend to be very long, giving a lengthy play-by-play of the entire plot.  And that is why I don't read them.  I'd rather read the book.  Also, reviews with lengthy summaries tend to give away important parts of the plot, and I would rather not have that information if I have not read the book yet.

In the case of a book like The Locked Safe Mystery that is about impossible to find, a detailed summary mentioning most all of the book's events might be appreciated by many readers.  However, I don't have the patience to write it up, and besides, a lengthy summary is never the same as reading the book.  

On page 79, Ted and Margaret try to get Mrs. Clayton to convince her daughter to come back to school.  Margaret tells Mrs. Clayton, "No one is going to snub her, or anything like that.  There are a lot of us who would like to help her if we could."  Sure, in a perfect world, everyone would understand that Mr. Clayton is innocent until proven guilty and would treat Mr. Clayton's daughter with kindness.  In reality, some students would end up snubbing the daughter regardless of how many other students agree with Ted and Margaret.

Events and characters from the first book are mentioned a number of times.  While I couldn't appreciate those parts of this book since I do not own a copy of the first book, I was still able to enjoy the story.  The plot of this book moves quite slowly, but the text is engaging.