Monday, September 30, 2013

Nancy Drew #79 Fenley Place, #80 Disappearing Diamonds, and #81 Mardi Gras Mystery

In Nancy Drew #79, The Double Horror of Fenley Place,a Hollywood director is filming a horror movie in River Heights.  Bess is cast as a "screamer" in the film.  Nancy tags along with Bess and stumbles into a mystery.  Every single scene that is filmed for the movie then occurs right across the street at Fenley Place.  The situation turns grim when Nancy learns that a dog is to be found dead in a movie scene, and later, the movie will depict a house burning.  Nancy must discover the culprit before Fenley Place is destroyed.  Certainly, someone associated with the film is causing the pranks.  But who?  And why?

This is an engaging story, although I feel that the plot lags towards the middle of the book.  For a number of chapters, the plot does not advance, and then finally, the book becomes quite suspenseful towards the end.  Overall, this is a good mystery.

In Nancy Drew #80, The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds, Monica Crown hires Carson Drew to help her discover who framed her daughter in the theft of one million dollars in diamonds.  One of the diamonds was found in the possession of Karen Crown, so she was convicted and sent to prison.  Monica fears that Karen will not survive in prison.

Soon after Nancy begins her investigation, Monica Crown's car plunges over a cliff.  The police are unable to find a body and believe Monica to be dead.  However, Nancy suspects that Monica might have faked her own death. 

This book is very suspenseful and entertaining.  The villain follows Nancy in a white sedan, threatens her, and tries to kill her.

In Nancy Drew #81, The Mardi Gras Mystery, Ned, Nancy, Bess, and George go to New Orleans at the invitation of one of Ned's teammates.  A valuable painting, Danielle's Dream, is stolen from Mr. Tyler's home.  Ned's friend's father is suspected of stealing it.  Later, Nancy thinks she sees Danielle in New Orleans.  Could Danielle be alive?  Or is this all part of a hoax?

I kept thinking of a Beverly Gray book, Beverly Gray's Discovery, as I read this one.  In Beverly Gray's Discovery, Beverly discovers that someone has been copying famous paintings.  This book even has Nancy looking through a window at someone copying a painting, just like Beverly Gray did.

The Mardi Gras Mystery is engaging from the very beginning and engaging throughout the book.

All three of these books are interesting and exciting, and they all follow a specific formula.  The little things that annoyed me about many of the Wanderer books have vanished.  Nancy no longer "swallows sighs," and gone are all the cute little references to past mysteries that make the Wanderer books seem like parodies.  While formula-driven books can be very predictable, when done right, they are consistently entertaining to read.  These books are formula-driven books done right.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nancy Drew Wanderer Books

The Nancy Drew Wanderer books consist of Nancy Drew #57 through 78.  The imprint changes to Minstrel beginning with #79.  Coincidentally, the reading experience changes with #79, so this is a good stopping place to make some observations.

On July 24, I wrote:
I do not like several of the lowest-numbered Nancy Drew paperback books.  The books are a bit uneven for a time.  The lower-numbered Nancy Drew paperbacks were published in a time of transition.  Harriet Adams' health had failed, and Nancy Axelrad took over writing the books.  After Nancy Axelrad, the books were written by a number of different people, and during this time, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was sold to Simon and Schuster.  From that point on, Simon and Schuster was completely responsible and made necessary subtle changes to the series, like dumping Burt and Dave.

After this long transition, which occurred from #57 up to around #80, the series settled into consistently good titles.
These comments were based on my memory of reading the books around 10 years ago.  I was correct that the period of transition continues up until around #80.  I was also correct that the books are uneven and that I do not like some of the books.  10 years ago, it was true that I did not like "several" of them.  However, my opinion deteriorated greatly upon this reading of the books, and I now do not care for many of them.  In fact, I was quite surprised by how negative my overall experience was in reading these books.

Here is the tally, and I have noted the author for each book since an obvious pattern exists with respect to the authors.

#57 (Harriet Adams) - dislike
#58 (Harriet Adams) - love
#59 (Nancy Axelrad rewrite of Adams text) - dislike
#60 (Nancy Axelrad) - hate
#61 (Nancy Axelrad) - strongly dislike
#62 (Sharon Wagner) - like
#63 (Nancy Axelrad) - dislike
#64 (Richard Ballad) - like but not as a Nancy Drew book
#65 (Nancy Axelrad) - strongly dislike
#66 (James Lawrence) - dislike
#67 (Richard Ballad) - like
#68 (Sharon Wagner) - like
#69 (James Lawrence) - mostly like
#70 (Sharon Wagner) - love
#71 (James Lawrence) - dislike
#72 (James Lawrence) - dislike
#73 - love
#74 (James Lawrence) - like
#75 - strongly like
#76 (Sharon Wagner) - like
#77 (James Lawrence) - mostly like but the book is strange
#78 (James Lawrence) - dislike

Out of 22 books, I do not like 10 of them, while I like 12 of them.  I dislike 45% of the Wanderer books, which is much more than several of them.

Overall, my reading experience of the early paperback titles was quite difficult and really wore on me towards the end of the Wanderer books. 

I concluded partway through the books that I strongly dislike all books written by Nancy Axelrad.  There is not a single one of them that I like.  I have a more positive feeling about the books written by James Lawrence, although I still dislike over half of the Lawrence books.  Many of the Lawrence books grated on my nerves due to the cute references like "sapphire" eyes and restaurants like "Golden Pavilion."  I also grew quite tired as Nancy "swallowed sighs" and "swallowed hard" as she did throughout the Lawrence books.

#79 is the first Minstrel book, and the series takes a different tone from that book forward.  I have already read the first several Minstrel books again, although I have not yet reviewed them.  The tone evens out, and the first few stories are consistently good, unlike so many of the Wanderer books. 

Several people have reported not liking the early paperback titles and deciding not to collect the paperback books based on those books.  Should anyone decide to reconsider, try reading perhaps only #70 and #73 from the above group and then skip to #79.  #58 is also an option, although be forewarned that I am one of the very few people who dares to admit to loving that book. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Nancy Drew #77 Bluebeard Room and #78 Phantom of Venice

In Nancy Drew #77, The Bluebeard Room, Nancy travels to England to help a friend, Lisa Penvellyn, who is unhappy in her marriage.  Before Nancy leaves for England, she attends a Crowned Heads concert, and the leader of the group, Lance Warwick, becomes smitten with Nancy and practically stalks her.

Do you see a problem here?  The entire plot is excessively bizarre for a Nancy Drew book.  The Bluebeard Room was published the year before the launch of the Nancy Drew Files series.  Simon and Schuster was apparently testing out a premise similar to the Nancy Drew Files by having Nancy in the midst of a romance while also trying to save someone else's marriage.

Reading this book is like seeing Nancy Drew in an alternate reality where romance is more important than mystery.  Not only is Lance Warwick hot for Nancy, she is just as hot for him, except when she is angry with him for stalking her.  Poor Ned has been forgotten, at least temporarily.

Not only is the storyline off, but everything else is off in this story.  George is introduced as Georgia Fayne, and Nancy calls her father Daddy.

The book tries too hard to be trendy and modern, which firmly dates the book as set in the middle part of the 1980s.  Boy George is mentioned, for instance.

The Bluebeard Room reads much like a Nancy Drew Files book.  While I enjoyed The Bluebeard Room, I liked it less than most Nancy Drew Files books.

In Nancy Drew #78, The Phantom of Venice, Nancy vacations in Venice while solving the mystery of an abducted glassblower.  More significantly, Nancy is extremely attracted to every young man she meets.  She needs to take a very cold shower.

I began reading this book reluctantly.  I was not enthused because the book is set in Venice, and Mystery of the Winged Lion is set in Venice. I do not like Mystery of the Winged Lion because it reminds me of The Greek Symbol Mystery, which I absolutely hate.  I have a bias against The Phantom of Venice since it makes me think of two books that I dislike.

Furthermore, Nancy has this Nancy Drew Files-like romance thing going on. She is seriously hot for every guy she meets. Nancy "felt a warm flush seep upward from her neck to her cheeks." I enjoyed The Bluebeard Room, which has the same sort of thing, but Nancy is even more hot for men in this book. I skimmed paragraphs in this book in order to get through it as fast as possible. I am not in the mood for the Nancy Drew Files right now, and that's what this is.

A young man named Giovanni stalks Nancy.  I wrote that Lance Warwick stalks Nancy in the previous book, but Giovanni is far worse.  He comes across as a creepy stalker, and most readers will figure out fairly quickly that Giovanni cannot be trusted.  Nancy, to her credit, figures that out on her own before way too far into the book.  At first, however, Nancy is ready to throw herself at Giovanni before she recognizes how creepy he is.

About the time Nancy figures out that Giovanni is not to be trusted, she falls hard for another young man, Don Madison.  Don is Nancy's true love, except that he confesses to Nancy that he has a girlfriend back home.  Nancy confesses that she has a boyfriend.  Both feel a little strange, but they decide that they should not feel guilty.  They have done nothing wrong by having feelings for each other while in relationships with others.  Oh, how far Nancy has fallen!  Fortunately, Nancy's fall from grace is only temporary, and she returns to her senses in the next book.

I did not enjoy The Phantom of Venice.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nancy Drew #75 Emerald-Eyed Cat and #76 Eskimo's Secret

In Nancy Drew #75, The Emerald-Eyed Cat Mystery, Carson Drew asks Nancy to help an old friend, Jules Johnson.  A ship carrying a valuable load of cargo for Johnson's textile company sank near Colombia.  Even though Johnson was reimbursed, the circumstances surrounding the ship's fate are suspicious.  When Nancy begins investigating, the Johnsons act like they don't want Nancy involved.  Soon after Nancy begins her investigation, she is abducted and flown to Colombia, where she is imprisoned on an estate.

The story interested me quickly because the Johnsons are cold and uninterested when Nancy questions them.  The behavior is most unusual, since Carson Drew is an old friend of the Johnsons. 

On page 32 of the Wanderer edition, Nancy decides to go to a hotel since "there was no flight to Bayport this late."  Now exactly why would Nancy want to Bayport, home of the Hardy Boys?  It seems that someone became confused momentarily about whether this was a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book.  A similar error occurred in the first printing of #67 The Sinister Omen.  Unlike in The Sinister Omen, the error in The Emerald-Eyed Cat was not corrected in later printings.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Emerald-Eyed Cat Mystery.

In Nancy Drew #76, The Eskimo's Secret, a valuable ivory carving, known as the tundra, has been stolen from a gallery.  The owner's niece, Alana, is missing.  The owner and his niece are both under suspicion for stealing the tundra.  Alana is an old friend of Nancy's, and Nancy is certain that she is innocent.

In many of these Wanderer Nancy Drew books, Nancy has some habits that I find extremely annoying.  Way too often, Nancy "swallowed hard," "swallowed a sigh," or "gulped."  Goodness.  Each time I read one of those passages, I quit reading and mimicked that action.  I don't do that when I'm nervous, so it seems foreign and strange to me. Swallowing hard and swallowing a sigh takes way too much effort, in my opinion. 

I overall enjoyed The Eskimo's Secret, although not as much as The Emerald-Eyed Cat.  At this point, the Wanderer Nancy Drew books are wearing on me, and I want to move past them into the Minstrel books.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nancy Drew #73 Enemy Match and #74 Mysterious Image

In Nancy Drew #73, Enemy Match, Nancy helps an old friend, Nina Ford, learn what happened to her father.  Mr. Ford was falsely accused of a crime, and while in police custody, he was swept away in a flood.  Since Mr. Ford's body was never found, he could possibly still be alive.  In this mystery, Nancy acquires her very own assistant, a young girl named Midge who regards Nancy as a hero.

This book caught my interest quickly.  The book begins with Nancy fighting back tears after she finishes Nina's moving letter about her father.  Soon after, Midge enters the story, insisting on becoming Nancy's assistant.  The book is quite different from other Nancy Drew mysteries, which makes it much more interesting.

Bess is the only friend present in this book, and her role is minor.  Nancy's new sidekick, Midge, shares Nancy's adventures throughout the entire book.  Nancy and Midge even stay in a motel together.  Unfortunately, Midge only appears in this book.  While having Midge in many Nancy Drew books might have grown old, I wish she had appeared in at least a few others.  Midge is a welcome change.

The action in this book centers around the river in which Mr. Ford was swept away.  Nancy and Midge rent a boat and travel along the river looking for clues.  They meet some disreputable people and encounter danger.  Since the mystery is solved in a localized area and involves much exploring, the book has the very type of mystery I enjoy the most.

Enemy Match is one of the very best Nancy Drew Wanderer books, and I highly recommend it.

In Nancy Drew #74, The Mysterious Image, Nancy is asked to find a missing actress, Clare Grant.  Meanwhile, Nancy's father asks for Nancy's assistance in clearing his client, photographer, Dallas Curry, from serious accusations that he copied other people's advertisements.

This book explores subliminal messages and how they can be used to influence others.  Nancy is even influenced to think badly of Dallas Curry.

Burt Eddleton is mentioned on page 153, so while Burt and Dave are gone, they are not yet completely forgotten.

I enjoyed The Mysterious Image, although not nearly as much as Enemy Match.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Two Primary Causes for Lost Packages

The vast majority of mail arrives at its destination without incident.  Whenever a package goes missing, almost all cases can be attributed to one of two causes:  improper packaging and mail carrier error.

As a buyer, I tend to have around one lost package per year on average.  After questioning the sellers of the missing packages, I usually learn that envelopes were used.  While envelopes work for many sellers, they do significantly raise the chance that something will go wrong.  If the edge of the envelope gets torn, the book can easily fall out.

I have received packages successfully that barely arrived due to various seller errors.  I have had several instances of sellers using very small pieces of tape on the shipping label.  I recall one seller who mentioned in her listings that she had recently had many lost packages and proclaimed that the missing packages were not her fault.  As soon as my package arrived, I knew why she was losing so many packages.  She only used small one-inch strips of tape centered on each side of the shipping label.  Her labels were most likely getting ripped off of the packages.

I had a recent package for which the seller used small pieces of tape.  I made marks next to the tape in the below picture so that you can clearly see the length of the tape.

While not as bad as the seller who used one-inch strips, this seller did not affix the label to the package adequately.  The label could have been ripped from the package.

The other primary cause of lost packages is mail carrier error, especially when the mail carrier is a substitute.  I have had a series of substitute mail carriers in recent months, and my patience is really wearing thin.

These carriers are scanning the packages as delivered either at the post office or in the mail truck.  Okay, fine.  While I don't approve, I can see where that would be easier.  But if you are going to scan a package as delivered ahead of time, make absolutely darned certain that you drop the package off at the correct house.  That's the problem.

The above pictured package was scanned as delivered at 10:50 AM on August 8.  Another package, also expected that day, was scanned as delivered at 10:52 AM.  The above package arrived with the mail sometime around 11:20 AM, which proves that the delivery confirmation was scanned ahead of time.  The other package that was scanned as delivered at 10:52 AM did not arrive on that day, and in fact, has never arrived.

That day's substitute mail carrier must have dropped the other package off somewhere else.  I have some bitter, hateful neighbors who go out of their way to be mean.  Most likely, they received the package.  Several weeks later, Amazon sent a notice that the package had been returned opened and undeliverable.  The hateful neighbors are the type of people who will make sure a package is returned to sender instead of bringing it over.  At least they didn't throw the package away.

In the end, the missing package did not turn out to be a loss.  However, the whole problem would have been avoided if the substitute carrier had not been so careless.

On August 19, I had a package scanned as delivered at 5:00 PM.  On that day, the mail arrived at around 5:10 PM.  The package was not delivered.  I can tell you that I just about had a fit, since the incident from August 8 was still upsetting me.  Also, on August 19, I did not yet know what had happened to the package from August 8, since I had not heard from Amazon.

I was very upset.  Fortunately, on August 20 the package was dropped off by the mail carrier around 30 minutes after the mail delivery.  I believe that the package had been delivered the day before to somebody else, who then placed the package back in their mail box.  The carrier picked it up and brought it over to me.  At least the mean people did not receive the package that day.

I have not made many purchases in the last couple of months, which has been fortunate.  The endless stream of substitute carriers is continuing.  All I can hope is that when I have incoming packages that whoever is delivering the mail chooses to be careful.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Nancy Drew #71 Silver Cobweb and #72 Haunted Carousel

In Nancy Drew #71, The Silver Cobweb, a woman in New York has had a stroke and her only communication with her son has been by drawing a rough sketch of a spider web on a piece of paper.  Meanwhile, a famous female golfer drops out of a tournament for unknown reasons.  Nancy is asked to solve both mysteries and quickly realizes that they are connected.  I am so shocked. 

I get the idea that some of these books were written as something of a parody of Nancy Drew.  Parody is not the right word, but that is how some of the content comes across, which takes away from the impact of the books.  On page 74*, we learn that Nancy's favorite Chinese restaurant is Golden Pavilion, a blatant reference to The Secret of the Golden Pavilion.  Please.  It's like these authors were getting such a kick out of getting to write Nancy Drew books that they just had to make funny references like that.  Seeing a restaurant's name as Golden Pavilion yanked me right out of the story, which is not good.

On the other hand, I do like that the Footlighters amateur acting group plays a significant role during this book.  The Footlighters are woven into the plot and do not come across as something tossed in for a laugh.

Dave Evans is randomly mentioned on page 74.  He is with Ned, and he never speaks, so he might as well have been absent.  And where's Burt?  Oh yes, remedial courses at Emerson.  That's right.

This book was interesting at first, but I grew bored around halfway through the book.  The reason had to do with just a few too many characters and a plot that became too convoluted.  I also grew frustrated that Nancy knows that the solution to the mystery has to do with a red spider, yet no one will discuss it.  Everyone acts bizarre or frightened when the spider is mentioned.  As the reader, I was quite frustrated.

Speaking of spiders, I kept thinking of The Spider Sapphire Mystery, and somehow, I get the idea that the author wanted exactly that to happen, which also annoyed me.  On page 133, "Nancy's sapphire eyes, however, did not waver from his gaze."  I immediately was yanked right back out of the story and pictured Nancy's sapphire eyes on the cover of The Spider Sapphire Mystery.

And what's with the "squint-eyed thief"?  You would think the book was from decades before with that kind of description.

Two-thirds of the way through the book, the stroke victim suddenly makes a miraculous recovery and can talk again.  How convenient.  At the same time that the stroke victim can finally talk, Kim Vernon and her brother, Jack, finally tell Nancy why red spiders upset them so much.  This occurs on page 154.

I did not enjoy The Silver Cobweb very much since I found myself continually annoyed.

In Nancy Drew #72, The Haunted Carousel, Nancy is asked to investigate how a carousel illuminates and rotates by itself in the middle of the night.

Ned and Bess are the only friends present in this book.

On page 60, Nancy's "thick, wavy, red-gold hair had evidently helped to protect her from injury" from a blow on the head.  Exactly how thick is this hair?

This is actually a good book, but the plot reminds me too much of several other Wanderer Nancy Drew books, and my overall experience in reading the Wanderer books has not been good and has tried my patience.  I want to get past the Wanderer books as quickly as possible.  I sped through this book in order to keep going.  The Haunted Carousel is a book in which Nancy goes here and there, asking many people questions.  The book lacks the excitement that I desire in a book.

*All page numbers refer to the Wanderer edition.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Nancy Drew #69 Ancient Disguise and #70 Broken Anchor

In Nancy Drew #69, Clue in the Ancient Disguise, Nancy assists an engineer in discovering the secret of one of his ancestors from the 18th century.  Nancy also investigates a series of break-ins at a local museum.  Nancy receives several warning messages and is pursued at night by a red car that appears to have no driver!

Bess and George are the only friends who appear in this book.

This book was written by James Lawrence, who had previously written the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, Jr. books.  The book has a definite Stratemeyer Syndicate flavor, with a swarthy villain.  In fact, both "swarthy" and "keen" are used excessively in this book.  I also spotted a reference to an old mill and a brass-bound trunk.  Possibly all of this is coincidence, but I tend to think not.

This book is written well, but like some of the other Wanderer books, it suffers from too many characters.  Every few pages someone new is mentioned.  I kept track until around halfway into the book, and by that point, 18 people had been introduced into the story, and this does not include Nancy, Bess, George, Carson Drew, and Hannah.  The books with too many characters are the ones I do not like as much.

While this book is overall good, the large character base took away from my enjoyment significantly.  The solution to the mystery goes on and on, so I skimmed much of the last couple of chapters.  By that point, I was bored, and I did not care.  Besides, I was eager to begin #70, which I remembered as a favorite.

In Nancy Drew #70, The Broken Anchor, Nancy wins a trip for two to Sweet Springs Resort on Anchor Island in the Bahamas.  Nancy verifies that the plane tickets are good, but she is mystified, because she did not enter a contest.  A boat that is somehow tied to the Drews is found in Florida, so Nancy cannot accept the vacation.  Mr. Drew suggests that Bess and George go on the trip to the Bahamas.  Later, the Drews arrive at the island, where they discover only George and the granddaughter of the owners.  Bess has disappeared!  Even worse, the plane that brought the group to the island has taken off, and the radio does not work.  The Drew party is marooned!  

This book is a straightforward mystery and adventure story and is the type of book that I like the best.  I have said in the past that I like the books set around River Heights the best.  It isn't really that so much as I like books that only have a few characters and involve Nancy having exciting adventures while investigating some location.  The Broken Anchor is that kind of book.

Nancy and her friends end up stranded on Anchor Island with no means to call for help or escape.  They know that someone else is on the island with them, always watching them, and that Bess is missing.  The early Nancy Drew books, original text 1930, are like that.

Books like Clue in the Ancient Disguise are more like big-time detective stories with Nancy questioning everyone in River Heights plus all of their distant relatives and acquaintances.  Those kind of stories are not as interesting to me.

I enjoyed every single passage on every page of The Broken Anchor.  I was never bored, and I eagerly turned each page to see what would happen next.  The book has the feel of a classic series book from the 1930s.  Of the Nancy Drew digest books that I have revisited so far, I place #70 The Broken Anchor as the very best one.  #70 is followed by #58 and then #62, #68, #67, and #64, in that exact order.  I have little regard for the other early digest books and have no desire to ever read any of them again.