Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ruth Fielding: Scenario Writer and Detective!

I am now into the final stage of reading the Ruth Fielding books—I am reading the books that were written by Mildred Wirt Benson. While all of the books were credited to Alice B. Emerson, the actual writers were three different ghostwriters.

The first 19 books were written by W. Bert Foster. Since the first 19 books were all written by one person, there are no noticeable lapses in consistency.

What is most striking once the books are written by Ward and Wirt is that subtle changes occur in the characterizations and in the interaction between the characters. It's not something that I can easily describe here, but the way Helen Cameron acts and the way that Helen and Ruth interact definitely changes once the books are no longer written by Foster. I feel like the relationship between Ruth and Helen is more interesting for the reader during the books written by Ward, and I am not far enough into the books written by Wirt to have an opinion.

Volumes 20 through 22 were written by Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward. Except for what I have already stated above, these three stories are pretty consistent with the first 19 books. There is one thing that stands out. Ruth is suddenly disaster-prone, just like the ever unfortunate Blythe Girls. This is amusing, since Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward wrote the entire Blythe Girls series under the pseudonym of Laura Lee Hope.

Ruth Fielding in the Far North is the best example of the Blythe Girls phenomenon and is my pick for the most exciting book (of those that I have thus far read) in the Ruth Fielding series. Ruth's friends Chess and Helen have a serious car accident on page 11. On page 27, the boat upon which the friends are to sail is set afire. After repairs, Ruth and her friends depart. On page 39, the boat hits an iceberg, which rips a hole in the boat. The boat is patched, and the journey proceeds. On page 46, Helen falls overboard into the icy water. On page 58, the boat is caught in the ice, wedged in tightly where it cannot move. On page 65, the young people abandon the boat and set off across the "rubber ice" in a risky attempt to make it to land. On page 88, Ruth shoots at a polar bear that is about to attack. On page 120, the young people's boat is charged by an enraged bull walrus. On page 135, Ruth is lost in the snow, and by page 139, Ruth stumbles into a deep pit and is trapped with two bears. On page 159, Tom is knocked unconscious and falls into the icy water. Ruth plunges in to save him, and both nearly lose their lives. On page 185, the young people are lost in a blizzard and seek refuge in an abandoned igloo.

The other two Ruth Fielding books written by Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward also have more exciting events than the earlier Ruth Fielding books, but not as extreme as the ones I have mentioned.

I just finished reading volume 23, Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario, which is the first Ruth Fielding book that was written by Mildred Wirt Benson. In volume 23, Ruth's main interest is in working on her scenario for a contest, but in the latter part of the book, Ruth and her friends do a little detective work in regard to portions of her scenario that have been stolen. Now the detective work is not odd, since it is strongly tied into what is most important to Ruth—her career. The detective work is important because it is the first indication of the shift that occurs during the next book.

In volume 24, Ruth Fielding at Cameron Hall, Ruth loses her money in a bank robbery, and at the same time, Tom Cameron disappears. The two events seem to be related. Ruth vows to solve the mystery herself. From pages 54-55:
Ruth tried to hide her irritation. She understood Si Perkins and his methods. Obviously, if she waited for him to locate the guilty persons, she probably would never again see her forty thousand dollars. And Aunt Alvirah was depending upon her for the recovery of "the egg money!" Uncle Jabez Potter would always feel that he had lost his savings because he had followed her advice and had placed his money in the bank.

"I've sent for some city detectives," the sheriff went on, with a touch of pride. "They ought to be here some time to-day."

Ruth resisted a desire to reach out and shake the man. Did he never think for himself? "In the meantime, where will your thieves be? Miles away, of course. They won't wait around for the city detectives! Why don't you start out in cars and search the country around here? Surely, Mr. Jones knows in what direction the roadster was traveling when he saw it start away from the bank."

Ruth turned away. Little chance Si Perkins and his posse would have of running down the gang of criminals in the blue roadster unless they showed more skill and speed than they had previously.
It was with this passage that I realized that Ruth Fielding is morphing into Nancy Drew! It reads just like one of the passages from any of the early Nancy Drew books. Ruth has the same disdain for law enforcement as Nancy and feels like she can do a better job than they can, just like Nancy.

Milded Wirt's first assignment for the Stratemeyer Syndicate was Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario. Edward Stratemeyer gave it to her to see what she could do with it and whether she had what he needed in a writer. She submitted the first chapters and had to make a good many changes in order to give him what he wanted, but by the time she was finished with the manuscript, he was quite pleased. Wirt wrote the rest of the Ruth Fielding books and was given the Nancy Drew series as her next assignment. The rest is history.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ceramic Christmas Trees

Judy Bolton #19, The Secret of the Musical Tree, features a ceramic Christmas tree on the front cover and as an important part of the story. For a number of years around 1997 to 2002, I put together a Christmas display each year featuring any of my series books that have a Christmas or winter scene on the front cover. My favorite one has always been The Secret of the Musical Tree.

One day around six or seven years ago, I was in a thrift store and saw a ceramic Christmas tree which reminded me a great deal of the tree seen on the Judy Bolton book. On a whim, I bought it and proudly took it home. This tree is pictured at the top left. The tree was missing one light, and I had to find a replacement. Quite by accident, I discovered the replacement lights, which are actually pieces of plastic that are shaped to look like bulbs, in a local craft store. The actual light source of a ceramic Christmas tree is from a light bulb that is placed inside or under the tree. The light shows through the holes to the plastic "lights."

In time, I gradually began to find additional ceramic Christmas trees in the thrift stores. Nearly all of the trees that I have purchased have been missing most or all of their lights. This is probably why the thrift stores undervalue the trees and price them at around $3.00 to $7.00 each. On eBay, some of the nicer and larger ceramic trees can sell for $200.00 to $300.00. Even the trees which sell at very low opening bids will still cost the buyer at least $25.00 when the postage cost is added to the purchase price.

I rather like the random way in which I continue to build my collection of ceramic Christmas trees. I never know when I will find the next one, how large it will be, or whether it will be green or white. I tend to favor the white trees over the green trees since I feel like the lights show up better in the white trees. Most of the trees that I find are around 15 to 17 inches in height. I have found a couple that are around 20 to 23 inches in height. I also have a few smaller ones that are around 10 inches in height.

The replacement lights can be bought online, both on eBay and at various craft websites, such as the Ceramic Painters Web Site or the Ceramic Art Space. The lights can be purchased in several sizes and types. There are the traditional ones which are shaped like bulbs as well as others which are birds, bows, butterflies, or flowers. Stars can be purchased for the tops of the trees, and the stars come in both small and large sizes.

The best time of year to find ceramic Christmas trees in thrift stores is any time of year other than the holiday season. I have never found ceramic Christmas trees in December, but I have found them during all other times of year. I have noticed that often I will find a tree during the month after Christmas. I believe that many people weed out old Christmas decorations after the holidays, and the ceramic trees are old-fashioned. Of course, this is exactly why I like them! I am looking forward to checking my thrift store during the next few weeks in the hope of finding another nice ceramic tree!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Chalet School Series by Elinor Brent-Dyer

The Chalet School Series is a well-known series in the United Kingdom and is very popular with collectors. Many of the books are very scarce and are very expensive. The series is practically unknown in the United States, as it has never been published here. I became aware of this series during 2007, in a roundabout fashion, and wondered about it—but just a little bit. At first, I was not very concerned about learning about it. I would say that this was primarily because I had never heard of it and did not feel that there was any reason to learn about it. The Chalet School series never gets mentioned in the different U.S. forums for series book enthusiasts. Since nobody ever mentions it, I decided not to give it much thought. I am like many other collectors in that I am more drawn to books that I have heard of or that others have discussed as prized.

However, in spite of my lack of concern about the Chalet School series, I continued to have this gnawing feeling that I needed to learn about the series. I reasoned that a series originally published over the course of 45 years and for nearly 60 volumes that is very popular with collectors must be worth investigating. Over the course of several weeks, I tried to find out a few things by visiting a few Chalet School series sites, but I still could not make any determination about it.

I was completely lost as to what the series is like and how it compares to all of the American series books. Unfortunately, international postage is very expensive, and the U.S. dollar is very weak against the British pound, so the cost of these books is very formidable for a U.S. collector, even for the softcover books. In fact, the prices are downright scary. Even the very easiest to find books cost at least 5 pounds and postage runs around 7 pounds. So the cheapest books are at least 12 pounds, which coverts to around US $25.00. Generally, this would be for a softcover book. There is a problem with the softcover Chalet School books; many of them contain edited versions of the stories. I cannot justify paying $25.00 for an edited softcover book when I would prefer to obtain the original story. Now the hardcover Chalet School books can sometimes be had for around $25.00, but as a general rule, they will usually cost at least $40.00—and $60.00 and up is more realistic. These prices are for the easiest to find titles. The scarce titles cost in the hundreds of dollars.

I mention the prices because I finally decided that the only way to figure out whether this series is worth collecting is to buy few books and read them. Since I knew that I would ultimately only be satisfied with the hardcover books, I managed to acquire the first two titles in the series in hardcover with dust jacket. Each book ended up costing me around $50.00 or so. I have never had to invest so much in order to "try out" a series. So, was it worth it?

I read the first book, The School at the Chalet, and loved it. I am nearly done with the second book, Jo of the Chalet School, and have greatly enjoyed it. I have already begun to purchase additional titles, and I cringe to think of what the entire set will ultimately cost me. My plan right now is to purchase whichever books I can in hardcover with dust jacket. I have set a limit on what I will pay per book, so right now, most of the books are out of reach for me. After I have bought all of the books that I can from within my self-imposed limit, I will then proceed with either paying more for some of them or may settle for hardcover books that are missing their jackets. In the end, I may have to settle for softcover editions of some of the books. It will be awhile before I have to make that decision.

I am beginning to set up a Chalet School cover art gallery and information page for my site. Once I am satisfied with what I have composed, I will put it up for others to view.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More eBay Prices

Dana Girls:

#27 Silver Dolphin $15.50
#28 Wax Queen $51.22, $38.58
#29 Minstrel's Guitar $51.02
#30 Phantom Surfer $100.99, $89.88

Trailer Stories for Girls by Mildred A. Wirt:

The Runaway Caravan w/DJ $162.50
The Crimson Cruiser w/DJ $128.05
The Phantom Trailer w/DJ $288.57

Sunday, November 4, 2007

House of Happy Endings by Leslie Garis

House of Happy Endings
is Leslie Garis's shattering account of coming of age in a wildly imaginative, loving, but fatally wounded home.

In a large, romantic house in Amherst, Massachusetts, Leslie Garis, her brothers, and their parents and grandparents aimed to live an idyllic life—one that mirrored the charmed world that Howard Garis, author of the famed Uncle Wiggily books, and his wife, Lilian, created in the phenomenally popular children's series The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and Judy Jordan. But inside The Dell—where Robert Frost often sat in conversation over sherry and stories appeared to spring from the very air—all was not as it seemed.

At the center of the unfolding drama was Roger Garis, Leslie's father, a writer who struggled in vain for recognition. His mysterious mental disintegration, which seemed as much a result of his dark bond with his parents as it was biologically determined, led eventually to terrifying mood swings and drug addiction and threatened to destroy everyone around him. Refracted through the all-seeing eyes of a child, House of Happy Endings is a story of the struggle between art and life, innocence and experience, as it took place in one extraordinary, unforgettable family.

—from the front flap of the dust jacket
House of Happy Endings is Leslie Garis's memoir of her childhood growing up in a family of writers. Leslie's father was Roger Garis, who wrote several books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Roger's parents, Howard and Lilian Garis, were prolific writers for the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

House of Happy Endings tells the story of Roger Garis, his lifelong struggle with mental illness, and the devastating impact his illness had on his family. It also tells the story of the senior years of Howard and Lilian Garis.

The memoir is well-written, full of rich language, and is engaging from start to finish. It is an intriguing read for anyone who has enjoyed the writings of Howard, Lilian, Roger, and Cleo Garis. In the September/October 2007 issue of The Sleuth, Jennifer Fisher interviews Leslie Garis about her book. Leslie Garis comments, "My happy ending has come from taking hold of my one real inheritance—my family story—and turning it into a book that has touched many readers and will live on after I am gone. For me that is a tangible and satisfying happy ending." Despite all of the pain and suffering, it is indeed a House of Happy Endings.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ruth Fielding Revisted

I began reading the Ruth Fielding books a few months ago, and then I was sidetracked by other interests. I haven't read any series books in the last couple of months. I got started on the Ruth Fielding books again today. I finished #8 and started #9. So far, I feel like it is a good series. I can't give a firm opinion on exactly what I think about it until I get a bit further.

The Ruth Fielding section is now in progress. I have summaries for up through volume 8, but I have not yet posted them to the site. I may begin posting the summaries shortly. Usually I don't post any of them until I am done reading the entire series, but I may make an exception in this case.

After I read Ruth Fielding, I plan to read the Barbara Ann series. I recently completed my set, and I am eager to read the books. It is a four volume series, and I find that I really enjoy the obscure, short series. I'm looking forward to trying them out.

How much I like the different series books

So what do I really think about the different series showcased on my site? I have attempted to separate the series into groupings based on how much I like each series. This is very difficult since my opinion varies depending on my mood and how recently I have read any volumes in a certain series. If I were to rate these same series in a year, I would certainly rate a number of them differently. 

I read Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden when I was a child, and both series have heavily influenced me. The other series that I read when I first began collecting series books, including Judy Bolton and the Dana Girls, have also heavily influenced me. I tend to like books that are set in schools, such as colleges and boarding schools, and I also tend to like books that have mysteries which are set in various haunted places and adventures which take place in country settings. 

I do not like "travelogue" books very much, especially when the books include detailed history lessons. Because I do not like the travelogue books as much, I do not like many of the Vicki Barr and Shirley Flight books quite as much as other series books. Beverly Gray is an exception, since her travels are so exciting and never feel like a history lesson. 

I mention my likes and dislikes so that there is a point of reference for my opinions presented on this page. 

I have placed the books in groups that have a rating of 0 up to 5. The ones listed under 0 and 1 are series for which I find something lacking, although the books are readable and some books are still very good. All of the series listed under 2, 3, 4, and 5 are series that I very much like and the numbers represent how great that liking is. The series listed under 5 are my very favorite series. 

With the exception of the books listed under 5, the books are listed in random order within each section. The books that are rated 5 are listed in order by how much I like them, and these books will almost certainly be in the same order in another year. 

 5 = My favorites 

Nancy Drew 
Beverly Gray 
Outdoor Girls 
Sara Gay 
Trixie Belden 
Girl Scouts Mystery Series (Fairfax) 

4 = Very, very good series 

Sally Baxter 
Peggy Lane 
Adventure Girls by Clair Blank 
Boy Scout Explorers by Palmer (Wirt) 
Brownie Scouts by Wirt 
Judy Bolton 
Connie Blair 

3 = Very good series 

Blythe Girls 
Dana Girls 
Penny Parker 
Perry Pierce 
Mexican Mystery Stories for Girls by Helen Randolph 
Ruth Darrow 
Madge Sterling 
Flash Evans 
Doris Force 

2 = Good series 

Kay Tracey 
Girls of Central High 
Moving Picture Girls 
Trailer Stories for Girls 
Dot and Dash 

1 = So-so series which do have some very good books 

Shirley Flight 
Vicki Barr 
Girl Scouts by Wirt 
Dan Carter 
Penny Nichols

0 = Below average series 

Melody Lane 
Whitman Authorized Editions

Prices for early Nancy Drew books

There have been a few very early Nancy Drew books that have sold lately on eBay:

The Secret of the Old Clock w/DJ, 1930C-3, blank endpapers edition listing 4 titles on the front flap of the dust jacket, $787.00

The Hidden Staircase w/DJ, blank endpapers edition listing 6 titles on the front flap of the dust jacket, $326.21

The Hidden Staircase w/DJ, 1930C-3, blank endpapers edition listing 4 titles on the front flap of the dust jacket, $1492.65

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

eBay Auction Prices - Outdoor Girls, Blythe Girls

I decided to take note of some of the recent eBay auction prices for the Outdoor Girls and Blythe Girls books. There has been some very competitive bidding recently for the Blythe Girls books.

Blythe Girls:

Helen, Margy, and Rose w/DJ, $9.99 (Buy It Now), $88.76 (auction)
Margy's Queer Inheritance w/DJ, $77.76
Rose's Great Problem w/DJ, $40.88, w/DJ $4.99
Helen's Strange Boarder w/DJ, $21.50
Three on a Vacation w/DJ $7.45, w/DJ $21.18
Margy's Secret Mission w/DJ, $90.89
Rose's Odd Discovery w/DJ $97.89
Snowbound in Camp w/DJ, $39.88
Margy's Mysterious Visitor w/DJ $39.99 (Buy It Now)
Rose's Hidden Talent w/DJ, $191.38
Helen's Wonderful Mistake w/DJ, $84.00

The prices realized for different series books range from low to high, depending upon how many people are interested at a particular time. Consequently, some of the books sell for well below value, since many sellers choose to start the books low and sometimes only one person is interested in buying a particular book. This is why a few of the Blythe Girls books sold for fairly low prices as compared to the other books. It is also not a good idea to use Buy It Now when selling a book, unless one is very certain of the value. Compare the Buy It Now price to the completed auction price for the first title in the Blythe Girls series.

Outdoor Girls:

Outdoor Girls on Pine Island w/DJ, $34.99
Outdoor Girls in Florida w/DJ, $16.07
Outdoor Girls in Army Service w/DJ, $36.55, $20.50
Outdoor Girls Around the Campfire w/DJ (Duotone), $57.99
Outdoor Girls at Foaming Falls w/DJ, $10.49
Outdoor Girls at Spring Hill Farm w/DJ, $37.50
Outdoor Girls on a Canoe Trip w/DJ, $29.88
Outdoor Girls at New Moon Ranch w/DJ, $8.99
Outdoor Girls in Desert Valley w/DJ, $325.00

I believe it has been quite a few months since a dust-jacketed copy of Desert Valley has sold, so several people very much wanted that book.

Girl Scouts Mystery Series, The Mysterious Camper w/DJ, $87.99
Girl Scouts Mystery Series, Trail of the Gypsy Eight, no DJ, $24.83
Girl Scouts Mystery Series, The Secret of Halliday House; w/DJ $93.00; no DJ $18.50

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Ruth Fielding Series

I consider Ruth Fielding and Her Double to be the hardest to find book in the Ruth Fielding series, and it is the one that I finally acquired this week. I had waited for months for a less expensive one to come up for sale. The ones that have been available online for months are far higher in price than I care to pay. Do a search at to see what I mean about the prices for this title. I finally bought one within the price range that is acceptable to me.

I am now one volume short of having a complete set of the Ruth Fielding series in dust jacket. Ruth Fielding in Talking Pictures is the last title I need. There are several copies available online, and they are much more reasonable than the ones of Ruth Fielding and Her Double. It is just a matter of deciding which to buy or whether to continue to wait for either a better condition or less expensive one to come up for sale. I may end up buying one of the available copies, simply to end my quest of Ruth Fielding books.

In around two weeks, I am finally going to have time to read again. I plan to finish reading the Susan Sand series. After Susan Sand, I will read Ruth Fielding, assuming that I have a complete set by that time. I always wait for a complete set before I begin reading any of the books in a series. I am hoping that the Ruth Fielding series will prove to be good. It is hard to judge a series without detailed information available online. I have read comments over the years that have stated that the Ruth Fielding series is good; however, I have never read specific enough of comments to give me a compelling reason to want to read the series.

I don't like all girls' series books. The Dorothy Dixon series is one example. I read the first book and part of the second, and the books bored me, so I never finished the second book. Someday I will try again. In spite of my lukewarm reaction to the Dorothy Dixon series, I do want to read Dorothy Dixon and the Double Cousin someday. One of the Judy Bolton books, The Secret of the Musical Tree, has the same plot as Dorothy Dixon and the Double Cousin.

My point is that I could read Ruth Fielding and be bored. I hope this is not the case as it has taken me more than a year to get this close to a complete set. I feel like the series must be good; it would not have stayed in print for 30 titles if it were a weak series. The 30 title duration of the series and the good, although vague, comments from various people about the series are the reasons why I chose to build a set. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New Grosset and Dunlap Nancy Drew Collectibles

Today I visited a few bookstores and purchased some of the new collectibles that have been published in advance of the upcoming Nancy Drew Warner Brothers movie.  The best items are the ones put out by Grosset and Dunlap, and I am quite impressed with the effort that Grosset and Dunlap has put into these new items.

By far the best one is the book The Lost Files of Nancy Drew.  Grosset and Dunlap has used some of its old artwork and created a scrapbook about Nancy Drew's adventures during the original 56 Nancy Drew mysteries.   It is set up like it is Nancy Drew's very own scrapbook.  It is the best Nancy Drew item published by Grosset and Dunlap in several decades.

The book opens with this message: Whenever Nancy Drew closed the book on a mystery, she always recorded her adventure in her journal.  For many years it was believed that none of these firsthand accounts existed, but we've unearthed several from some of Nancy's most exciting mysteries.  You are free to read them, but be careful - make sure no one's looking over your shoulder.  The last thing Nancy would want is for any criminals or crooks to learn all her secrets!

The book is full of comments that read as though written by Nancy Drew herself.  The book contains Nancy Drew's mementos from her past mysteries, and many items are featured in the book as three-dimensional items that can be pulled up from the pages, such as Josiah Crowley's will, Nancy's Sleuthing Supply List, Nancy's Ski Pass from The Mystery at Ski Jump, Nancy's passport, and other neat surprises.  Grosset and Dunlap put an amazing amount of time and effort into producing this excellent scrapbook.

Grosset and Dunlap has also created an item called the Nancy Drew Pocketbook Mysteries.  This neat item is like a pocketbook and contains the first two Nancy Drew Mystery Stories in the current Grosset and Dunlap flashlight editions.  The pocketbook has handles and the side features the original Tandy art to the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock.  The part I love the most is the "lining" of the pocketbook.  The lining is made of heavy paper stock and is the old blue multipic endpapers that Grosset and Dunlap used in its Nancy Drew books during the 1950s and 1960s.   The Nancy Drew Pocketbook Mysteries is a neat collectible item!  

The third item put out by Grosset and Dunlap is the new updated edition of the Nancy Drew Sleuth Book.  The Nancy Drew Sleuth Book has been out of print since the last 1970s and is quite scarce.  The cover of the new book is very similar to the old edition, but the silhouette has been changed back to a 1930s-style Nancy Drew rather than the 1970s-style silhouette that was on the 1970s edition.  Best of all, the new book has a matte finish, unlike the rest of Grosset and Dunlap's current Nancy Drew books, the ubiquitous flashlight editions we love so much.  In fact, I don't even own a set of the flashlight editions as I dislike them so much.  But this new Sleuth book is a must-have!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Busy Time of Year

Spring is a busy time of year for me, and this year I have sufficient distractions to keep me from reading as much as I usually do. Another core interest I have is everything about the fictional hero, Zorro, and a Zorro telenovela airs five nights per week on Telemundo until the middle of summer. Currently, the shows are 90 minutes long and will probably return to 60 minutes long in a week. Needless to say, the telenovela is taking up most all of the time in which I normally read. I have started to read the Susan Sand series, but it is going very slowly due to lack of time. It seems that I read a chapter during one sitting around a couple of times per week. That's it. Unless I speed it up a lot, it will be awhile before I get through the series. I am near the end of the second book at this time. My current feeling is that the Susan Sand series is like a parody of Nancy Drew. I have acquired some nice new foreign and library editions as well as two Riddle Club dust jackets that I did not previously have and upgraded a third Riddle Club dust jacket. As time and energy allows, I will place scans on my site. Next week, I do get a week off of work, so I expect that I will get some of the scans added at that time. I may even manage to read most of the Susan Sand books.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Lost City of the Aztecs by J. A. Lath

I just finished reading The Lost City of the Aztecs by J. A. Lath. I purchased this book solely because I thought that the dust jacket was pretty. I really didn't know if I would like the book.

I do not tend to like boys' series books as much as girls' series books, because many of the ones that I have read tend to have too many fistfights and other things that don't interest me much. This book turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Within the first few pages, I knew I was in for a treat. This is the best book that I have read in quite some time. It is highly suspenseful, and I could hardly put the book down until I finished it.

In this book, a boy named Ralph finds a cipher and a message hidden in the binding of a book about the Aztecs of Mexico. Ralph's friend, Dick, decodes the cipher, which gives directions to a lost Aztec city that is located in the crater of a dormant volcano somewhere near the Arizona border with Mexico. The boys decide to try to find the lost city and are accompanied by two friends. I would love to mention something about what happens when the boys reach their destination, which is only halfway through the book, but I feel like this would spoil too much. All that I will say is that what they find is fantastic, and the second half of the book is extremely suspenseful reading.

I highly recommend this book. It is a scarce book, but copies of it can be found reasonably at

I am now going to read the one other book that J. A. Lath wrote, The Cortez Emerald Mystery. It features the same characters, and I am eagerly anticipating what it might contain.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

More on the Riddle Club Series

I finished the Riddle Club section yesterday, proofread it again today, and placed it on the site a short while ago. I try to place a humorous or somehow important quote at the top of each new section. I particularly like the one I have used for the Riddle Club section:

"I read in a book that people with sense always watch things. When they are taking a walk, they see the trees and the plants. When they are out driving they notice the landmarks. I like advertisements—I always watch them. And when our car tipped to let the other go by, I looked right at that advertisement for orange marmalade and I remembered it. So when Polly said she dropped her pin I knew she must have dropped it there."

"My goodness, you read a lot of books, don't you, Artie?" Jess said, with manifest respect.

" 'Improving' ones," Artie said modestly.

"Huh, what about the story books you keep under your bed?" Fred suggested. "Nothing very 'improving' about Indians and pirates, that I ever heard of."

"That's because you don't read 'em," announced Artie. "Ward and I have an invention most made now—a new kind of arrow. Any book is 'improving' that teaches you something."

The quote is from The Riddle Club at Sunrise Beach. The reason I like this quote so much is that Fred comments that the storybooks that Artie reads are not very "improving." The type of books that Fred refers to are books like the Riddle Club books and all of the other Stratemeyer Syndicate books. Artie has a good answer when he states that "any book is 'improving' that teaches you something."

I feel like this statement takes aim at all of the people during the early 1900s who blasted the Stratemeyer Syndicate books as poorly-written, sensational books that would dumb down children. It is certainly true that even formula-driven series books can teach children new things, and even I as an adult have learned new things from these vintage books. I learned lots of new riddles while reading the Riddle Club books!

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Riddle Club Series

I will be adding the Riddle Club section to my site soon, either tomorrow or later this week. I have just begun to read the last book in the series.

While I thought that the Riddle Club books might be worth collecting, I have to say that they have been a pleasant surprise and better than I expected. I first noticed the series a couple years ago as I tried to find the true 1st printing of Nancy Drew #6, The Secret of Red Gate Farm. The Riddle Club series is the series listed on the 2nd page of post-text ads in the very first printing of Red Gate Farm. This fact drew my attention to the series. The ad states:

Here is an ingenious a series of books for little folks as ever appeared since "Alice in Wonderland." The idea of the Riddle Books is this, three girls and three boys decide to form a riddle club. Each book is full of the adventures of these youngsters, but as an added attraction each book is filled with a lot of the best riddles you ever heard.

The idea of club members telling each other riddles is intriguing. There are many, many riddles in each book. Some of them were easy for me, while others were difficult. A child could have a lot of fun reading these books and trying to solve the riddles before the answers are given. Each time a riddle is asked, the club members take turns guessing and almost always get into discussions, sometimes heated, about what the answer could be.

I had trouble getting into the first book, for several reasons. Part of it was just me and that I was very busy at work and wasn't sure which series I wanted to read next (see my first post in this blog). The other reason is that I had trouble keeping all six characters straight. I gave up on that issue and forged my way through the book. By the second book, I began to see several of the characters as different from the others. I do believe that the author did a better job of exploring the characters' personalities as the series progressed. By the fifth book, Polly, Artie, Ward, Fred, and Margy were all distinctly different characters in my mind. Jess was the only one that didn't stand out. As I begin volume 6, Jess still doesn't stand out, but that's okay.

The series has a lot of humor in it, more than many other series do. I feel that humor is an important part of any series book. I find that the ones that I enjoy more do have more humor in them than the ones that I enjoy less. Book 5 is hilarious. I laughed out loud quite a few times. At one point I laughed uncontrollably. I won't try to describe the scene, but the antics of Ward (the obligatory fat friend) and of Artie (the bookworm who continually recites everything he has learned from books) are priceless.

So look for the Riddle Club section shortly . . .