Monday, March 30, 2015

House with a Clock in Its Walls and Stranger in the Shadows

In The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Lewis Barnavelt has been recently orphaned.  He goes to live with his uncle, Jonathan Barnavelt.  Lewis soon learns that his uncle is a magician.  He also learns that the house has a magical clock hidden within one of the walls and that the clock poses a grave danger.

This is a very spooky book, and I believe it would have terrified me if I had read it when young. 

Sounds are very important in this book.  The ticking of the hidden clock is the most important, but I noticed how the author describes ordinary sounds.  A cushion makes a hissing noise when someone sits on it.  On page 1, we learn that Lewis wears corduroy trousers that "go whip-whip when you walk."  I wore corduroy pants for a time when I was a child, and I had forgotten about that sound.  I remember it well. 

On page 19, we learn that Lewis "loved to eat candy while he read, and lots of his favorite books at home had brown smudges on the corners of the page."  Oh, yes!  Some of my childhood books have food stains on the pages.

In The Figure in the Shadows, Lewis Barnavelt is being bullied at school.  The bullying has become intolerable.  Fortunately, he does have one friend, Rose Rita, but she is not able to protect him all the time.  Lewis discovers that an old coin is a valuable amulet, so he wears it around his neck.  The coin gives Lewis the strength to fight the bullies, but it also beckons a dark figure who follows Lewis around.  Lewis is terrified of what the stranger will do.

There are additional books about Lewis Barnavelt, but I do not have any of them.

I enjoyed these books but not enough to want to read them again.  I enjoyed them about the same as the average book I read as a child.  I'm thinking of the dozens of books that I read in childhood that I now can no longer remember and have no desire to collect or read again. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Roger Baxter #1 Stranger at the Inlet

The Roger Baxter series is the precursor to the Ken Holt series.  The books were written by Sam and Beryl Epstein, authors of the Ken Holt series.  Plot ideas and character attributes were later incorporated into the Ken Holt series.

The first book was written under the pseudonym Charles Strong, while the other two were written under the pseudonym Martin Colt.  The UK edition of the first book gives the author as Martin Colt.

1.  Stranger at the Inlet, 1946
2.  The Secret of Baldhead Mountain, 1946
3.  The Riddle of the Hidden Pesos, 1948

Roger and Bill Baxter are brothers.  Roger is 14, and Bill is 12.

In Stranger at the Inlet, Roger and Bill's summer plans are upended when their parents rent the family's cottage to a man named Slim Warner.  They had planned to spend time at the cottage, but Mr. Warner's presence changes their plans.  Roger becomes suspicious of Slim and decides he is up to something.  The boys are shocked when they learn that Slim is a government agent who is investigating a smuggling ring. Slims lets the boys help him on his case.

The way the boys are suspicious of Slim, learn the truth, and help him on his case is very much like how Ken and Sandy become acquainted with and work with Mort in The Mystery of the Green Flame.  The general setting of this book reminds me of The Clue of the Marked Claw.

Uncle Willie partially reminds me of Steven Granger.

During one part of the book, Bill has to stay behind while Roger gets to have an adventure.  Later, Roger volunteers to stay while Bill gets to have the adventure.  Even though Roger volunteered to stay, Slim asks him if he minds.
"Of course not."  He did, naturally.  But Bill hadn't complained when it was his turn, so he couldn't complain now.
I like these boys.

This book reminds me a lot of the earlier Ken Holt books, which are the ones that I had trouble enjoying.  I easily like this book more than those books.

The Stranger at the Inlet is quite engaging and flows quite well.  The boys sleuth around in dark and creepy places, and the atmosphere is quite tense.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School Series

When I visit local book stores, I sometimes glance at the newer books for children, but I seldom pay attention to them.  I saw a few of the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School books on the shelf last month, and for some reason, they caught my eye.  Something about the design of the spines held my attention long enough to cause me to pull the first book off the shelf.  I think it's because the design must have reminded me somewhat of classic series books.

I opened the first book to the first page where I read, "Robert Arthur was surrounded by strangers."  Wait, what?  Robert Arthur wrote the Three Investigators series.  How very odd for his name to be the name of the protagonist in a modern series.  I learned later that the author of these books read the Three Investigators series as a child and named his protagonist after the Three Investigators author, Robert Arthur.

I didn't buy the books that day, but I couldn't get them out of my mind.  I just knew that I would like them, kind of like how I knew I would like reading the Rick Brant series when I had never given it a second thought.  One week later, I went back and purchased the Lovecraft Middle School books.

Four books have been published in the series. 

1.  Professor Gargoyle, 2012
2.  The Slither Sisters, 2013
3.  Teacher's Pest, 2013
4.  Substitute Creature, 2013

The books were written by Jason Rekulak under the alias Charles Gilmer.  The books have lenticular covers, which allows the cover to change between two images.

Robert Arthur is 12 years old and a student at Lovecraft Middle School.  Lovecraft Middle School is a brand-new middle school made entirely from recycled materials, and that is the problem.  Many of the recycled materials came from the Tillinghast Mansion, which has caused the school to be haunted, or perhaps "possessed" is a better word.

These books are loosely similar to the Harry Potter, Fablehaven, Percy Jackson, and other related books, although more simplistic and much shorter.  They are light, quick reads.  These are very good books that could get children, particularly boys, introduced to reading.  They aren't difficult to read or unwieldy, and they are quite engaging.

The title of the series is a nod to H. P. Lovecraft, known for horror fiction.  The alias author's name, Charles Gilmer, is another reference to Lovecraft.  I have never read the works of Lovecraft, but I understand that many names used in these books come from Lovecraft's stories.  As already mentioned, the protagonist is Robert Arthur, which is a nod to the Three Investigators series, which the author read as a child.  In the second book, we learn that Robert's favorite subject is language arts and that he enjoys writing.

The Brixton Brothers series is a modern series that pays homage to vintage juvenile series books, particularly the Hardy Boys.  Those books are light, fun reading.  This series, Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, is similar in that it is also light, fun reading, but instead it pays homage to the fantasy and horror genre.  Like the Brixton Brothers series, Tales from Lovecraft Middle School has delightful moments that will make the reader laugh with glee.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Feathered Cape by Hal Goodwin

Bookseller image from
Hal Goodwin wrote the Rick Brant series under the pseudonym John Blaine.  He also wrote The Feathered Cape, which was published in 1947, the same year as the first Rick Brant book.  The Feathered Cape is set in 1792 and features Jonathan Blaine, a young man with red hair.

Jonathan Blaine was picked up by a British ship near the coast of Massachusetts.  The British used the pretense that Jonathan and others were renegade Englishmen, thereby forcing them into service.  Jonathan attempts to escape more than once and finally succeeds while in the Hawaiian islands.  Jonathan takes part in the battle for control of the Hawaiian islands as Kamehameha seeks to unite the islands.

The overall atmosphere of this book is similar to the Rick Brant books set in exotic locations in the Pacific Ocean.

The book contains many Hawaiian words.  The book has a glossary with the definition and pronunciation of every Hawaiian word used in the story.  I really like that the book gives information on how to say the words.  However, after a while, I began to find the Hawaiian words to be distracting, similar to how I felt with the Greek words in The Greek Symbol Mystery.

I did not enjoy the last one-third of the book very much.  The book isn't bad; rather, this is the kind of book that appeals more to a boys' series fan.  I didn't get much out of the battle scene and was not that interested in the last part of the book.  I wasn't overly interested in what happened to Jonathan.  I read it all mainly for the sake of reading the entire book and also to see whether I was correct about whether Jonathan would stay or leave Hawaii.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ken Holt #17 Plumed Serpent and #18 Sultan's Scimitar

In Ken Holt #17, The Mystery of the Plumed Serpent, Ken and Sandy travel to Mexico with their new acquaintance, Ricardo, who owns a medallion that contains a map of an old hacienda.  The map is supposed to show the location of a treasure, and the boys decide to try to find it.  Unscrupulous people have the same plan, and they try to take the map away from the boys.

Rick Brant has sent Ken three Megabucks units which are small units with which the boys can speak to each other over a small distance.  This was an agreed-upon bit of cross promotion between the authors of the Ken Holt and Rick Brant series.

I greatly enjoyed this book.

In Ken Holt #18, The Mystery of the Sultan's Scimitar, Ken and Sandy travel in Europe.  While the boys visit a museum in Athens, the Golden Key is stolen.  The cylinder is an important Greek artifact, and the Greek are devastated by its disappearance.  It is believed that the thief will try to smuggle the cylinder out of the country.  Ken and Sandy find themselves unwitting participants in the conspiracy.

On page one, I saw that the book opens in Greece.  Oh, no!  I have an aversion to books set in Greece because I can't stand The Greek Symbol Mystery.  I hate that book!

Fortunately, this book is better than The Greek Symbol Mystery.

The book opens with the boys touring Greece.  Next, the Golden Key is stolen from a museum via a ruse.  Hmm... this part reminds me of the Three Investigators book, The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure.

I enjoyed most of this book, although some parts of it weren't that interesting to me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Troy Nesbit Mystery Series

We have all seen the Troy Nesbit Whitman books in book stores and antique shops.  All of us have likely admired the covers, and some of us might have purchased the books.  However, most of us have probably failed to read the books just like with most all Whitman books.

Last year, I greatly enjoyed reading both the Three Investigators and Rick Brant series, two series that I have ignored for more than 20 years.  I knew all along that both series are loved by many, but for various reasons, I didn't think I would like them and never bothered.  I have had numerous titles from both series pass through my hands in the last 20 years, but my mind was closed.

Since my experience with both series taught me not to be close-minded about series I have never tried, I decided to try some other series.  One acquaintance on Facebook is very enthusiastic about Whitman books, and that enthusiasm began to rub off on me.

A thread in the Collecting Vintage Children's Series Books group on Facebook gave information about Franklin Folsom's books.  Until I read that thread, I was unaware that the real name behind Whitman's author, Troy Nesbit, was Franklin Folsom.  I was intrigued.  A few collectors mentioned how good the Troy Nesbit books are.

I quickly built a set of the six books.  I didn't get around to reading them for a couple of months since I was still reading other books.  In March, I finally got started.  I figured out quickly that these are very good books.  I decided to seek out all Whitman cover art variants as well as the Harvey House reprints and the recent reprints.

Issue #10 of the Mystery & Adventure Series Review has an article about the books titled "An Overlooked Series - The Troy Nesbit Books."  The article concludes as follows.
Compared to some other writers of series, Mr. Folsom left relatively few works for our consideration, but those that he did leave us spark prolonged consideration indeed.  He brought drama and high ideals to the genre, and he deserves to be better known among those who read and collect series literature.
I agree wholeheartedly.  Folsom wrote very high quality books.  The Jinx of Payrock Canyon is the weakest book; I consider it to be just good.  Sand Dune Pony is very good.  The rest of the books are outstanding.  I was disappointed after I read the last book, because I wanted to read more of them.  They are excellent books.

I realized shortly into reading the books that I needed to put together a page on my site for the Troy Nesbit books.  I have now done so, and here it is.

The Wilderness Mystery Series by Troy Nesbit

The MASR article states that Folsom "deserves to be better known among those who read and collect series literature," and my page is my contribution to helping him be better known.  The page will explain some of the particulars about the books which I have not mentioned here.

Individual reviews will follow in the near future.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coasting on Nancy Drew's Past Success

I was less than thrilled with the most recent Nancy Drew Diaries book, The Magician's Secret.  Other children's books published by Simon and Schuster are wonderful, incredibly engaging books that tend to be quite detailed.  Simon and Schuster is publishing many outstanding children's series books, yet the current and recent Nancy Drew books are usually quite lacking by comparison.  I have enjoyed most of them, but the stories are nothing special and are also rather short.

I recently read The Multiplying Menace, the first book in the Magic Repair Shop series.  The book was published in 2010 by Simon and Schuster.  I couldn't help comparing The Multiplying Menace to the Nancy Drew Diaries book, The Magician's Secret.  Both books are for ages 8 through 12.  The Multiplying Menace has 25 lines of text per page, while the Nancy Drew book has just 21.  The Multiplying Menace is 272 pages long, while the Nancy Drew book is just 155 pages long.  This is shameful.  The Nancy Drew book is much shorter than The Multiplying Menace and is much less interesting.

The problem is that Nancy Drew is set in the contemporary world, and for that reason, Nancy Drew is unable to perform magic.  She'll never interact with demons or become a witch or wizard.  She'll never meet zombies.

As I think these thoughts I wonder, "What if she did?"  Naturally, Nancy Drew would become a better wizard than Harry Potter.  She'd be great at destroying zombies before they even had a chance at her.  It would be interesting to see Nancy Drew with the capabilities she has in the original Nancy Drew #1-56 tackle a challenge in a fantasy world.

However, I wouldn't like it, because that's not what I want in a Nancy Drew book.

So what do I want?

I don't want to read about organic vegetables.  I don't want to read about Nancy Drew forgetting to fill up with gas, forgetting to charge her cell phone, forgetting to brush her hair, or walking out of the house with mismatched shoes.  I don't want to read her stupid text messages like "C U L8R."  I don't want to read about George eating large quantities of food.  And I most certainly don't want to read about fictitious reality stars.  Why would anyone want to read about fake reality stars?

I have been thinking about how they could make Nancy Drew better.  Before I get to that, let's consider what makes these other books special, aside from the magic and fantasy, which are a big part of why they are so interesting.

The Multiplying Menace tells the story of Maggie, who is eleven years old.  She has to avoid making wishes, because her wishes come true, usually with disastrous results.  After Maggie accidentally makes cockroaches appear in another girl's hair, she has to cover by saying that she dumped cockroaches in the girl's hair.  Maggie gets expelled and sent away to her grandmother's house, where she learns of her family's history with magic.

None of that would work with Nancy Drew, but let's consider what else makes these books special.  The majority of books that deal with magic and fantasy simply ignore the existence of cell phones.  The books seem to be set in contemporary society, but the kids don't use cell phones.

In the Beyonders trilogy, Jason has a cell phone, but he immediately lands in a parallel universe where the phone doesn't work.  That's bad for him since he can't let his parents know what happened, but it is great for the reader.  The absence of modern technology increases the suspense.  It is important to note that the Beyonders trilogy is also published by Simon and Schuster and is much better than most all new Nancy Drew books.

Katniss has a great struggle but is never mocked.
The characters in fantasy books always have a great struggle, but the struggle never makes them look inept.  The characters always need to learn how to do something and have trouble mastering it, but the author does not make jokes about their lack of expertise.  After all, who wants to read a story where the protagonist is mocked by the author?  Nancy Drew is mocked in the Girl Detective series.

Early in The Multiplying Menace, Maggie finds some drawings in her father's childhood bedroom.  She finds a clipping that shows her grandfather's magic repair shop.  These discoveries really pique the reader's interest.  The magic is a mystery to the reader, and the reader wants to know more.

I have been reading the Valerie Drew stories.  The stories are very short, most of them only four to eight pages of 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch text.  Nevertheless, the stories are very interesting.  The best ones start with a spooky hook, like a strange blue light appearing above a bog that is too dangerous to walk through.  That's the sort of stuff I want in a Nancy Drew book.

The spooky stuff can be done in a modern world, too, as can the suspense.  One of the most memorable Nancy Drew Girl Detective trilogies is "The Identity Mystery Trilogy."  Near the end of my blog review I wrote, "What really makes the difference in books two and three in the trilogy is that Nancy is threatened by the villain and is in great danger.  I could hardly read the second and third books fast enough because I so very much wanted to know how it would all work out."  That's what I want in a Nancy Drew book.  I want that feeling of great suspense where I simply must keep reading in order to find out what happens.

The books in the Nancy Drew Diaries series are published twice per year, instead of the previous six times per year that occurred with the Nancy Drew Digest and Nancy Drew Girl Detective books.  This is presumably so that the Nancy Drew Diaries books can be fleshed out better and have more creative stories.  While I overall feel that the books have been an improvement over the Girl Detective series, the eighth book falls rather short, which concerns me about what will happen with the future books.

I wonder if it would be better for Simon and Schuster to go back to how Grosset and Dunlap published the Nancy Drew books, which was once per year.  That way they could put extra effort into the series.  All of the fantasy books that I read are published no more than once per year.  Sometimes the authors need even more time to write a book.  Quality series books are not published more than once per year.

I thought about the plots of all of the recent Nancy Drew books.  Nearly every single Nancy Drew book is about sabotage.  The fantasy series books are not about sabotage.  What's wrong with this picture?

I suggest that Simon and Schuster take a look at the original 56 Nancy Drew books and use some plot ideas from them.  I am not suggesting that they literally copy any of the plots, but rather, they should use those plots for inspiration and build the plots of the new books around some of the overall themes and ideas from the older books.  I never mind when books take ideas from other good books.  As long as the new story is good, I don't mind similarities to older books.  In fact, those similarities often delight me greatly.

One of my favorite Nancy Drew books is The Password to Larkspur Lane.  Simon and Schuster could create a very suspenseful new book based loosely on the plot of that book.  Nancy Drew could be traveling in a fictitious third world country, perhaps in South America or Africa.  She could learn that some children are being held hostage by revolutionaries in a hidden location.  She and her friends could work to rescue them.  It would be thrilling and could be written so as to fit in perfectly with our modern world.

The possibilities are endless.  The key is for the story to center around danger to Nancy Drew or to at least one person important to her.  The reader has to care, and once the reader cares, then the book is compelling.  I find that I often don't care while reading the modern Nancy Drew books.

Simon and Schuster appears to be coasting on Nancy Drew's success in the same way that Grosset and Dunlap did in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Nancy Drew name sells itself, so why bother putting forth more effort?  Grosset and Dunlap lost the rights to publish new Nancy Drew books in 1980 because of a lack of effort.  The stakes are now higher:  Simon and Schuster could cause the eventual demise of Nancy Drew.  This concerns me.

I will continue to purchase and read the Nancy Drew Diaries books, and I hope I will like the next volume better than I did the most recent one.  I want Nancy Drew to continue far into the future, and Nancy Drew's caretaker, Simon and Schuster, is responsible for the viability of the series.

It is of utmost importance that the very few classic series that remain in print continue to be viable.  Each series that remains in print provides a gateway to all of the ones that are out of print.  If Nancy Drew is allowed to go out of print, then an important link to the past could be lost forever.

But all is not bleak.  Her Interactive's line of Nancy Drew games is keeping Nancy Drew in front of young people.  Her Interactive has managed to capture the essence of Nancy Drew in its games.  The games are so compelling that many Nancy Drew game fans have begun collecting and reading Nancy Drew books solely because of their exposure to the games.  Her Interactive has done more for Nancy Drew in the last two decades than anyone else.

Penguin, under its Grosset and Dunlap imprint, has begun reissuing the Nancy Drew books with new cover art.  Books one through four have already been reissued while books five through eight will be reissued later this year.  I understand that the new cover art books have been popular. 

The new cover art for the Grosset and Dunlap books and especially the ever-popular Nancy Drew games are beacons of hope for Nancy Drew.  If Simon and Schuster would consistently issue quality Nancy Drew books that are worthy of the name Nancy Drew, then the series would be guaranteed to last far into the future.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ken Holt #15 Gallows Cliff and #16 Silver Scorpion

In Ken Holt #15, The Mystery of Gallows Cliff, Ken and Sandy are driving to San Francisco.  They stop in Gallows Cliff, Arizona, to check on an archaeological dig.  Quite unexpectedly, the boys cross paths with Mort Phillips and Ramon Gonzales.  Mort and Ramon are trying to find some smugglers, so Ken and Sandy decide to join the investigation.  They decide that the archaeological dig may be the center of operations for whomever is responsible for the smuggling.

This is the second story to feature Mort and Ramon, and I enjoyed seeing them again.  Having Ken and Sandy interact with other recurring characters adds an extra dimension to the story.

I really enjoyed this one.

In Ken Holt #16, The Clue of the Silver Scorpion, Ken and Sandy begin to have random mishaps.  Someone damages their car.  While the car is being repaired, someone breaks into the garage.  Two men try to hold up the boys on a country road.  The boys are undecided whether the events are connected until the men abduct them, wanting them to give something back.

I like this passage from page 21.
"Let's give it up," Sandy suggested. "Neither of us has the slightest idea of what he was trying to do, or why. And we never will."

"I guess not. We'll just have to file it away among 'Unusual Incidents,' " Ken said.

Sandy sighed. "Sometimes I think that practically everything that happens to us is unusual."
There is no doubt about that.

It's interesting how very little I remembered about some of these books upon this reading.  I had no memory of the plot of this book during most of my reading of this book.  In fact, at one point I questioned whether I had read the book before.  I knew I must have, since I was certain that I had the complete set when I read the books before.  It was not until I reached the scene where the boys were hiding in the house and Ken called the police quietly on the phone that I remembered that scene. It's like the last few chapters were the only part of the story that made an impression on me before.

This book flows quite well, and I greatly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Power Boys #5 Double Kidnapping and #6 Vanishing Lady

In the Power Boys #5, The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping, Mr. Power and the boys are in New York City.  Jack just happens to look like the son of a millionaire and gets kidnapped and held for ransom by accident.  Jack escapes, but in the meantime, Chip gets into trouble with one of the crooks and gets kidnapped.

Page 29 has a good example of how descriptive the Power Boys books are.
Outside, the sun burned down.  It was hot.  The weatherman had predicted rain by evening, but it did not look like rain now.  The sky was clear and the sun was a ball of fire.  Blaze strained at the leash as they walked easterly.

The streets were quiet and deserted.
I almost feel like I'm learning how to read.

From page 143:
Jack burst into laughter, then shrugged.  Chip had been through a terrific ordeal.  Why argue?
Thank you so much.  Unfortunately, the boys have a mild argument by the very next page.  Sigh.

I enjoyed this book at least as much as the third book, The Mystery of the Burning Ocean.  As with that book, it could have been written better but is a good story.

In the Power Boys #6, The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady, Jack and Chip become acquainted with elderly Mrs. Brockton when Mr. Power takes her portrait.  The next day, Jack and Chip go to Mrs. Brockton's home to deliver the proofs.  As soon as Jack enters the home, the lights are switched off, and someone struggles with him.  When the lights come back on, Jack is accused of stealing a valuable diamond ring from Mrs. Brockton's niece.

The boys don't seem to argue in this book.  If they do, it is so little that it is not memorable. 

This is an engaging story, and the culprit is not obvious.  There are several key suspects, but the reader can't tell who will turn out to be guilty, which makes this book a very good mystery.  I consider it the best title in the series, mainly because nearly all of the qualities that make the other books annoying are missing from this book.  It's like Mel Lyle finally got it right on the sixth try.

This is how I rank the books in the Power Boys series from best to worst:  #6, 5, 3, 4, 1, and 2.  #1 and 2 are the weakest two books.  I rank #2 the worst because the story is so disjointed and random.  #1 flows better, although it is just as weak.  I didn't care for #4, even though some readers might see it as one of the better books.  #3 is kind of weak, but the story flows well, so I rank it in the top half.  #5 and #6 are the best two books.

Issue No. 17 of The Mystery & Adventure Series Review has an article about the Power Boys series titled "The Case of the Counterfeit Series."  The article suggests that Mel Lyle read some Troy Nesbit and Ken Holt books and used them as idea sources for the second half of the series.  One Power Boys book does have a scene with a newspaper reporter that is similar to a scene from one of the Ken Holt books.  Most striking, perhaps, is that the reporter is named Ken.  The fourth Power Boys book is similar to one of the Troy Nesbit books. 

It does appear that the author did get ideas from other books, and perhaps that is why the second half of the series is better.  Whatever happened, the later Power Boys books are much better than the first few.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ken Holt #13 Shattered Glass and #14 Invisible Enemy

In Ken Holt #13, The Mystery of the Shattered Glass, Ken and Sandy are on their way to Europe via a cargo freighter.  Only three other passengers are present on the journey, a husband and wife and a man named Gerard.  Ken and Sandy receive a telegram telling them that charges are to be filed against Gerard, and shortly after that, Gerard is lost overboard.  Ken and Sandy decide that Gerard staged his apparent suicide and that he remains on the ship.

This book is a bit unusual in that the entire story occurs on a ship.

I enjoyed this book.  The only part I skimmed was the final scene in the hold, since that type of scene gets dragged out longer than I prefer.

In Ken Holt #14, The Mystery of the Invisible Enemy, Ken and Sandy attend a Halloween party at the Brentwood Foundry and Casting Company.  After the company's president, Lew Collins, meets them, he asks them for help.  Someone has threatened to publicize photos of a top-secret machine that the company has under development unless Collins pays the extortioner $100,000.  Collins cannot afford the sum and asks Ken and Sandy to recover the photos so that he doesn't lose the company.

Page 24 has a passage where Ken, Sandy, and Lew Collins discuss how feasible it would be to have someone investigate at the foundry.  Collins says that the extortioner would be suspicious if "any stranger turned up at the plant, prowling around and asking questions."  Sandy asks if the extortioner would be suspicious of a "new employee with a legitimate job to do," and Collins says that he would.  This is a nice bit of realism that is seldom present in Nancy Drew books. Nancy, Bess, and George always go undercover at places like, oh, very small banks, and nobody ever thinks anyone will notice.

I greatly enjoyed this book.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Power Boys #4 The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny

In the Power Boys #4, The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny, Mr. Power and his sons are hiking in Missouri when they spot a plane in trouble.  The plane crashes, but nobody is in the plane!  Later, the boys meet the man who was flying the plane.  He ends up staying at the same farmhouse as Mr. Power and the boys.  Two other men join them, then Mr. Power has to leave on business so that the boys can run wild and torment the others in the farmhouse.

That's not exactly what happens, but it might as well be.  In this story, the author breaks a basic rule in series books.  The boys slip warning notes under the doors of their suspects, hoping to intimidate them.  No, no!  The villains are the ones who are supposed to give the sleuths warning notes so that the sleuths have clues to follow.  While it might be more logical for children to play around with warning notes, that's not how series books work.  The grown men are supposed to give warning notes to the intrepid sleuths.  Yeah.

We finally learn that Chip is 15, two years younger than Jack.  I assumed that Chip was probably a couple of years younger as I read the first couple of books, mainly because of his behavior.  Of course, Jack has not been much more mature.

The arguing between Jack and Chip has increased again.  There were a few times when I wanted to slap both of them.

This story is a bit convoluted.  I found that the further into the story I got, the less I cared.  I enjoyed this story less than I did the third book.  I probably didn't enjoy it anymore than I did the first two books.

By this point, you might be wondering why I am reading these books.  Believe me, I've already been asking myself that very question.

Strangely, I'm enjoying these books because they fall into the category of a book that is so bad that it's kind of good.  These books remind me of the higher-numbered Nancy Drew books from the original 56, many of which are so bad that they are entertaining for that very reason.  The Power Boys books are fun in a quirky fashion.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ken Holt #11 Grinning Tiger and #12 Vanishing Magician

In Ken Holt #11, The Mystery of the Grinning Tiger, Timothy Crandall, the world's youngest millionaire, is whisked away in a limousine after he arrives in the United States.  Ken and Sandy think something strange is going on.  When they reach the Crandall estate, they are forbidden from speaking to Timothy, even though Timothy knows them.  The boys notice some strange events near the estate and fear that Timothy has been kidnapped.

It is strange how in one book after another, the Allens are slow to accept Ken's theories about possible crimes and even subject him to ridicule.  Over and over, Ken is proved to be correct.

I enjoyed this book.  As usual, I skimmed some of the falling action as well as some of the scene where the villains get captured.  I'm always eager to move on to the next book.

In Ken Holt #12, The Mystery of the Vanishing Magician, Magnus the Magician performs in Brentwood High School.  Bert is certain that he recognizes Magnus as Chris Bell, a man who saved his life several years ago.  Magnus denies it and then vanishes before the performance is over.  Magnus later ends up in the hospital, where it is confirmed that he is Chris Bell.  Ken and the Allens learn that Chris Bell is wanted for the robbery of a jewelry store, and Bert knows he is innocent.  Ken and Sandy set out to prove it. 

This book really interested me.  I only skimmed just a little bit here and there.  I even enjoyed the lengthy discussions and deductions, which I had found tiring in earlier books.  For whatever reason, I greatly enjoyed the deductions.  The ending of the book is quite thrilling, and the falling action does not drag. I greatly enjoyed this book.