Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Upcoming Children's and Young Adult Releases

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon this article, "Top 10 Young Adult Fantasy Books You Should Read." After reading the article, I checked the listings on Amazon. I settled upon Divergent by Veronica Roth. I read the book in less than two days. It is very good.

Here is the promotional summary taken from the product page on Amazon.com.
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
I love having a few modern series to follow, because I can look forward to several new releases.

The second book in the Divergent Trilogy, Insurgent, will be released on May 1.

Also on May 1, Rick Riordan's The Serpent's Shadow, the third and final book in the Kane Chronicles series, will be released. I have not liked the Kane Chronicles series quite as much as I did the Percy Jackson series, but I have still found the books worth reading.

Michael Scott's The Enchantress, the sixth and final book in the Secrets of Nicholas Flamel series, will be released on May 22. I have greatly enjoyed the Nicholas Flamel series and have speculated for a long time on how the series will end. Reading the final book will be quite a treat.

May will be a month full of exciting reading.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nancy Drew #14 The Whispering Statue

Near the beginning of the revised text of the Nancy Drew book, The Whispering Statue, Mrs. Merriam has arrived at the Drew home to tell of her suspicions about Mr. Basswood. The front and back doorbells ring at the same time that the phone rings. Nancy answers the phone, and a caller warns her that Mrs. Merriam needs to shut up. Nancy's friends open both doors, and masked assailants force their way into the home.

These assailants have just proved that Mrs. Merriam's concerns are true, which makes them stupid criminals. Mr. Drew remarks, "I don't understand what those men hoped to accomplish." Yeah, bunch of idiots. The scene is stupid enough that I actually enjoyed it.

The masks were pulled off of both men. When the police arrive and see the two identical masks, one of them remarks, "Those thugs were working together all right." Even if the masks had been completely different, I think we could conclude that two men forcing their way in at the front and back doors simultaneously would most likely be working together. These cops are smart.

The villains know that Nancy has two friends, since they saw them in River Heights. These two friends suddenly show up in Waterford with a girl named Debbie Lynbrook. The three girls do not hide that their hometown is River Heights. The criminals are dumb not to realize that Debbie Lynbrook is Nancy Drew in disguise.

At Mr. Basswood's shop, a customer described as a "stout woman" enters the store. Nancy helps her choose a book, and later, she speaks to Mr. Basswood about the sale. Mr. Basswood remarks, "I've been thinking about what the stout lady said..." I find it hilarious that Mr. Basswood uses "stout" to describe the woman just like the text of the book does.

An earth tremor occurs while Nancy is in the book shop. Just moments later, Nancy turns on a radio in time to hear a special announcement about the cause of the tremor. Breaking news updates sure were fast 42 years ago!

Later, the girls investigate Mr. Basswoood's shop after hours. While in the storage room, a man arrives, and the girls must hide. They pose behind empty portrait frames. Exactly who would be foolish enough to fall for a trick like that? More importantly, who would be foolish enough to attempt to escape detection that way? Of course the trick doesn't work.

Ned comes into Mr. Basswood's store, and Nancy and Ned act like they don't know each other so as not to jeopardize Nancy's sleuthing. All good, except a short time later, Nancy and Ned make no attempt to hide that they know each other while at the yacht club. I doubt that Waterford is so huge that they could get away with that.

While I was amused about some of the weak parts of the story, I really enjoyed the revised text. The idea of Nancy sleuthing in disguise is fun.

The original text features quite a few seemingly unconnected people who, in the end, are all connected in some fashion or another. This is a story of random coincidences.

The story is well written but features several different subplots. I wrote in a previous post that I would not be writing summaries in these reviews, but in this case, I need to give a short summary so that I can make my point.

Nancy acquires her dog, Togo, who runs off with Mrs. Owen's important papers. Nancy helps recover the papers, and Mrs. Owen remarks that Nancy closely resembles a Whispering Girl statue that is on an estate in Sea Cliff.

Sea Cliff just happens to be the locale in which Nancy is about to go on vacation. The Whispering Girl statue is on the old Conger estate, which has fallen into disrepair ever since Mr. Conger died. The daughter, Bernice Conger, has never returned home to claim the property.

Mr. Drew has a client named Mr. Owen who was defrauded by a man named Wormrath (I wonder if Wormrath ever went to Hogwarts?). Nancy thinks that there could be a connection between Mr. Owen and Mrs. Owen. The reader can guess that a connection absolutely must exist, because, of course, whenever anybody has the same surname, they have to be related!

I am reminded of when I have people ask me if I know ______ White, which happens quite often. This may come as a shock, but my name is rather common. It is no more logical that I know all Whites than it is that I know all Jennifers. Think about it.

A woman named Miss Morse travels on the same train to Sea Cliff. A man named Joe Mitza tries to defraud her.

A man tries to steal the Whispering Girl statue, and he has a monkey named Jocko.

How does all of this work out? Mr. Owen and Mrs. Owen each thought the other was dead, and Nancy's hunch that they might just be related helps reunite them. However, Mr. Owen nearly dies from the shock.

Miss Morse turns out to be Bernice Conger, and Joe Mitza is her son. Mitza was unaware of the connection, since he had not seen his mother in many years. Miss Morse/Bernice Conger is married to Wormrath. Mrs. Owen knew Bernice Conger when they were young.

The story is written well, but the events are too random for my taste. This is another book that seems more like a Kay Tracey book. The Kay Tracey books tend to have random, bizarre events. Nancy Drew books are usually plotted a bit better.

While the original text is overall a better story than the revised text, I like the revised text just a little better. The undercover sleuthing in the revised text gets my vote.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

International Postage and a Lost Package

In January, the United States Postal Service greatly increased the cost of Priority Mail International postage. The increase is enough that I am having to use a different strategy when figuring postage quotes to international buyers.

When international buyers purchase just a few books, the books can be mailed via First Class International mail. This method keeps the cost at a reasonable level. The postage is still expensive, as international postage always is, but most buyers are willing to pay the cost. The trouble is when the package ends up weighing more than four pounds.

All international packages weighing more than four pounds are required to be sent via Priority Mail International, which is very expensive, and most buyers balk at those prices. I tend to lose most all sales in which the packages end up weighing more than four pounds. This was even a problem before the recent rate hike.

I usually use the Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate box for international transactions, since the postage is a set amount and not based on weight. The medium flat rate box has a maximum weight of 20 pounds for international, so if a buyer is purchasing 10 pounds' worth of books that fit in the box, the savings is huge.

Unfortunately, most buyers want to purchase books that weigh a total of four to six pounds. For that weight range, priority mail is the only option and is far too expensive. This makes for many lost orders.

I can save many of those orders, even though I have to go to more trouble. By splitting the books up into two packages, I can get around the four pound limit, and the postage cost is significantly lower. Here is a recent example.

A buyer wanted to purchase seven Nancy Drew books that weighed 4 pounds 4 ounces. With packaging, the books would have weighed up towards five pounds. Priority mail international in the medium flat rate box to Canada would have cost $32.95 (PMI medium flat rate to all other countries is now $47.95.). Instead, I weighed two books and then the remaining five books.

I figured out that the total postage cost for two packages via first class international was $23.00, and this quote included the cost of two boxes, since I have to use my own boxes for first class. The savings was $10.00. The savings could have been $12.00 if I had extra used boxes to recycle. I try to save a few Amazon boxes when possible for international transactions, but I have no extras at present.

I plan to use this method for all future transactions when the package weight is slightly more than four pounds.

Several weeks ago, I wrote on my Facebook page about a lost package. The package still has not arrived, and I have strong doubts that the package ever will arrive. I have mailed out thousands of packages in the last 15 years, and this will most likely be the very first lost package.

The package was mailed January 5, and the delivery confirmation showed the normal information up until a scan on January 10 at a USPS sorting center in the buyer's home state. The sorting center is within 50 miles of the final destination and was probably the last stop before the package would have reached the buyer's post office. The tracking information ended at that sorting center with no updates since January 10.

I assumed the worst as soon as the buyer contacted me weeks ago. The fact that the package has not been scanned since it was at that sorting center is a very bad sign. I refunded the buyer's money a couple of weeks ago. The total was around $80 for a book that I cannot replace for the buyer. No examples are up for sale on the internet. The buyer will probably spend a couple of years trying to find another. This is very disappointing.

I waited around one week from the time the buyer contacted me about the lost package before refunding the money. I almost did it instantly, since the delivery confirmation ended so abruptly. I decided to wait a week just in case, then I felt that I needed to refund the money before any more time passed.

Many sellers like to claim that they are not responsible for the package once it is mailed. In truth, the seller is always responsible for making certain that the buyer receives his or her purchase and is satisfied. While I did not like having to refund the buyer's money, I owed the buyer since I was unable to get the book to the buyer. Certainly, whatever happened to the package was not my fault, but the buyer was also not at fault. The responsibility always rests on the seller's shoulders.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wacky Auction Photos

I have collected a few of the crazy photos that I have seen in listings on eBay. I featured this photo a long time ago.

I never would have thought of arranging the books on top of a bush!

In the following photo, the seller placed the books in between and on top of some dishes.

Why risk breaking the dishes?

This next one is delightfully random.

The seller placed a television stand on the driveway, arranged the books, and took a couple of photos. Perhaps the seller took the photos outside for better lighting. Regardless, I am amused to see the books photographed all alone out on the driveway.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Carolyn Keene Photo, Letter, and Biographical Sketch

I recently purchased a letter that was sent to a Nancy Drew fan by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Harriet Adams' secretary wrote a letter to the fan and enclosed a photo of Harriet Adams along with a brief biographical sketch. The photo is signed "Carolyn Keene" and appears to be Harriet Adams' signature.

The letter is on paper that measures 6 1/8 inches by 8 inches.

The photo measures approximately 2 1/4 inches by 3 inches.

The biographical sketch is on 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch paper.

The second paragraph is the part that I found the most interesting. It reads:
Mrs. Adams was born in New Jersey and lives in Maplewood. After her graduation from Wellesley College, she settled down in earnest to her chosen career--the writing of girls' mystery stories. Her father was an author and from the time she was a little girl she wrote stories, at first simple, and then more complicated.
I have been trying to figure out how true the statement about Harriet's "chosen career" is. I skimmed through Melanie Rehak's book, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, to try to figure out how much writing Harriet did before her father passed away.

Harriet was a member of the Press Board at Wellesley College, and she was offered a position at the Boston Globe upon her graduation, which her father made her refuse. He did not want his daughter to become a career woman. He did briefly allow her to edit manuscripts.

I do not find any references to Harriet writing as a little girl, although I certainly could have missed them. The Girl Sleuth book takes side trips into historical facts, which requires the reader to skim past all of the historical information in order to continue reading the Stratemeyer story.

My opinion is that becoming a series book author was not Harriet's "chosen" career; rather, it was her "destined" career. Harriet fell into writing as a result of her father's death. When Edward Stratemeyer died, his daughters attempted to sell his company. After they could not find a buyer, they decided to continue his business. Harriet Adams began running the company, and later, she began writing the Nancy Drew books. However, the real story would not read well in a biography of Carolyn Keene.

The statements in the biographical sketch are interesting, since the sketch implies that Harriet was a writer from birth. I have to admit that I thought of Mildred Wirt Benson after I read it. She did write stories from a young age.

If anyone does have specific information about Harriet writing stories, other than newspaper stories, from a young age, let me know.

I want to mention that I greatly admire Harriet Adams. She has been criticized by many for her misleading statements during the later years of her life. In those statements, Harriet maintained that her father and she were the sole authors of the Nancy Drew books.

Edward Stratemeyer wrote the outlines for the first few Nancy Drew books, and Mildred Wirt Benson wrote most of the early books. Since Mildred Wirt Benson was a terrific writer who played an extremely important role in the development of Nancy Drew as a cultural icon, many people deeply despise Harriet for claiming authorship of the early books.

I turned against Harriet when I first read one of the articles with those erroneous statements. In the intervening years, I have forgiven Harriet and now greatly admire her for her contribution to Nancy Drew's legacy. Harriet Adams ran the Stratemeyer Syndicate for more than 50 years, and if she had not taken control of her father's business, this blog would not exist. We owe much to Harriet Adams, and it is best to look past her mistakes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nancy Drew #13 Mystery of the Ivory Charm

Note: For readers who are not familiar with this book, Coya is the young boy from India in the original text, and Rishi is the same boy from India, but with a different name, in the revised text.

When I reviewed Nancy Drew #12, The Message in the Hollow Oak, I concluded that the original text story is a better story than the revised text. Inexplicably, the Stratemeyer Syndicate abandoned a good story and wrote a completely different story that is greatly inferior. This was a mistake.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate made the mistake in reverse for Nancy Drew #13, The Mystery of the Ivory Charm. The original text of Ivory Charm was condensed to create the revised text. The storyline remained the same for the revision, and large portions of text are identical in both versions. Ivory Charm is one of those books in which the original text should have been abandoned in favor of a fresh new story.

Ivory Charm is full of superstition and odd behavior. Miss Anita Allison is a bizarre person who slips into trances in the middle of conversations. When Miss Allison comes out of her trances, she tends to be confused and have missing memories. Miss Allison's house has no insides; it consists of a big space with trapeze ropes. The story does not make clear why she has such an unusual house. Her house burns down, and we never learn for certain who did it or why. These flaws are present in both versions.

Some of the problems of the original text were lessened in the revised text. In the original text, Coya's heart has stopped, and he is not breathing. Nancy gives him the life-giving potion from the charm and waits until color returns to his face. Only then, Nancy begins to pump his chest. Coya would have had severe brain injury from lack of oxygen with the lapse of time before Nancy tries to resuscitate him. In the revised text, Rishi is being giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the time the potion is administered. Both versions are unbelievable, but the revised text is somewhat plausible.

Many of the problems of the original text were made worse in the revision. In the revised text, Rishi picks up the charm from where Rai left it. Rishi runs away and then gives the charm to Nancy. Nancy hopes to keep Rishi from being found by Rai, but she wears the ivory charm everywhere she goes, making no attempt to conceal it. This makes it easy for Rai to figure out where Rishi is. The charm is still Rai's, even if Rishi picked it up. I find it odd that Nancy feels comfortable keeping it.

In the original text, Rai gives the ivory charm to Nancy after she survives a close encounter with a snake. Since the charm was given to Nancy, it makes sense that Nancy would wear it. The possession of the charm does not make it obvious that Coya is with Nancy.

Rishi goes to the circus with Nancy and her friends in the revised text. I found this strange, since Rishi does not want to be spotted by Rai. In the original text, Nancy decides that Coya would be upset if he were to attend the circus. Here is another instance of the original text having more logic.

In the original text, Miss Allison reads from a bejeweled book in Sanskrit. In the revised text, no doubt to save words, Miss Allison reads from a bejeweled book titled Sanskrit. This makes it sound like the book is a grammar book for the Sanskrit language. Hmm. Sometimes removing too many words from a story in order to condense it can cause some serious issues.

In the revised text, Nancy is unsure about attending a dance at Emerson. Ned informs her that an Emerson student is from India. Suddenly, Nancy is eager to attend the dance. She is certain that the student can help her. India had approximately 500 million residents at the time Ivory Charm was revised. Exactly why is Nancy so sure that this young man can help?

In the original text, Nancy is excited to go to the dance just because she will enjoy it. The student from India is at the dance, but he is not the reason Nancy is so eager to go. The original text states that "her enthusiasm had mounted to a high pitch" about going to the dance with Ned. In the revised text, "Nancy's enthusiasm for the weekend at Emerson rose to a high pitch" only because a random boy from India will be present. How totally bizarre.

In both texts, monkeys get out of their cage at the circus and leap from person to person. The revised text takes it a step further by having a monkey land on Nancy's head and begin pulling her hair. George pulls the monkey's tail, which makes the monkey leave. First, I hardly think that a monkey would land on Nancy's head without Nancy getting injured. Second, I am skeptical about whether the monkey would leave without incident after getting his tail pulled.

In both texts, Mr. Drew makes an astute observation. "Rai must have a secret hideout... Otherwise, we'd surely locate him." You don't say! Do you really think that Rai would be standing on the street corner waiting to be noticed?

The revised text includes Mr. Tilak, who is Rishi's real father. Strangely, he lives in River Heights. What a coincidence that Rishi and his father have been separated for years and somehow they are found in the same city in the United States.

I had trouble determining which text I like better. Both texts have significant problems, but the original is overall more logical. Therefore, I cast my vote in favor of the original text. In closing, enjoy one of the ridiculous internal illustrations from the revised text, shown to the right.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nancy Drew #1 Old Clock Library Binding

I have written about how difficult it is to find the books from what I call the "1940s Style Library Binding." 

I just acquired an example of The Secret of the Old Clock in this library binding. 

It was only last month that I acquired #8, after a number of years in which I was unable to find any examples. I purchased #6 in March 2004, #5 in July 2005, and #3 and #11 in the same purchase in November 2005. Six years passed before I found #8 in January 2012 and #1 in February 2012.

Since this binding is so difficult to acquire, I have only been able to guess how old I think the books are. My estimate has been from the very early 1950s or possibly the late 1940s. The book I purchased last month was dated 1950, finally giving me one date.

The book I just purchased has no dates, since the library stripped all information from the book when it was discarded. I wish they would not do that. However, this book does have an interior list of titles. The last title listed is Ringmaster's Secret, which means that this book could not have been bound any earlier than the age of the book from which it was rebound. This places my new acquisition no further back than 1953.

Now I have a range of 1950 to 1953 for the years in which I know these books were bound.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nancy Drew #12 Message in the Hollow Oak

The revised text of the Nancy Drew book, The Message in the Hollow Oak, is flat all the way through, and the story lacks believability. A bunch of professional detectives try to find the hollow oak that contains Père François' treasure. They give up and go home.

Actually, the detectives' time off ran out, so that is the reason. They ask Nancy to find the treasure. I realized as I read the book that Nancy spends very little of her time searching for the hollow oak. Most of her time is spent at the dig, on a towboat, and in a search for a missing student. Since Nancy searches so very little, the detectives could surely have found the hollow oak themselves.

During one scene, Nancy is awakened when an intruder arrives at the dig. She chases after the intruder, yet she is able to return to her room, immediately fall asleep, and sleep until the morning. I'm pretty sure that Nancy also had a nighttime adventure in the revised text Broken Locket and was able to fall asleep immediately.

I'm impressed. Whenever I have excitement of any kind late in the evening, I need several hours to calm down enough in order to get to sleep. And then I usually do not sleep well. Nancy is amazing.

Kit Kadle is a dumb name.

On the towboat, a log sails through a window, nearly killing someone. The boys offer to replace the window and promptly do. Wait... what? The towboat keeps extra windows on board just in case one breaks?! Wow! I should buy a bunch of windows and store just in case we have a hailstorm this spring—never mind that the last time a window broke from hail was back in 1999. I just have to be prepared because it is bound to happen again eventually...

Did I mention that Kit Kadle is a dumb name?

The final chapter of the book is titled "Kit and Caboodle." Is that why the villain is named Kit, just so that we could have a cute chapter title?

The original text is a completely different story from the revised text. As I began reading the book, I could remember very little of the story, so I was not sure why the entire text was abandoned in favor of a total rewrite. Nancy wins a piece of property in a radio contest, which is old-fashioned, but that part could have been easily changed.

As I read further, I reflected that the story of Annette Chap and Norman Ranny's romance is a little old-fashioned. Nancy's encounters with the villains, Tom Stripe and Raymond Niles, are a bit over-the-top, but those parts could have been rewritten. Bess has a sleepwalking scene that is just plain bizarre. Later, Nancy and her father get together a posse with which to confront the villains. The revised text Nancy Drew books always follow the law to the letter, so removing the part about the posse is understandable.

I feel that the Stratemeyer Syndicate would have been better off to have found a way to keep the original text story but modernize it. I was thinking about how this could have been done.

How about have Bess win a property in Canada by choosing the winning name for a new food product? Bess gets frightened when strange men try to get her to sign over the deed to her new property. Nancy, Bess, and George travel to Canada to see what's up. Adding to the suspense, the girls have no idea that the land might contain gold.

In the case of The Message in the Hollow Oak, I enjoyed the original text much more so than the revised text. The revised text is weak, but the original text is engaging and suspenseful all the way through. There is no comparison.