Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ken Holt Series Introduction and Overview

Usually I publish this type of post after I publish my reviews, but this time I'm publishing it first. 

When I read the Ken Holt series 4 1/2 years ago, I was a bit disappointed.  I recall that I enjoyed many of the books but that I felt a sense of letdown.  As best I can recall, I was disappointed because I had always heard such wonderful things about the Ken Holt series, which caused the books to be destined to fall short of my high expectations.  I have never been much of a boys' series fan, so that was also a large part of why I was destined to be disappointed.  I can't appreciate a boys' series like Ken Holt in the way that boys' series enthusiasts can.

Since I read the Rick Brant series last month and actually enjoyed them a lot, I wanted to read the Ken Holt books again just to see if my perspective had changed any.  This time I couldn't be disappointed no matter what, since I had already experienced that disappointment. 

I found that this time that I still struggled with the great detail, particularly the detail with which the boys knock ideas back and forth about what to do and the detail with which their attempts to escape are described.  I found that I had to skim the text at times in order to avoid becoming bored. 

I don't like several of the earlier titles in the series as much as later titles.  This is what derailed me over 4 1/2 years ago when I started to create a website section for Ken Holt.  In early July 2010, I had actually scanned the cover art for volumes 1 and 2 and had written summaries for those two books.  I created the main page of the section with the list of titles and some general information.  I had every plan to continue.  What I believe happened is that I didn't particularly care for volumes 3, 4, and 5, and by the time I finished volume 5, I wasn't interested in finishing the section.  I don't recall what I thought of the rest of the series.  All I can remember is that I was overall disappointed.  Below, see the dates on the files from my website that I captured from the file manager last month.  It shows how little I did and how abruptly I abandoned it.

I did finish reading the series in 2010.  I didn't admit until during the last year that I wasn't overwhelmingly thrilled with the Ken Holt series.  I felt so bad that I hadn't loved the series that I didn't feel comfortable admitting it to anyone.  I didn't want to upset anyone, since it seemed, according to online reviews, that every single person who has ever read the series thinks that the Ken Holt series is the best of the best.  I don't mean that in a sarcastic fashion; when I read the reviews it seemed that everyone who has reviewed the series online loves the books and thinks the series is the very best.  I didn't know what was wrong with me, so I didn't want to admit to how I felt. 

Now let's fast forward to the last month.  I wanted to read Ken Holt again to see what I thought after reading Rick Brant.  I also wanted to finish that website section for two reasons.  First, it was an unfinished project.  Second, I recently created a Rick Brant section, so I needed to create a Ken Holt section.  It wouldn't be fitting to ignore Ken Holt.

I began reading the books again.  I struggled with the first book, which I don't think was the case 4 1/2 years ago.  A few parts of it really dragged for me this time.  I liked the second and third books significantly better than I did before.  So far, so good.  I told myself that I would finish that website section.  I also enjoyed #4 better than before, although part of it bored me.  I did not care for #5.  I overall liked #6, but parts of it dragged for me.  #7 also dragged for me.  This wasn't going well.

By this point, I wasn't sure if I could force myself to finish the website section, since the same feelings were coming over me as before.  I had started writing reviews for this blog, but by #6, I began to lose interest.  Did I really want to write reviews where I would say that parts of several books from the very best boys' series actually bored me?  I started feeling bad again.

Fortunately, I really liked all of #8, most of #9, and all of #10.  Thank goodness!  This rejuvenated me, and I began working on the website section.  It was during the reading of #10 that I wrote most of my summaries and scanned all of the books. I ended up greatly enjoying the rest of the series.

I like the second half of the series a lot, while my opinion of the first half of the series is generally lukewarm.  The second half of the series has more of the feel of the average series book.  The earlier books have a higher page count and the text size is smaller than for other Grosset and Dunlap books.  The earlier books are extremely detailed with large amounts of text devoted to sleuthing around or making deductions.

One reason I like the second half of the series better is because of some recurring characters that are not present in the first half of the series.  Two of these characters are Mort Phillips and Ramon Gonzales.  Three books are set near or in Mexico, and Phillips appears in two of those books.  Gonzales appears in all three.

Female characters are almost completely absent from this series.  Another reason I like the second half of the series better is because several of the books feature Maribelle, who writes the society section of the newspaper.  I like Maribelle.

Most all girls' series books feature a few boy characters, even if they don't add much to the story.  Boys' books often feature a few girl characters, who, needless to say, never do much.  This series does not have girl characters.  Ken and Sandy do not know any teenage girls and never encounter any girls in their travels.  The complete absence of girls makes this a strongly masculine series. 

This month I finally discovered a few scattered online comments where one or two female readers have not liked the Ken Holt books.  Unlike those readers, I do like most of the books, but as stated, I had problems with enjoying the early books in the series.  Ken Holt is a series that strongly appeals to male readers, and apparently, most all male readers love the series.  Female readers are more likely to have lukewarm feelings towards the books and might not like them as much.

This post was written as I read the last five books in the series.  I am glad that I have worked out exactly why I feel the way I do about this series.  I enjoyed the series more this time than 4 1/2 years ago, and I can thank Rick Brant for that.  Reading Rick Brant helped get me into a more receptive mindset where I could enjoy Ken Holt better.  I think before that I overall disliked the early books and had only lukewarm feelings towards the later books.  This time I liked the early books better than before, except for the parts that dragged, and I greatly enjoyed the later books.

I believe if I ever decide read the first books a third time that I would like them even more.  It's like Ken Holt is an acquired taste for me.  I have had to adjust to them, because they a bit different than other series books.

Next up are my reviews, most of which were written before I wrote this post.  The first review will start out a little strange coming right after this post that was written a few weeks later, but I want to leave it as originally written.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Brains Benton #4 The Case of the Roving Rolls

In Brains Benton #4, The Case of the Roving Rolls, the boys try to find a missing golden vial that must be recovered for Prince Halam to ascend to the throne in the Middle Eastern country of Kassabeba.  The boys suspect that the vial has been hidden in a Rolls Royce that was sent to America at about the time that Halam's father died of mysterious causes.

Quite a few events in this book match up with the plot of the Three Investigators book, The Secret of the Silver Spider.  Brains and Jimmy search for a golden vial, while the Three Investigators search for a silver spider.  Both items are necessary in order for a man to become ruler.  Plot elements of Silver Spider were definitely copied from this book.  Silver Spider is probably my least favorite Three Investigators book by Robert Arthur.  I did not enjoy it very much.  I did enjoy The Case of the Roving Rolls, since it was more believable than Silver Spider, despite how convoluted parts of the plot were.

Brains is very annoying in this book.  I don't mind Brains' superiority as he lords it over Jimmy in the previous books, but he takes it far in this book.  Rather, the author took it too far.  Early in the book, Brains keeps telling Jimmy over and over that he knew how the Rolls drove itself in different scenes throughout several chapters.  Enough already!  Tell your partner, now!  A little suspense is fine, but this is too much.

This type of behavior continues from Brains all through the book.  In all of these books, Brains acts mysterious about his discoveries and commonly withholds telling Jimmy everything he knows.  However, he does relent fairly quickly.  In this book, he keeps dragging it out over many pages of text.  It's way more than necessary, and I found it quite obnoxious.  It should have been toned down just a bit like in the other books.

On page 101, we learn that Brains "liked to have everything all wrapped up nicely and neat as a box of candy before he started handing out solutions."  Let's see... who else is like that?  Why, Jupiter Jones!  Arthur had to have modeled his series after Brains Benton.

I enjoyed this book just a little less than the previous books due to my aggravation with Brains.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rick Brant #24 Magic Talisman and Final Thoughts

In Rick Brant #24, The Magic Talisman, Scotty becomes reacquainted with some old friends he knew from the Marines, Derek and David Cameron, who are magicians.  The Camerons set up their magic act in an old mansion.  Their first performance is manipulated by an unknown person, so Rick and Scotty investigate.  Adding to the mystery, Jan senses a friendly presence in the mansion as well as an unfriendly one near the mansion.

I have mixed feelings about the plot.  The magic talisman's properties bother me, since I am not convinced that the talisman would have done as much as the book depicted and not so easily.  I had to ignore how I felt about the talisman.

In the early chapters of the book, I thought that the presence that Jan felt was a ghost.  I then realized that she was sensing a living person who was hidden in the mansion.  I wish that had been more clear, and I would have had less trouble with it.  I am very skeptical about the existence of ghosts.  I do not have a problem with a person sensing that more is present than is visible.

I know from personal experience that it is possible to know something that has not yet happened.  I have one instance in my life where I knew a very specific piece of information before it came to fruition.  It was quite unsettling until I came to terms with it.  So while I am a strong skeptic of the supernatural, I do know that sometimes events occur that cannot be explained through science.

I can't say that the events of this book caused me to suspend disbelief anymore than did the climax of The Scarlet Lake Mystery, so The Magic Talisman is not any less believable than the ending of that book.  The only difference is that the former deals with science and the latter with the paranormal.  

According to series book researchers, The Magic Talisman was written between Rocket Jumper and The Deadly Dutchman.  The book was rejected by Grosset and Dunlap for various reasons including the presence of ESP and magic.  When fans heard about the unpublished manuscript years later, they begged for it to be published.  It finally was published in 1990, although Hal Goodwin did make changes to what he originally wrote.  Fans do not know exactly what was changed, except that the story was changed so as to provide closure to the series.

Readers of the higher numbered Rick Brant books can make some assumptions about the future relationships of the young people, but The Magic Talisman leaves no doubt, which gives the series a definite ending.  Most series end without warning, which is what happened to the Rick Brant series in the 1960s.  It is quite neat that the author provided closure to the series more than two decades later.

I read this story via a PDF file, which I found online.  While the PDF has some words run together and a few errors, it is easy to read and a good alternative to spending a fortune for an actual copy of the book.  Some of the other high-numbered Rick Brant books can also be found online, possibly all of them.  I normally do not recommend free texts of books that are not in the public domain, but the books are not available in print copies.  I always purchase legal copies, but the only legal copies sell secondhand at rather extreme prices.

I greatly enjoyed reading the Rick Brant series.  When I made my impulsive decision to read the series, I somehow knew that I would enjoy them, and I knew that my certain belief was a bit odd.  Hmm... perhaps that was a touch of ESP on my part, since I had never been even slightly inclined to read the books.  Somehow I knew I would enjoy reading them in spite of my past lack of interest.  I was right, because I enjoyed all of them, even the stories that I didn't like quite as much.

I did not find that the books near the end of the series declined in quality.  I felt that the books remained strong.  Some of them were different, but they were still good stories.

I have mentioned that I do not have a good track record with boys' series.  I guess I can't make that blanket statement now.  I do like Rick Brant a lot, and I enjoyed the series more than I did Ken Holt.  I did like Ken Holt, but I also had problems with the books.  I will be reading the Ken Holt books again, so look for those thoughts soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Brains Benton #2 Counterfeit Coin and #3 Stolen Dummy

In Brains Benton #2, The Case of the Counterfeit Coin, Jimmy finds a foreign coin in his change from his newspaper customers.  Jimmy excitedly calls Brains to tell him, and while Jimmy is on the phone in the drugstore, someone tries to steal the coin!  The boys launch an investigation and discover that the coin is a counterfeit of an ancient Greek coin.

On page 33, the boys leave quickly because they are afraid that the Bentons' housekeeper, Mrs. Ray, has an errand for them.  This reminded me of all the times the Three Investigators stay away from Aunt Mathilda so that she doesn't put them to work.

I enjoyed this book.

In Brains Benton #3, The Case of the Stolen Dummy, Brains and Jimmy find a submerged vehicle in a pond.  An old dummy is hanging out of the vehicle.  The dummy once belonged to Will Parslow.  Meanwhile, someone stole $5,000 from a real estate agent's office, and Will Parslow was seen in the office that night.  Parslow is accused of the theft based on circumstantial evidence, but Brains is certain that Parslow is innocent.  The boys set out to prove it. 

On page 18, Jimmy's narration informs the reader about a recent fundraiser.  The reader is then told that Jimmy "is telling you all this for a very good reason, as you'll find out later."  It's refreshing for a series book to outright inform the reader that certain information is important.  I already knew that it was before Jimmy's statement, because every time seemingly random information is told to a reader in a series book, the information always plays a role in a later part of the story.

On page 71, Jimmy learns that Mr. Gault and his wife were murdered with a hatchet.  Ouch.  That's a bit gruesome for a series book.

In this book, a bitter old woman causes trouble.  We can all relate to that, because we've all had to deal with such people.  I live right next to some of them.

On page 105, Brains and Jimmy go looking for an obscure book for Mr. Benton.  The book is The Canaanite Period of Syrian History.  They find the book in the first store they check in a nearby town.  Right.  Just like if I go looking for an obscure series book, I will find it in the first store I check.  I wish.

On page 132, Jimmy reacts with horror to the news that a certain man is a convict, guilty of grand larceny.  He is scared to death to be around the man.  This particular man is scary, but I thought it was a bit ridiculous to be terrified of someone who was convicted of theft.

I thought this book was a pretty good mystery.  I guessed who was likely involved fairly early in the story, but the clues were not that obvious.  I also had a suspicion as to why that person was guilty, but the pieces didn't fully fall into place until near the end of the story.  This is an an engaging book.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rick Brant #22 Deadly Dutchman and #23 Danger Below!

In Rick Brant #22, The Deadly Dutchman, Rick gets invited to a scientific conference in Europe.  Rick invites Scotty to come to Europe after the conference is over so that the two of them can take a vacation.  After Scotty arrives, he is attacked by men who want him to hand over a message.  Scotty swears that he doesn't have a message, but the men refuse to believe him.  Thus begins a most harrowing adventure for Rick and Scotty.

This book has no science.

The content is a bit dark with somewhat graphic descriptions of violence.  I cringed at one point and came close to cringing a few other times, and that usually doesn't happen to me when reading vintage series books.  This book almost fits into the modern young adult book category.

This book is a travelogue book, and I did find some of it to be more than I would have liked.  However, most of the descriptions of Holland were interesting, and I enjoyed the travelogue aspect more than I do in the average Nancy Drew travelogue.  I learned several things about Holland that I did not know.

The character of Gretchen is rather interesting.  Take this passage, for instance.
Gretchen shrugged.  "Oh, I knew you could take him, even with your hands tied.  He is too slow and stupid to get out of his own way.  And I was right, wasn't I?"

Scotty smiled weakly.  "I wish I'd had your confidence."

"If he had killed you, I would have shot him," Gretchen assured him earnestly.

Scotty stared.  "That's nice," he managed.
Gretchen is dead serious.  She makes more bloodthirsty comments in other passages.  She's a bit scary, just like much of what happens in this book.

This is a thrilling book, with a suspenseful climax.  I greatly enjoyed it.

In Rick Brant #23, Danger Below!, a hurricane bears down on Spindrift Island.  Rick and Scotty spot a man setting up a tent on the New Jersey shore.  The man claims to be a meteorologist collecting data.  Rick and Scotty find it odd that the man would be staying in a tent.  Meanwhile, a ship has to release an oil drilling platform while towing it due to stormy waters, and the platform just happens to be lost above a deep ocean trench.

I had the same feeling while reading the first two-thirds of this book as I had while reading The Wailing Octopus.  This may have more to do with the plots being centered around scuba diving than anything else, but I felt tense expectation while reading this book.  There is something about diving down in the ocean that adds suspense and makes the reader expect complications.  Rick and his friends have some very interesting and dangerous complications while scuba diving!

Unfortunately, I did not find the last one-third of the book to be as interesting.  The suspense disappeared, and the plot centered around extremely detailed technical information about deep-sea diving.  The information was too much for me, and I had to begin skimming it.  The climax of the book wasn't that interesting to me, either, and I skimmed the last few pages of the book.

The first two-thirds of this book is excellent, while I found the last one-third to be mediocre.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Brains Benton #1 The Case of the Missing Message

After I heard that the Brains Benton series is similar to the Three Investigators series, I decided to read the Brains Benton books.  The similarities are quite striking.

Barclay "Brains" Benton and James "Jimmy" Carson have their own detective agency.  Brains is "X" and Jimmy is "Operative Three."  Jimmy is the narrator.  The two boys use coded messages to communicate by telephone.  They have a secret headquarters.  Brains makes most of his equipment from junk.  The two boys have business cards.  The tone of the books matches the Three Investigators series.  I felt like I was reading a Three Investigators book.

The Brains Benton series was published before the Three Investigators series, and Jupiter Jones was clearly based on Brains Benton.  According to a letter written by Robert Arthur, Arthur's original name for Jupiter Jones was Genius Jones, which is rather similar to the name Brains Benton.

As I began reading The Case of the Missing Message, I noticed that certain events are rather similar to events that occur in The Secret of Terror Castle.  Both books open with a coded message received by telephone from Brains Benton/Jupiter Jones.  In The Secret of Terror Castle, Jupiter and Pete run away from Terror Castle, terrified.  Brains and Jimmy run away from the Madden Place in the same fashion.  Both Brains and Jupiter proclaim that they will go back the next day, much to the dismay of the other sleuth.  Jimmy uses the expression "creeps" while Pete uses "gleeps."  And if that isn't enough, Brains and Jupiter talk in the same superior fashion.

In this passage from page 71, Brains reminds me of Jupiter, and Jimmy's reaction reminds me of Pete.
"The crime lab of the Benton and Carson International Detective Agency is well equipped," Brains said loftily.  "There are sleeping accommodations as well as a small bathroom."

"And food?" the Queen said.  "Skeets will have to eat."

"My partner and I both live at home," Brains replied.  "It should not be too difficult for us to . . . ah . . . obtain the necessary provisions."

I could almost see myself pulling stuff off the kitchen shelves without Mom knowing.  Creeps!  This was going to be just great!
I greatly enjoyed this book.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rick Brant #20 Veiled Raiders and #21 Rocket Jumper

In Rick Brant #20, The Veiled Raiders, Rick and Scotty travel to Africa with Tony Briotti.  Tony plans to check whether an archaeological find is significant enough to warrant a dig.  The three also plan to join Parnell Winston later for a satellite communications demonstration.  Rick, Scotty, and Tony end up abducted and imprisoned by an Emir who seeks vengeance against all Americans because he believes that an American fed him a pork hot dog.

I have browsed through both old and more recent discussions of the Rick Brant books, and around 15 years ago, a number of fans thought that the premise with the hot dog was farfetched and weak.  Now, many fans realize that it actually isn't farfetched at all.  Events from recent years show that this story is more realistic than fans once thought.  In fact, if the book's events were to happen right now, the Emir's reaction would likely be far stronger than how it was depicted in the book.

In The Veiled Raiders, Rick and his friends have to overcome overwhelming obstacles.  Many series books feature everything working out as expected, especially when great effort is applied.  In The Veiled Raiders, the boys experience failure over and over in spite of very detailed planning but manage to persevere in the end with great struggle.  Interestingly, some fans do not like this book because of the struggles, while this book is a great favorite of other fans.

So what do I think?  This book is awesome.  It is very engaging from start to finish.  It grabbed my attention quickly and held my attention firmly with no boring parts.  I often grow tired towards the end of books when the falling action drags, but no part of this book dragged.  I loved reading every passage in the book, so I place this book as one of the three Rick Brant books I have enjoyed the most, along with The Phantom Shark and The Wailing Octopus.

In Rick Brant #21, Rocket Jumper, Rick and Scotty go to Nevada with Dr. Winston to work on a top-secret project.  Information has leaked out about the project, and Rick and Scotty are to keep their eyes open for anything strange.  Since Dr. Winston had promised Barby and Jan that they would get to go on the next expedition, they get to go to Nevada as well.

The culprits were rather obvious in this book, but that did not take away from my enjoyment of the story.  I enjoyed trying to figure out how the culprits were getting the information.

This book is thoroughly engaging, and even some of the science is interesting as well.  I did, however, have to skim some of the scientific descriptions.  The climax of this book is quite thrilling and is among the very best in the Rick Brant series.  This is an excellent book.   

Friday, January 16, 2015

Wacky Auction Photos Part 2

Nearly three years ago, I posted some photos from eBay auctions that I found particularly amusing.  I followed up with my own parody of wacky seller photos along with advice on how sellers could impress their buyers with their photography skills.

Wacky Auction Photos

A Parody of Wacky Seller Photos

I recently compiled a bunch of photos from eBay listings.  These photos aren't particularly amusing or strange, but taken all together, they make an interesting group of photos.  It's interesting how sellers take different ordinary household items and use them to showcase the books.  My favorites are the photos that show different objects in the background, like knives and electrical cords.