Monday, September 28, 2015

Ted Wilford #7 Stolen Plans and #9 Big Cat

In Ted Wilford #7, The Stolen Plans Mystery, Ted has two mysteries.  Mr. Sawyer, who works for the newspaper, has disappeared.  Meanwhile, petty thefts have occurred at many stores in Forestdale, and those stores are the ones participating in the Town Crier's contest, in which a computer will choose the winning entry.

The two mysteries which turn out to be completely unrelated to each other.  In most series books, multiple mysteries in the same book always turn out to be the same mystery.  This is another example of how these books are not as predictable as the typical series book.   

The identity of the thief is extremely obvious.  I was pleased when Ted and Mr. Dobson draw that conclusion fairly quickly instead of acting like they have no idea.  It's an insult to the reader when a solution is obvious and the characters act like they don't know.

The cover art is hideous.

In Ted Wilford #9, The Big Cat Mystery, Ted tracks down rumors of a leopard in the woods near a summer camp.  Only one person has seen the leopard, and another person has found tracks.  Ted and Nelson try to determine whether the leopard is real or whether someone is perpetrating a hoax.

On page 11, the camp manager suggests that someone has started the leopard rumor in order to drive the camp out of business.  Nelson proves himself to be a levelheaded young man.
"I should think a story like that might help business," said Nelson shrewdly.  "Wouldn't it attract a lot of curiosity seekers out here?"
Thank you, Nelson!  In most series books, it is assumed that anything scary will always drive all people away.  No, some people like excitement!

The next paragraph spoils part of the plot, so skip it if you don't want any type of spoiler.

Nelson finds what he believes to be an adult black cat.  Later, the boys learn that the cat is actually a black leopard cub.  I looked at photos of black leopard cubs, and they do not look like domesticated cats.  The boys should have known that the cat was not ordinary from the moment they saw it.  This part of the story is neat, but I found it not very believable that they would have made that mistake.

Aside from what I just mentioned, these books are realistic in a way that most series books are not.  There is a fire, and without getting specific, the end result is not good at all.  In most series books, fires are always put out just in time.  Not so in this book.

This is an excellent story.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Secret Circle Mysteries #7 Missing Emerald and #8 Vanishing Birds

In Secret Circle Mysteries #7, The Mystery of the Missing Emerald, Johnny Villairs comes close to witnessing the theft of a valuable emerald.  Little does he know that the cigarette package he picked up outside the store has the stolen emerald hidden inside.  Johnny's innocent habit of picking up interesting items plunges him into a dangerous web of mystery and intrigue.

This book has a character named Gormley and another named Emerson.  The name Gormley reminded me of Oliver Pritz Gormly of the Dana Girls book, The Clue of the Rusty Key, and Emerson made me think of Emerson College from the Nancy Drew series.  Not only that, but the title of the book is very similar to the title of a Trixie Belden book.

Johnny's father is disabled due to a stroke.  He is confined to a wheelchair, can't move well, and has trouble speaking.  The Secret Circle Mysteries include bits of realism that don't often appear in the traditional series book.

At one point during the story, someone ransacks Johnny's home, obviously in search of the emerald that Johnny doesn't know he picked up.  Johnny's mother doesn't believe Johnny and his sister when they insist that they didn't ransack the entire house.  We are talking about the entire house which has been totally trashed with things pulled apart, knocked over, and so on.  Johnny's mother thinks the children did it!  If the children don't normally tear the entire house apart when they play, why is she so certain that they did this time?  Hello!  It's called an intruder!

This book is good, but the location of the emerald is apparent to the reader from the very beginning.  Johnny, of course, has no idea, but it's so obvious.  The publisher even made sure that the reader would know, since the publisher's summary says where the emerald is!  I didn't read the summary before beginning the book, because so many publisher summaries give away major details that I would rather not know at the beginning of the story.  Even without the publisher telling me, I knew as soon as Johnny picks up the cigarette package that the diamond has to be inside.

I overall enjoyed this book, but the story wasn't very compelling since the solution was apparent from the beginning.

In Secret Circle Mysteries #8, The Valley of the Vanishing Birds, Jeff Gardner and his sister, Mattie, look for whooping cranes.  He hopes to find a secret valley described by his grandfather where the whooping cranes nest.  Another party is also looking for the whooping cranes, and soon, Jeff and Mattie have reason to believe that the men are poachers.

According to the story, only 32 whooping cranes remained in the world.  According to online resources, around 40 to 50 remained at the time of this story.  Regardless, the whooping crane was gravely endangered when this story was written, so the idea of someone killing a few of the birds as trophies is quite awful.

I enjoyed this story.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ted Wilford #3 Star Reporter and #5 Empty House

In Ted Wilford #3, The Star Reporter Mystery, Ronald Wilford searches for Barry Knight, a newspaper reporter.  Barry has earned quite a few enemies in his career, and Ron suspects that one of those people might have acted against Barry.

Ted does not appear in this book until page 71.  This story is primarily Ron's mystery.

On page 128, Ron explains, "His crime wasn't what we would call a major one, and anyway our society has made enough progress so that we don't hold a son responsible for what his father may have done."  This idealistic thinking sounds wonderful, but in my experience, far too many people even today hold all relatives accountable for another relative's actions.  I know this from personal experience.  It's sad, but true. 

I like that in these stories that once the main characters figure something out, the reader gets to know.  In some series books, the main character figures something out but acts mysterious, not telling anyone else, including the reader. 

What's nice about independent series is that they don't follow the predictable pattern of the typical series formula.  You wouldn't have an entire Dana Girls book told from the perspective of Lettie Briggs.  I must say though that the idea of entering Lettie's warped mind would be interesting.

Like the other Ted Wilford books, the plot moves slowly but is interesting.

In Ted Wilford #5, The Empty House Mystery, a man advertises in the Town Crier for a lost notebook that has a zipper with a lock on it.  The notebook is turned in, and Ted decides to deliver it to the man's address.  The trouble is that the house is empty.  The phone rings, and the man tells Ted to leave the notebook.  Later, Ted realizes that he was tricked, but even more puzzling, the house has no phone service.  How did the phone ring?

I laughed every time the boys insist that telephones must have wires.  From page 141:
"Who's there to answer?  There's nobody home.  Well, what do you make of it?  Another telephone, and no wires."

"What's the matter, you old-fashioned or something?  You think telephones need wires?"
If the boys only knew...

This is an excellent book.  There's something about an empty house, especially when a telephone rings with no telephone service.  Spooky!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Secret Circle #5 Muffled Man and #6 Clue of Dead Duck

In Secret Circle Mysteries #5, The Mystery of the Muffled Man, Chris Summerville and his friend, Dumont LePage, plan an ice-fishing trip to a nearby lake.  The boys are disappointed when Carol Fitzpatrick arrives, and they have to entertain her.  The boys are relieved when Carol turns out to be likable and willing to participate in adventure.

Several times, Carol is able to give the boys advice on what to do because she learned about it in a book.  I thought that was neat.

The book is kind of like a Blythe Girls book.  The young people get lost in the snow, and anything bad that can happen to them does happen.

This is an excellent book, and I greatly enjoyed it.

In Secret Circle Mysteries #6, The Clue of the Dead Duck, Young Ab and Morgan ditch school to go duck hunting.  During their excursion, Morgan is knocked out, and Young Ab disappears.  Morgan is the prime suspect in Young Ab's disappearance, and he must prove his innocence.

Young Ab's home is Morgan's foster home.  If Morgan cannot prove his innocence, then he will lose his home, which is the first foster home Morgan has ever liked.  The situation is desperate for Morgan, and the content is a bit dark in this book.

This book is rather emotional, so some readers might not like it as much.  It's still a good story.  The ending drags just a little bit, but it's not bad.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ted Wilford #2 The Locked Safe Mystery

In Ted Wilford #2, The Locked Safe Mystery, Ted is put in charge of a charity carnival.  After the close of the carnival, all of the money collected is stolen from the school's safe.  The prime suspect is the assistant principal, Mr. Clayton, who suddenly left town right after the carnival and shortly before the money was discovered missing.  Everyone is certain that Mr. Clayton is guilty, except Ted, who sets out to prove Mr. Clayton's innocence.

This book is a good whodunit.  I paid careful attention to the scene in which the money was stolen, and I had a hunch as to the identity of the culprit.  Even though I thought I knew, I was not at all certain and was greatly intrigued throughout the story as further information was revealed.  I was correct in my hunch, but I still did not know until the end exactly how the theft occurred.  I was thoroughly engaged as I tried to figure out how it was done.

I enjoyed this passage from page 26.
If a vote had been taken on the dullest thing in the paper, Ted felt sure the book-review column would have won easily.  As Nelson once remarked, "It might be fun to read a book, but who wants to read about a book?"  Few students had read, or would read, the particular book reviewed, and the whole thing seemed too much like an English exercise.
I agree, and it does not escape me that I have quoted this passage in a book review.  Since I find long summaries boring, I tend to keep quite short any summary I make of a book's plot.  I find that many series book reviews tend to be very long, giving a lengthy play-by-play of the entire plot.  And that is why I don't read them.  I'd rather read the book.  Also, reviews with lengthy summaries tend to give away important parts of the plot, and I would rather not have that information if I have not read the book yet.

In the case of a book like The Locked Safe Mystery that is about impossible to find, a detailed summary mentioning most all of the book's events might be appreciated by many readers.  However, I don't have the patience to write it up, and besides, a lengthy summary is never the same as reading the book.  

On page 79, Ted and Margaret try to get Mrs. Clayton to convince her daughter to come back to school.  Margaret tells Mrs. Clayton, "No one is going to snub her, or anything like that.  There are a lot of us who would like to help her if we could."  Sure, in a perfect world, everyone would understand that Mr. Clayton is innocent until proven guilty and would treat Mr. Clayton's daughter with kindness.  In reality, some students would end up snubbing the daughter regardless of how many other students agree with Ted and Margaret.

Events and characters from the first book are mentioned a number of times.  While I couldn't appreciate those parts of this book since I do not own a copy of the first book, I was still able to enjoy the story.  The plot of this book moves quite slowly, but the text is engaging.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Secret Circle #3 Devil's Lode and #4 Secret Tunnel Treasure

In Secret Circle Mysteries #3, The Legend of the Devil's Lode, Barbed Wire Jimmy says that he has finally located a lost silver mine that is said to be cursed.  Jimmy draws a map of the mine's location just before he dies.  David's family is in danger of losing their farm, so finding the mine would give them the money to save the farm.  David and his friend, Randy, ride with Wiley, a ranch hand, in search of the lost mine.

The young people attend the Calgary Stampede.  This is interesting to me, since Brad Forrest also attends the Calgary Stampede in Calgary Adventure.  As I read this part of the book, I fancied Brad Forrest also there somewhere nearby.

On page 100, the book describes the people present at the Calgary Stampede as "ranchers, Indians, Hutterites, businessmen, farmers, pickpockets."  I was amused that pickpockets were mentioned.

This is a really good book, about the same as the first book.  I greatly enjoyed it.

In Secret Circle Mysteries #4, The Secret Tunnel Treasure, Johnny and Gwen Matthews and their friend, Gaston, search for treasure reputedly hidden by General Montcalm on an island near Quebec.  The children find an old map in a book along with a riddle.  As they try to decipher the riddle, they learn that two men are also after the treasure.

On page 14, Johnny is scolded for how he was sitting on the chesterfield.
Johnny slid down off the arm with a sigh.  That was the trouble with grown-ups.  Here was a whole buried treasure, right underneath their feet maybe, and they made a fuss about how you sat on a chesterfield.  No sense of proportion.
The storyline in this book is very appealing to a book collector.  The children visit all the antique shops in their search for old maps.  On page 40, the children try not to let the owner know which book of sermons they really want, since they fear he will price it too high or refuse to sell it.  I'm sure we can all relate to that experience.

On page 42, the shopkeeper states that collecting old books is an expensive hobby.  This remark is made after the children express dismay about the $30 price of the book they want.  $30 is now approximately $240 in 2015.  Amazingly, the children come up with the $30, which is quite a lot for an old book at that time.

On page 58, Johnny worries that the shop might have been wired for microphones, which means that they would have been overheard.  I found the mention of microphones to be interesting, since that sort of device is typically not mentioned in old series books.

This book has a riddle that the children must solve, which reminds me of some of the early Three Investigators books.

This book has everything a series reader could want from a cemetery at night to a secret tunnel to hidden treasure.  This book is outstanding.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Purchasing the Ted Wilford Series

The Ted Wilford series by Norvin Pallas is lauded as an outstanding juvenile series.  The series is extremely difficult to complete.  A number of the books are nearly impossible to find or are impossible to find.  The higher-numbered titles are easier to find than the lower-numbered titles.  I wanted to try this series, but I quickly determined that I could not put forth the investment in purchasing more than one or two books without making certain that I would end up liking the series.  The series consists of 15 titles.

 1. The Secret of Thunder Mountain, 1951
 2. The Locked Safe Mystery, 1954
 3. The Star Reporter Mystery, 1955
 4. The Singing Trees Mystery, 1956
 5. The Empty House Mystery, 1957
 6. The Counterfeit Mystery, 1958
 7. The Stolen Plans Mystery, 1959
 8. The Scarecrow Mystery, 1960
 9. The Big Cat Mystery, 1961
10. The Missing Witness Mystery, 1962
11. The Baseball Mystery, 1963
12. The Mystery of Rainbow Gulch, 1964
13. The Abandoned Mine Mystery, 1965
14. The S. S. Shamrock Mystery, 1966
15. The Greenhouse Mystery, 1967

I found a copy of #14 The S.S. Shamrock Mystery to try.  I had the book in my possession for a while before I finally read it.  While I enjoyed the story, I was not able to determine whether I liked it enough to want to purchase any additional titles.  I looked over the online offerings, but most of the books available were not in very good shape and were a bit expensive overall.

I kept having this nagging feeling that I needed to read another Ted Wilford to see what I thought.  I did manage to find copies of #11 The Baseball Mystery and #15 The Greenhouse Mystery which were priced reasonably enough for me to be willing to purchase them without being sure of how much I would enjoy them.  Around five months passed before I finally got around to reading The Greenhouse Mystery.  The plot moves slowly, but the story is interesting and very engaging.  I greatly enjoyed the book, enough to finally make the difficult decision to commit to purchasing as much of the set as I could.

My goal was to get the few copies in dust jacket that I could and then to acquire library bindings with the picture on the front cover.  That way, I would have a book with a cover illustration regardless.  Besides, I enjoy library editions and do not mind library editions.  As long as I had a representation of the cover art, I would be happy.

A few books can be found for under $30, but the supply is very limited.  Most titles will cost more than $30, and some of the books are practically impossible to find.  Furthermore, the books will be reading copies, not collector editions.  I managed to acquire 10 of the 15 books, most of which are reading copies.

All books are library discards except for The Big Cat Mystery, which is a copy sent out by the publisher for review. 

After I finished reading other sets of books that I had recently acquired, I commenced with reading the second book in the Ted Wilford series.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Secret Circle Mysteries #1 Monster Lake and #2 Haunted River

In Secret Circle Mysteries #1, The Mystery of Monster Lake, Roy Turnbull and Joanne Garland find a map in a dilapidated old mill.  Immediately, they realize that the map is old Long Tom's map that reputedly leads to a lost gold mine.  Dan Duffy overhears and later tries to steal the map, which gets torn in half.  Duffy retains one half of the map and decides to go after the gold.  Roy and Joanne, along with Joanne's brother and father, travel by canoe up to Monster Lake in search of the gold.  Duffy and his accomplices pursue and threaten them.

It's not clear exactly how old the children are.  They are referred to as "youngsters," so they can't be older teenagers and are not likely younger teenagers.  I would guess that the children are probably around 10 to 12 years old.

Even though this is a children's book, the threats made between the villains and the adults in the Garland party are grim and deadly serious.  In one case, a man threatens to throw boiling water in another man's face and graphically describes what will happen.  As expected, the other man backs down.

The book also has some violence that is not typical of series books.  Young protagonists do sometimes get hit or punched in series books, but typically, rough action like that only happens to the boys and never to the girls.  On page 106, Joanne bites Duffy, who then hits her in the head.
Duffy jerked his hand away with a roar of pain and then swung it back in a blow that made her head ring.
I didn't expect the monster in the lake to be that big of a deal or that dangerous.  I was surprised when the monster in the lake turns out to be something quite dangerous and deadly.  Four people die in this book.

This book is outstanding.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I read it in less than one day since I was so interested in the story.  The book is written well.  The moment I finished reading the last paragraph, I thought, Wow, that was good.  This book stayed with me after I finished it.

In Secret Circle Mysteries #2, The Riddle of the Haunted River, David and Susan head out in a river expedition with their older teenage guide, Alan.  Mr. Doone, David and Susan's father, was to go on the expedition as well, but someone beat him up.  After the young people set out, they realize that someone is set on causing them problems.  Their canoe is slashed, and Susan is abducted.  A legend suggests that the river is haunted, but could the culprit instead be a human?

In this book, the girl, Susan, gets the worst of it, similar to what happened in the previous title.

I enjoyed the story, but it began to drag for me towards the end.

This story is very good, but it is a step down from the previous title.  The story doesn't have as much suspense.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Brad Forrest #8 London Adventure and Final Thoughts

In Brad Forrest #8, London Adventure, a weather receiver goes missing along with the scientist who created it. Brad helps Scotland Yard find the missing scientist and weather receiver.

Brad also does newspaper work in this book.

The criminals try to kill Brad and his friend by shutting them in a room and feeding carbon monoxide into the room via a hose.  The criminals don't mess around in the Brad Forrest books!

This story is a bit convoluted with a few too many characters.  A missing scientist has two names, his real name and his alias, which adds to the confusion.

This book is not very interesting, and I didn't enjoy it.

Biff Brewster, Sandy Steele, and Brad Forrest are three very similar series with essentially the same premise.  The boys all have blond hair, and each boy has adventures with different friends, often in exotic locations, throughout the series.  It's odd that three different publishing companies had a series with the same premise during the same time period, and none of the series did well.  We know the series didn't do well since many of the books in all three series are difficult to find in the secondhand market.

I tried to determine which series is the best with no obvious conclusion.  I'd like to say that Biff Brewster is the best since it is a Grosset and Dunlap series with great cover art.  The Biff Brewster series has some excellent books, but the travelogue aspect is too strong in a number of the books, causing those books to bore me.  I was actually glad to be done with Biff Brewster by the time I finished the last book.

I didn't like the first Sandy Steele book at all, but I greatly enjoyed #2 through 6.  I was disappointed after I finished #6, since I thoroughly enjoyed the bulk of the set.  I finished Sandy Steele wishing there were more of them.  For that reason, I'd like to say that Sandy Steele is the best of the three series.

Brad Forrest starts out in a ridiculous fashion, but by book 3, Brad Forrest is as good as the better Sandy Steele and Biff Brewster books.  I enjoyed #4 and #6 as much as I did the very best Biff Brewster books.  I'd like to say that Brad Forrest is the best of the three, but I can't due to three weak books in the series.

Let's consider what percent of the books I enjoyed in each series.  I enjoyed 7 out of 13 Biff Brewster books, or 54%.  For Sandy Steele, I enjoyed 5 out of 6, which is 83.3%.  Finally, I enjoyed 5 out of 8 Brad Forrest at 62.5%.  If I go by percent enjoyment, then Sandy Steele wins, followed by Brad Forrest, and with Biff Brewster last place.

My overall feelings put Sandy Steele in first place, but I did like some Biff Brewster books better than perhaps any of the Sandy Steele books.  Unfortunately, I didn't like half the books in the Biff Brewster series very much.  So, even giving Sandy Steele a slight edge, I consider it too close to call.  Each series has both good and bad books, and all three series are overall worth reading.  If you have read any books from one of these series and enjoyed them, then consider trying the other two series, at least if you can find them within your budget.  You'll probably find a few books that you like.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Note about Upcoming Reviews

You will find that some of my upcoming reviews will be extremely brief.

If I say that I enjoyed the book but do not make any other comments, I did enjoy the book, but I didn't feel like writing anything.  That happens to me sometimes.  It's purely a motivational issue and has nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the book.

In December 2012, I wrote, "I cannot force myself to write up a review of a book when the thoughts do not come easily.  That's when writing for this blog seems like writing a required book report for school.  That's no fun and why sometimes my blog posts become infrequent.  I can only write something when I am in the mood and it comes easily to me.  Otherwise, I cannot do it."

In several instances prior to that post, I allowed myself to be distracted from continuing my reading and reviews because I thought that I must write up a proper review of every single title.  Reviews sometimes went on a hiatus for several months before I forced myself back.  In the case of Grace Harlowe, it's been 4 1/2 years, and I still haven't gotten back to them.

If I don't feel like writing much in a review, then I don't.  This is certainly the case for a number of upcoming reviews.  I will soon be reviewing the Secret Circle Mysteries, ten of the Ted Wilford books, and the Phyllis Whitney juvenile mysteries.  While most of the reviews will be of typical length, you will notice that some from each set will be extremely brief with little information, leaving you wishing that I had written more.  If I had tried to force myself, I would have quit the reviews.  While you might not like how lacking some of the reviews will be, at least I do keep going so that better reviews will come along.