Sunday, October 30, 2016

Twilight Darkness #7 Play to Live, #8 Blood Red Roses, and #9 Demon Tree

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #7, Play to Live, Joey is new to Norwich.  Nothing is more important to Norwich than football, and the Norwich team is on a huge winning streak.  Joey makes the team, and he notices that horrific injuries to the opposing team occur during each game.  Joey also notices that Mr. Wynn, owner of the sporting goods store, has a strange hold over the team.  Joey begins to suspect something evil at play.

This is another suspenseful book, and it is a very good story.

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #8, Blood Red Roses, Kate places a deposit on an antique mirror for her bedroom.  Tracy, a selfish snobbish girl, tries to force the shopkeeper to sell the mirror to her instead.  When the shopkeeper refuses, Tracy is livid.  Kate hangs the mirror in her bedroom and immediately has bloody nightmares.  Tracy steals the mirror, and Kate's nightmares end.  Tracy begins acting strange, and Kate realizes that the mirror is evil. Can Kate save Tracy before something horrible happens?

The scene in which Tracy tries to get the mirror sold to her reminds me of Lettie Briggs and the study lamp in the Dana Girls book, By the Light of the Study Lamp.  Imagine the turn that book could have taken if the study lamp had been possessed by an evil spirit.  I would love to see Lettie possessed!  As it is, she already seems possessed at times.

Page 11 captures perfectly how someone feels when dreading an event that is coming the next day.  "It was Sunday morning already.  Monday, and the impossibility of avoiding the other girl at Shelter Cove High School, was already creeping up like a poisonous fog."

The ending of this book is horrifying.  This is an excellent book.

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #9, Demon Tree, Maggie comes to live with her grandparents in an isolated small town.  Maggie sees a black shadow at night that beckons to her.  Everyone is miserable and mean and will not explain why.  It's as though something is holding the entire town captive.

The book is good but not that scary.  However, the title of the book is unsettling, and that set the stage for me getting spooked, when I should have realized what was really happening.

I was reading the book on the evening of September 2, when three different times I heard strange noises from different parts of the room. One time was a fairly loud sound like something hitting the window, and another time a sound apparently came from inside the dresser on the other side of the room.  I remember turning around in my chair and staring perplexed at my dresser.  I can't remember where the third sound was.  I did not imagine the sounds, but I also could not think of a logical explanation.  I was rather unnerved, even though I did not seriously think anything supernatural was involved.

A few hours later, I was trying to get to sleep when the mattress made a popping sound from the corner.  That unnerved me even more.  I woke up right before 7 AM the next morning.  I wasn't fully awake, but I was aware of my surroundings.  Suddenly, the mattress began moving up and down, jostling me.  It felt like something large was under my bed trying to push the mattress up, like I had been thrust into a horror movie. It was unreal.  I immediately put my foot against the wall, which was shaking hard.  I knew it was an earthquake, but it really scared me.  After the shaking stopped, I got up and went online immediately where I learned that we had just had a magnitude 5.8 earthquake, the largest in state history.  I was nervous for around half the day.

A few days later, I checked recent earthquakes and discovered that all three sounds from the night before had been caused by small earthquakes.  Click on the image to see a larger version.

My time zone is five hours behind the times stated, so the three earthquakes listed below the magnitude 5.8 earthquake are the three from the evening of September 2 and must have caused the three strange noises.  At least I had a logical explanation for all of the sounds, with the exception of the mattress popping.  I can rest easy knowing that my house is not possessed.  I'll always remember I was reading Demon Tree when all of these earthquakes occurred.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Twilight Darkness #4 Fatal Attraction, #5 Blink of the Mind, and #6 Voices in the Dark

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #4, Fatal Attraction, Janet begins to suffer from terrible headaches that last for days.  A newcomer to the area, Mirella, appears to have mesmerized Janet's boyfriend, David.  Janet is certain that Mirella is evil, but nobody believes her.

I guess any teenage girl would consider it evil for another girl to steal her boyfriend.  In all seriousness, Mirella is evil, and Janet is in grave danger.  An evil spirit stalks Janet, and Janet's friend must help her avoid certain death.

This is a very scary book.  I felt quite spooked during some scenes.  This is an excellent story.

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #5, Blink of the Mind, Kelly's parents were recently killed when their airplane crashed.  Kelly's mind keeps blinking back to the night of the crash, and she actually witnesses what happened in the plane right before and right after the crash.

Kelly's mind blinks happen more and more frequently, and with horror, she realizes that she is also glimpsing future events.  Kelly senses that an evil entity is watching her at all times and that this entity is out to destroy her.

This is an overall good book, although I consider it below average as compared to most of the books in the series.

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #6, Voices in the Dark, Christie has moved to a small town. She has trouble making friends, and one of the girls at school spreads gossip about her.  This girl instinctively hates Christie, and Christie has no idea why.

Christie takes comfort in riding, but soon, she feels an evil presence inside the barn.  Christie learns that the presence is the spirit of an ancestor and that the spirit wants Christie to join him in eternity.

This book is quite suspenseful.  This is an excellent book.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Twilight Darkness #1 Deadly Sleep, #2 The Power, and #3 The Initiation

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #1, Deadly Sleep, Jaynie has arrived in Scotland to visit her friend Evelyn.  A photograph on the wall of Jaynie's bedroom glows at night, and Jaynie soon realizes that a spirit is involved.

Jaynie spends a lot of time depressed over breaking up with her boyfriend.  This happened before the beginning of the story.  The boyfriend is never part of the plot, so I did not care.  I was bored reading about the boyfriend.

When the photograph on the wall glows and Jaynie's name is called from the picture, the scene does not feel scary.  Jaynie acts like the glowing photo is no big deal.  If she had been scared, I might have been scared.

I never connected with the characters, and I never cared about the story.  I felt that the text was missing that something that makes for a compelling story.  A character dies in this book, and I also did not care.  This book could have been written better and is a poor introductory book for the series.

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #2, The Power, Meredith finds a small box hanging from her locker.  Inside the box are a lock of hair and a note.  The note proclaims that Meredith is in the sender's power.  Meredith is inclined to believe that she is the victim of a joke when she discovers that she is missing a lock of hair.  In horror, Meredith realizes that someone cut a lock of hair from her head while she was sleeping. Who is stalking her?

This book is scary because of the sinister threat. This is an excellent book.

In Twilight Where Darkness Begins #3, The Initiation, Adam is a new student at Blair Prep. Soon after Adam's arrival, he finds a body in a gym locker.  The incident is reported, but strangely, the police never interview Adam about the body.  Adam soon notices that many of the Blair Prep students are secretive and that some kind of initiation is held at night.  He befriends Loren, a student from a nearby girls' school, and the two begin to investigate the strange events.

This is an excellent story.

I have created a Facebook group for enthusiasts of vintage teen books from the 1980s to the present.  Please follow this link to join.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Twilight and Dark Forces Teen Horror Series

I learned about two sets of vintage teen horror series from the 1980s that I had never read: Twilight Where Darkness Begins and Dark Forces.  I seem to recall in junior high seeing other students reading the Dark Forces books, but I never read one.  I have no memory of ever seeing the Twilight books.

I looked up the series and was intrigued to discover that both sets of books are from the early 1980s.  I have a particular affinity for books published during the 1980s.  The reading that caused me to collect series books occurred from the summer of 1979 up through 1991.  I began collecting series books in 1991.  Consider that 10 of those 13 years were the 1980s.  That decade and my love for reading are closely intertwined.

I am familiar with the teen horror genre.  I loved reading Christopher Pike's teen horror books from 1988 into the early 1990s, so I suspected that I might like the Twilight books.  I went to and purchased seven of the Twilight books in late May.  I chose the books that I could get at the minimum price of around $4.00 each so that if I didn't like the books, I could get my money back.

I read two of the Twilight books in late August in order to decide whether to complete the set.  I did not like the first book I read, but the second one was excellent.  Since the author of the first book did not write any of the other titles, I concluded that I would most likely enjoy reading the set.

I spent one Saturday evening building the set of Twilight books.  I find it a fun challenge to try to build a complete set of vintage books all at once by purchasing the books individually from different sellers.  Since I want to read the books and want to get the set assembled quickly, I must find every title immediately.  I greatly enjoy the process of finding and purchasing the books.

Since the Twilight series unfortunately has the same name as the very popular modern teen series about Edward and Bella, a search for "Twilight" cannot be used to find these vintage books.  One must search individually by title and author.  I also used "Twilight Dell" and "Twilight Darkness" in some of the searches to see what would show up.

I was able to find all of the Twilight books in individual listings on eBay, Etsy, Amazon, and AbeBooks.  I was able to get some books very inexpensively while I had to pay higher prices for other titles.  For all titles, I went with the very cheapest copy I could find online.

The Twilight set consists of the following books.

 1. Deadly Sleep, Dale Cowan, 1982
 2. The Power, Betsy Haynes, 1982
 3. The Initiation, Robert Brunn, 1982
 4. Fatal Attraction, Imogen Howe, 1982
 5. Blink of the Mind, Dorothy Brenner Francis, 1982
 6. Voices in the Dark, James Haynes, 1982
 7. Play to Live, Charles Veley, 1982
 8. Blood Red Roses, Sarah Armstrong, 1982
 9. Demon Tree, Colin Daniel, 1983
10. The Avenging Spirit, E. Stevenson, 1983
11. Nightmare Lake, Carl Laymon, 1983
12. The Twisted Room, Janet Patton Smith, 1983
13. Vicious Circle, Imogen Howe, 1983
14. Footprints of the Dead, Jay Callahan, 1983
15. Spirits and Spells, Bruce Coville, 1983
16. Drawing the Dead, Neil R. Selden, 1983
17. Storm Child, Susan Netter, 1983
18. Watery Grave, Joseph Trainor, 1983
19. Dance of Death, Lou Kassem, 1984
20. Family Crypt, Joseph Trainor, 1984
21. Evil on the Bayou, Richie Tankersley Cusick, 1984
22. The Haunted Dollhouse, Susan Blake, 1984
23. The Warning, Amanda Byron, 1985. ISBN
24. Amulet of Doom, Bruce Coville, 1985
25. A Deadly Rhyme, Gloria Gonzalez, 1986
26. Scavenger's Hunt, Arthur Bicknell, 1987

Here are my books.

After I purchased all of the Twilight books that evening, I thought about the Dark Forces series.  The cover art is creepier, and I was less interested in trying them.  I decided to go ahead and build a set anyway.  Late that Saturday night, I found all of the Dark Forces books on the same sites that I used to purchase the Twilight books.

The Dark Forces set consists of the following books.

 1.  The Game, Les Logan, 1983
 2.  Magic Show, Laurie Bridges and Paul Alexander, 1983
 3.  The Doll, Rex Sparger, 1983
 4.  Devil Wind, Laurie Bridges and Paul Alexander, 1983
 5.  The Bargain, Rex Sparger, 1983
 6.  Swamp Witch, Laurie Bridges and Paul Alexander, 1983
 7.  Unnatural Talent, Les Logan, 1983
 8.  The Companion, Scott Siegel, 1983
 9.  Eyes of the Tarot, Bruce Coville, 1983
10.  Beat the Devil, Scott Siegel, 1984
11.  Waiting Spirits, Bruce Coville, 1984
12.  The Ashton Horror, Laurie Bridges, 1984
13.  The Curse, Larry Weinberg, 1984
14.  Blood Sport, R. C. Scott, 1984
15.  The Charming, Jane Polcovar, 1984

Here are my books.

Reviews of individual titles in both series will follow.

Free Shipping Compared to Combined Shipping

I grew weary of the number of buyers who would ask me about shipping discounts for my items that had free shipping.  The shipping was stated as free, but they thought my price was marked up to fully cover the cost of shipping, so they wanted me to give a discount for multiple items purchased.  Free shipping doesn't work that way.

Since I tired of answering all the inquiries from buyers who would then not make purchases, I decided to let go of free shipping for most of my eBay items.  That was in the summer.  Now I have very low sales because my items had been promoted in best match search when they had free shipping.  How splendid.  

If charging for shipping and then offering a combined shipping discount is so preferable to many buyers, then how come they don't purchase my items when offered that way?

I decided to go back to free shipping for most items so that my sales will once again increase.  This will no doubt annoy those buyers who do not understand how the concept of free shipping actually works.  The purpose of this post is to explain my pricing in case any of those buyers should ever read this post.  

For most items, I do partially charge shipping on items offered at free shipping.  For an item that I want to price at $9.99, I instead price it at $11.99 with free shipping.  This means I am charging $2.00 shipping for that book.  If a buyer purchases two books at $11.99 and free shipping, then that buyer pays $23.98 total.

For the same items mentioned above, I set the prices at $9.99 plus $3.95 shipping for the first book and $0.60 shipping for each additional book when I charge shipping.  This means that the two $11.99 items if purchased together would then cost $9.99 + $9.99 + $3.95 + $0.60 for a total of $24.53.  So... the buyer gets a shipping discount for the second item purchased, but the total paid is slightly higher than for the same two items offered with free shipping.  The difference is insignificant, but still, the items are slightly cheaper with free shipping.

As the seller, I get less when I offer free shipping, particularly when just one item is purchased.  For $9.99 items with free shipping, I get only $6.04.  Actually, I may get only around $5.00 because some books cost more than $3.95 to ship.  This is why I tend to price items at $11.99 instead of $9.99 when I offer free shipping.

With free shipping, a buyer has to purchase three items in one order for me to break even on shipping.  I don't mind for buyers to purchase just one item, but I wish they understood that when they purchase several items, I do not take the loss that I do on one item purchased.  That's why I can't offer additional discounts.

For some items, I don't change the price when I toggle between free shipping and combined shipping.   Back in the summer when I changed my items to combined shipping, some of them went up in price because I kept the free shipping price and changed the postage from free to $3.95.  Those items ended up costing $3.95 more.

Now I have gone back the other way.  I have changed most of my items on eBay back to free shipping.  For the vast majority, the overall cost is now lower.

In addition to changing my eBay items back to free shipping, I added over 100 books for sale on eBay and Etsy this weekend.  The eBay store has an automatic discount of 10% off for any order of $35 or more.  On Etsy, enter the coupon code BOOKS2016 to receive 10% off of orders of $20 or more.  On Etsy, you must enter the coupon in order to receive the discount.

Jennifer's Series Books on Etsy

Jennifer's Series Books on eBay

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wynn and Lonny #5 Dead Heat at Le Mans and #6 Midnight Rally

In Wynn and Lonny #5, Dead Heat at Le Mans, Wynn and Lonny become part of a project designed to test synthetic oil for use in the military.  Wynn and Lonny will race two Monzas with the synthetic oil, and if the oil works, then the military will use it.

I found it interesting how the plot centers around the development and testing of synthetic oil, which is used widely nowadays.  These books were on the cutting edge of auto racing.

This book has way too many characters, and I couldn't remember them.  I grew more bored as I read further into the book.  I skimmed the last one-third of the book.

In Wynn and Lonny #6, The Midnight Rally, Wynn and Lonny are hired as stunt drivers for a Hollywood movie.  The movie features a cross-country race.  As the movie is filmed, the boys discover that someone is following the production and creating acts of sabotage.

I enjoyed the book at first, but soon, the plot falls into the same pattern as so many of the later Stratemeyer Syndicate books.  I skimmed around the last half of the book and found I did not care at all about what happened.

I found the information about racing to be interesting during #2, 3, and 4 in the series.  I am not interested in racing at all, but I still found the content engaging.  I had never thought about the kind of adjustments that need to be made to race cars so that they will perform at top speed.  I learn a lot from reading books.

The easiest books to find in the Wynn and Lonny series are #1, 2, and 4.  The best books in the series are #2 and 3.  Fortunately, #2 is inexpensive, so it is the one that should be purchased in order to try out the series.  If you are not particularly interested in racing, then paying high prices for the harder to find books is not a good idea.  If you love racing, then go for it.

Even though the later books were harder for me to read, I enjoyed reading about Wynn and Lonny's racing experiences.  The two young men and their female friends are upstanding, likable young people who work hard and are undaunted by setbacks.  They are excellent role models.

"The Checkered Flag" is an excellent article about the Wynn and Lonny series.  Read it to learn more about the authors and the development of the series.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Jenny Dean #3 Third Eye and #4 Invisible City

In Jenny Dean #3, The Secret of the Third Eye, Padme Lampo has returned from Tibet. He is now a Grand Lama and has mystical powers, including the ability to predict the future and to levitate himself.  Padme Lampo plans to use his powers to help the people of Winter Falls.  Unfortunately, an evil man wishes to use Padme Lampo for his own nefarious purpose.

Page 14:
Dr. Gwen, Winter Falls' leading psychologist and Jenny's mother, exchanged a secret smile with her daughter.  They both knew how splendidly capable Jenny was of not only taking care of herself, but everyone else in sight.
Wow!  I nominate Jenny Dean as the most perfect series book character ever!

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I did the first two.  The plot is just too weird, and the book has little suspense.  There isn't a mystery.  The reader knows from near the beginning that Padme Lampo has strange powers, and the plot pretty much just consists of Jenny trying to keep him safe.

In Jenny Dean #4, The Secret of the Invisible City, a strange cyclone tears across the Kansas plains.  After the cyclone is gone, Jenny discovers an invisible wall near her aunt and uncle's farm.  Jenny soon is pulled into the mysterious area, where she discovers an invisible city inhabited by aliens who recently arrived from a distant galaxy.  The people most important to Jenny are also pulled into the alien city, and soon, Jenny fears that they will never be able to return home.

On page 26, Jenny's cousin Martha comments that Jenny didn't tell her friends about her strange abduction.  Jenny replies, "They'd worry."  Martha responds, "The way you are, I can see why."  Indeed.  Jenny has a knack for getting into bizarre situations.

This book is the most bizarre in the series.  In fact, each book has been more bizarre than the previous title.  I enjoyed this book more than the third book but less than the first two books.

I enjoyed reading the Jenny Dean Science Fiction Mysteries series.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wynn and Lonny #3 GT Challenge and #4 Gold Cup Rookies

In Wynn and Lonny #3, GT Challenge, Wynn and Lonny sell their Formula Vee racer so that they can purchase a Datsun 260Z in order to participate in the GT competition.  The boys soon learn that they have purchased a stolen car.  To make matters worse, the boys' sponsor, Jeff Kuralt, has problems of his own. Someone is stealing top-secret parts from Kuralt's factory and using the parts to defraud auto dealers.

Some of the other drivers are male chauvinists who don't like Inky and Nancy-Rae competing with the men.  It's interesting that a series book from the middle 1970s that was aimed at boys depicts girls breaking into a male-dominated field.

There is a lot of information about racing, but it is presented in an interesting fashion without getting bogged down.  As I read this book, I reflected that this series depicts racing in a far more interesting fashion than the Hardy Boys Digest books that center on racing.  This book, and in fact the entire Wynn and Lonny series, is sabotage just like those books, but the books feature sabotage written in a more interesting fashion.

I notice that Wynn and Lonny have friends in high places who help them out when they get in trouble.

This story has a character whose intent is ambiguous.  I couldn't tell if he was on the good side or the bad, and it was quite pleasing when I found out for sure.  I love it when authors work that sort of thing into the plot.

This is a very good book.  It's the best one so far.

In Wynn and Lonny #4, Gold Cup Rookies, Wynn and Lonny sell their Datsun so that they can purchase a Zink Formula Super Vee so that they can race in the Gold Cup series. The boys will test Jeff Kuralt's new device, the Altaguard, in their racer.

I enjoyed this book, although it does have too many characters, which I couldn't keep straight.  A different author wrote this book, and I could the difference.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jenny Dean #1 Shining Children and #2 Hidden Trap

The Jenny Dean Science Fiction Mysteries series was written by Dale Carlson.  The books were published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1983 and 1984.  The series consists of the following titles.

1.  The Mystery of the Shining Children, 1983
2.  The Mystery of the Hidden Trap, 1983
3.  The Secret of the Third Eye, 1983
4.  The Secret of the Invisible City, 1984

Each book has neat endpapers that feature a map of Winter Falls and the surrounding area.  The map features all the locations used in the four books.  Click on the image to see a larger version.

In #1 The Mystery of the Shining Children, Jenny Dean and Mike Wood notice that their classmates at Winter Falls High School are behaving strangely.  Their complexions are pale and shining.  As Jenny investigates, she discovers that a virus is responsible and soon suspects who the ruthless culprit is.

Jenny is more perfect than Nancy Drew in the opening scene.  The author lets the reader know that Jenny's parents and the police chief come to Jenny for advice concerning just about all of their problems.  And Jenny always knows the answers.

Jenny and Mike pretty much abduct a child from a research hospital, believing that he is in danger.  They take the child to Jenny's Aunt Sally's house, where they are staying.  Oddly, Aunt Sally asks no questions about the extra guest the next morning, apparently accepting it as normal that Jenny and Mike have brought a strange child into her home.

I find it interesting how Jenny's parents question none of Jenny's decisions, no matter how bizarre they are.  The story is interesting, although improbable.  The ending is wrapped up way too fast.

This book is very easy and pleasant to read.  I enjoyed it.

In #2 The Mystery of the Hidden Trap, one at a time, four different people in different towns near Winter Falls are involved in near-fatal accidents.  Each accident was caused by the same boy, at least that is what everyone thinks at first.  Soon Jenny learns that each boy is part of a set of quadruplets that were separated at birth and put up for adoption.  And it gets crazier from there.

Old Mr. Marsh falls into an illegal trap and breaks both of his legs.  The Deans arrive to help him, and Jenny's parents splint his legs. Next, the Deans go outside to investigate.  On page 18, Mrs. Burgess "wanted to serve coffee before they took Mr. Marsh to the hospital for x-rays."  Say what?!  And the Deans proceed to drink coffee while Mr. Marsh lies around with his splinted legs waiting to be taken to the hospital.  Apparently Mr. Marsh doesn't get any coffee.

This book is very suspenseful as Jenny figures out the strange events.  I enjoyed this book even more than I did the first book.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wynn and Lonny #1 Mexicali 1000 and #2 Road Race of Champions

The Wynn and Lonny Racing Books were published by Grosset and Dunlap during the middle 1970s.  This series is the last series created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

Wynn Redford and Lonny Morris are both interested in racing.  The boys are 18 in the first book and 19 in the rest of the books.  Lonny's primary role is mechanic, while Wynn is the driver.  Sometimes Lonny also drives.  Two girls, Nancy-Rae Eubanks and Inky Larsson, are close friends of the boys.  The girls also drive race cars and frequently assist the boys. There is no romance between any of the young people.

In Wynn and Lonny #1, The Mexicali 1000, Wynn and Lonny plan to attend a racing-driver school in California.  Bud Eubanks asks them to find his daughter, Nancy-Rae, who is somewhere in California.  The boys encounter various adventures as they drive cross-country to California.  Once there, they learn that they were swindled.  There is no racing-driver school!  The boys must earn money so that they can rebuild their Beetle Bomb and race in the Mexicali 1000.

On page 140, the young people eat Vienna sausages and crackers during the trip. This interested me, since we ate Vienna sausages and crackers on car trips when I was young.

Wynn and Lonny end up staying in a roach-infested hotel.  They even hear the roaches moving around during the night.  Yuck.

The first half of the book is rough and hard to read.  There is way too much technical information about racing, race cars, and engines.  This is as expected, but it was too much for me.  The second half of the book reads like a regular series book adventure.

I did not enjoy the first half of the book, while I did enjoy the second half.

In Wynn and Lonny #2, Road Race of Champions, Wynn and Lonny build a Formula Vee racer and compete on the Formula Vee circuit.  The boys encounter numerous setbacks as opponents sabotage their racer during the competitions.

Nancy-Rae and Inky are such great characters. The girls go out to investigate on their own after Beetle Bomb is stolen.  They uncover a clue that leads to the recovery of the car.  Way to go, girls!

This book also contains a lot of technical information about racing, but it is not excessive like in the first book.  I didn't mind the information, and I greatly enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Ashfall Trilogy by Mike Mullin

The Ashfall Trilogy by Mike Mullin consists of three books.

1.  Ashfall, 2011
2.  Ashen Winter, 2012
3.  Sunrise, 2014

In Ashfall, the supervolcano underneath Yellowstone National Park explodes.  This releases such a huge quantity of ash that the world is immediately thrust into a volcanic winter.  Alex is alone at home during the eruption, and he sets off through the ash in hopes of finding his parents and sister, who are visiting relatives.

The book is slow to get started, and Alex is alone for the longest time.  The story is actually quite realistic for that reason, but the realism makes it boring.

On the other hand, the fight scenes are extremely short and not realistic.  Alex, who has never had to kill before, is able to almost instantly kill every opponent with only one or two hits.  Wow.  I am not one for fight scenes that last for pages and pages, but it's a bit concerning for fight scenes to last only one short paragraph with almost no effort.

The book has more graphic violence than I can stomach.  I read young adult novels to avoid the more graphic violence in adult novels, but the violence in this book is on an adult level.  Nearly four pages deal with an extremely detailed description of a rabbit getting killed, skinned, and prepared for consumption.  I didn't read more than a few words and skipped the text until the description was over.  A few other times I had to skip over lengthy excessively graphic descriptions of death.

The book gets much better after Alex begins traveling with Darla, although I still had to skim horrific gore.

Darla is quite likable.  She's better than Alex.  I kind of wish the book had been narrated from her point of view.  The story could have begun as Alex arrives at Darla's farm and been narrated by her.  If that had been done and if the gore had been left out, then the story might have been outstanding.

One thing that is off is that nobody coughs or has trouble breathing.  The ash would have caused people with even minor asthma to have major problems.  In fact, even people with no prior history of asthma would have developed asthma.

I wasn't sure at all whether I would be interested in reading more than just the first book.  I found I cared greatly about the characters by the end of the book, so I decided to purchase the second book.

In Ashen Winter, Alex makes extremely stupid impulsive decisions that cost him and Darla dearly.  Each time Darla tells Alex emphatically that something is a really bad idea, he does it anyway, causing disastrous events like the total loss of their supplies or the abduction of Darla.  I quickly became quite annoyed.

I skipped around 20 to 30 pages in the middle of the book.  I got so disgusted about Alex's stupidity that I couldn't read it.  After that point, I read through to the end.

This book doesn't have the problems of the first book, but those problems were traded for others.  Darla and Alex are apart for most all of the book.  This was a big mistake, since Darla is the best part of the first book.  Alex's extreme stupidity is the other huge flaw in this book.  The entire plot is driven by Alex's stupidity.  Other ways could have been found for the same sequence of events to occur.  It's laziness to rely on one character being so incredibly stupid.

Still, I enjoyed most of the book and wanted to know how the story would end, so I proceeded to the third book.

In Sunrise, Alex and Darla continue their struggle for survival.  Interestingly, Alex is cured of his stupidity in this story and assumes a leadership role.  He leads hundreds of people as they build a new settlement in order to survive the volcanic winter.

During the volcanic winter, some people have become cannibals as a means to survive. Page 523 has an insightful comment about cannibalism.  "Cannibalism is simply not a viable long-term survival strategy.  The problem solves itself."  Indeed it does.

I love reading the reviews on Amazon after I finish these novels.  I particularly like the more critical reviews since they bring up good points. One reviewer wrote, "[Darla] was able to get their new community set up using wind turbines to heat their greenhouses but they’re still having to barter for candles? I’m no survivalist but it seems to me like they could have come up with something there."

Ah-ha!  When I read that, I suddenly realized that I learned how to make candles from crayons when I was in grade school.  I'm sure crayons could have been scavenged, then melted, and a string used as a wick.  Voila!  Therefore, the trouble acquiring candles was not logical.  I'm sure lots of old crayons were available in the abandoned farmhouses.

The third book is probably the best book in the series and has the least flaws. However, the first two books have to be read in order to enjoy the third book.

I was quite pleased with my reading experience once I finished the third book.  Even though the first two books have many flaws, the story of Alex and Darla is quite compelling and enjoyable.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Morgan Bay Mysteries

The Morgan Bay Mysteries are a set of readers designed for use in the second and third grades.  The books were written by John and Nancy Rambeau.  Many of the books are marked as California state textbooks, so I surmise that the books were first used in California and later used elsewhere.

The set consists of eight books.

1.  The Mystery of Morgan Castle, 1962
2.  The Mystery of the Marble Angel, 1962
3.  The Mystery of the Midnight Visitor, 1962
4.  The Mystery of the Missing Marlin, 1962
5.  The Mystery of the Musical Ghost, 1965
6.  The Mystery of Monks' Island, 1965
7.  The Mystery of the Marauder’s Gold, 1965
8.  The Mystery of the Myrmidon’s Journey, 1965

The books run around 80 pages with large text.  The first few books are very short, since they are for the youngest readers.  The reading level is one grade higher in the later books.  The print is smaller in the later books, so the stories are longer.  The reading level of the last book is very close to the average series book.  The book is still shorter than most all series books, but it is longer than the earlier books.  Below are examples from early in the series and late in the series.  Click on each image to see a larger version.

The books are best read in order.  While the books can be read out of order, the reader will best appreciate the books if read in order.  This is because the books have very little explanatory information, and the set of characters does build during the first few books.  If the first few books have not been read, the reader will know none of that information because none of it is repeated in later books.

The parents are completely missing in these books due them conveniently being away from home.  Sometimes the parents are around, but they are never present in any scenes.  The young people occasionally call home to tell their parents what is going on, but the parents' responses are never included.

Series books typically have a mentor adult who is present.  This person is sometimes a chaperone, but they are always indulgent with the sleuths and their adventures.  Mrs. Wellington, who is introduced at the beginning of the series, is the primary mentor adult present in the books.  A teacher from the boys' school, Mr. Ballard, also serves as a mentor adult in this series.

In general, the later titles are the best in the series, particularly Missing Marlin, Monks' Island, and Marauder's Gold.

Some of the books would have been outstanding series books if they had been fleshed out into full-length books.  Even as short readers, they are still quite good.

Taken altogether, this set of books is like one series book.  Each book is like a small story arc within a larger story.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Seventh Hour by Tracey Ward

In The Seventh Hour by Tracey Ward, the Earth's rotation has stopped.  This results in sunlight lasting for six months and darkness lasting for six months.  During those times, the Earth experiences extreme temperatures.

I decided to read this book because I enjoyed Tracey Ward's zombie apocalypse novels. The description implies that this is a dystopian novel with survival experiences.  Instead, the book features little about the world and mostly centers on romance.  There is little danger. This is a romance, not a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel.

The teasing and joking in this book is quite juvenile and not what I expect in a young adult book.

I skimmed towards the end of the book.  I just wanted it to be over.  I do not recommend this book unless you are looking for teen romance.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Comparing the Nancy Drew Diaries to the Hardy Boys Adventures

I have not been thrilled with the Nancy Drew Diaries series.  I purchased a set of remaindered Hardy Boys Adventures books in December.  I wanted to read them to see whether Simon and Schuster is treating the Hardy Boys as badly as Nancy Drew.  I had already commenced reading the original Hardy Boys series, #1-58, at that time.  I decided to read all of the Hardy Boys Digest series and Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers books so that I would know the entire history of the Hardy Boys and would be able to judge the Hardy Boys Adventures books accurately. Indeed, I read approximately 175 books solely to prepare for writing this post.

Let's start with the observations I made before reading any of the Hardy Boys Adventures books.

The target age printed on the books for both series is ages 8 through 12.  Since the books are aimed at the same age range, they should be presented in a similar fashion.

Nancy Drew is pictured very young on the Nancy Drew Diaries covers.  She is shown with so much detail that one cannot ignore how young she looks. The Hardy Boys are also young on the covers but are not shown close.  Since we cannot see the Hardy Boys well, their youth is not as striking.

The text size is different in the Nancy Drew Diaries and the Hardy Boys Adventures. Simon and Schuster has never made the text different sizes in the two series.  Then why do it now?  Perhaps the text is larger in the Nancy Drew books to make them seem more like diaries.  In fact, the text is in a fancy font, which makes one think of a diary.  It's also possible that the text is smaller in the Hardy Boys books so that the books require fewer pages and are less expensive to print.  This could be right if it is true that the Hardy Boys series has lower sales than Nancy Drew.  The text may also be smaller in the Hardy Boys books to make them appeal to older readers.

The difference in text size may be due to a combination of all reasons listed. Regardless, I feel that the larger print and younger-looking depiction on the covers result in Nancy Drew appearing to be aimed at a younger audience than the Hardy Boys.

Based on those observations and my distaste for the quality and tone of most of the Nancy Drew Diaries stories, my suspicion was that Nancy Drew is currently being treated worse than the Hardy Boys.

I read Nancy Drew Diaries #11 and #12 right after the Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers series and right before the Hardy Boys Adventures series.  I was favorably impressed with both books, feeling that both are an improvement over earlier books.  I was feeling good about the Nancy Drew Diaries series again.  My opinion about the Nancy Drew Diaries once again became negative after I read the Hardy Boys Adventures.

So what did I learn?

I noticed that all of the Hardy Boys Adventures books would work as Nancy Drew Diaries stories.  Most of them have very little action.  Almost every Nancy Drew Diaries book is sabotage, and several stories feature very boring sabotage plots.  Not as many Hardy Boys Adventures books are sabotage, and most of the sabotage books are creative sabotage that is engaging and interesting.  As a result, most of the Hardy Boys Adventures stories are better quality than the Nancy Drew Diaries stories.  Several Hardy Boys stories are extremely creative and suspenseful.  The better story ideas are being used for the Hardy Boys Adventures series.

Several of the Hardy Boys Adventures books read in a similar fashion to young adult dystopian fiction.  Perhaps the publisher thought that the content is too dark for Nancy Drew and more suitable for boys.  If true, that's a shame, since dystopian novels are quite popular today and are read by both boys and girls.  Those kinds of stories should not be limited to the Hardy Boys, when lots of girls read dystopian novels.

When I reviewed the Hardy Boys Digest series, I commented that Nancy Drew was held back by her gender in the Nancy Drew Digest series.  In the Nancy Drew Diaries series, Nancy Drew is once again held back by her gender since she is not allowed the same thrilling adventures as the Hardy Boys.  Exactly why is it that one of the two series gets less interesting stories in every new relaunch?  Why can't both series be given equally interesting stories?

Nancy Drew is portrayed in a juvenile fashion.  In Secret at Mystic Lake, Nancy thinks about the case, realizes that someone is talking to her, and tells herself, Oops.  I'd wandered off into sleuthyville there.  I guess it's kind of cute, but I don't want "cute" when I'm reading a Nancy Drew book.  Nancy is supposed to be focused, flawless, curious, and insightful when working on cases.  She does not visit "sleuthyville"!

Also juvenile is the fixation during two books on Nancy's restroom needs, letting the reader know every single time Nancy or another character needs to go to the restroom, and sometimes even devoting multiple pages to the experience.  Say what?

It seems to me that boys would be more likely to want to chuckle about restroom needs.  So the Hardy Boys must go to the restroom all the time in the Hardy Boys Adventures series, right?  Wrong.  The Hardy Boys don't go a single time.  Only three times in the Hardy Boys Adventures does some other character use the restroom, but each mention is brief rather than lengthy like in the Nancy Drew books.  Why are restroom needs mentioned excessively in two books of the Nancy Drew Diaries series?

Nancy Drew is also portrayed in a negative fashion.  Nancy forgets to charge her phone.  She leaves her wallet in a store.  She leaves the lunch basket at home.  She doesn't know how the Internet works.  Her friends smirk at her because she likes to solve mysteries.  When these imperfections are mentioned, they come across as unnecessary and as cheap jabs.

Chet smirks at Frank and Joe exactly one time in the Hardy Boys Adventures series. Bess and George either smirk at Nancy or make fun of her interest in solving cases on multiple occasions.  In one book, Bess and George suggest that Nancy needs a chaperone.  Frank and Joe don't receive this kind of disrespect from their friends.

Frank and Joe do not suffer from forgetfulness or a lack of knowledge about the Internet.  Frank is depicted as a nerd who spouts off information constantly.  While Frank's behavior is amusing, he doesn't look inept or stupid.  It is Nancy Drew who seems stupid at times, like when she doesn't know how the Internet works.

Frank and Joe annoy Chief Olaf because they solve cases before the police can, showing that Frank and Joe are astute detectives.  This is interesting, since this is the premise of the original Hardy Boys books from the late 1920s.  Why did Simon and Schuster return to the original Hardy Boys premise, yet keep Nancy Drew in the world of Girl Detective, which is a modern interpretation?  Fans want to see Nancy Drew return to the original premise where she is not forgetful.

The Hardy Boys Adventure books have well-developed recurring characters in Bayport, and some of them are enemies of the boys.  Bayport's history is explored, and we learn about an underworld culture.  The Hardy Boys Adventures books feature a city with a wonderfully interesting background.

In contrast, the Nancy Drew Diaries series has explored nothing about River Heights, and Nancy doesn't have any enemies.  The best part of the Nancy Drew Girl Detective series is how River Heights comes alive, and the series explores the history of River Heights.  Inexplicably, that best part of the premise of Girl Detective was abandoned, keeping the negative parts instead.  What were they thinking?  I'd like to see Mr. Safer, Charlie Adams, and Mrs. Mahoney again but this time paired with a Nancy Drew who isn't portrayed in a negative and juvenile fashion.  Is that asking too much?

The Hardy Boys Adventures series begins with two excellent stories that set up the series.  The best Simon and Schuster could do for Nancy Drew was turn what likely would have been an awful Girl Detective trilogy into the first two books, which are also not very good.

Let's go back to the target age of 8 through 12 for both series.  The Nancy Drew Diaries appear to be aimed at the low end of that range, probably at around ages 8 to 9.  The Hardy Boys Adventures appear to be aimed more at the high end of that range, around ages 11 through 12.  How very strange.

Now that I have read both series, I am once again dissatisfied with the Nancy Drew Diaries series.  I will continue purchasing the Diaries books, but I can't say that I am looking forward to reading the next one.  I will read it, but I have no anticipation of anything special or of even liking the story.

On the other hand, I eagerly await the next Hardy Boys Adventures book, because it is set in Bayport and may have more information about the underworld characters in Bayport.  That I am eager for the next Hardy Boys book and am indifferent about the next Nancy Drew book says it all, especially considering that Nancy Drew is my very favorite series while the Hardy Boys series is not in my top five.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Hardy Boys Adventures #11 Showdown at Widow Creek and #12 Madman of Black Bear Mountain

In Hardy Boys Adventures #11, Showdown at Widow Creek, Frank and Joe get to go on a cattle drive.  During the cattle drive, it becomes apparent that someone is trying to cause injury to the ranch hands.  Too late, Frank and Joe realize that the true purpose of the sabotage is to delay the cattle drive.

On page 17, Frank and Joe learn that they cannot use their cell phones on the cattle drive.  I love it when modern books take away the cell phones.

This is a very good book.

In Hardy Boys Adventures #12, The Madman of Black Bear Mountain, Frank, Joe, one of their teachers, and several students travel to Black Bear Mountain to work with a scientist who lives on the mountain.

Soon after their arrival, the scientist tells them to leave and warns them about the insane hermit who lives on the mountain.  This sets off a chain of events that places everyone in grave danger.

The culprit and the mystery are too obvious.

The hermit is a man from Russia who has lived in the woods for 30 years.  He has been in contact with one other person, the scientist. I find it strange when the hermit calls someone a "party-pooper lady" on page 95.  I very much doubt that a Russian living outside modern society in the woods and in communication exclusively with a scientist would use that expression.

This book could have been an excellent book if the mystery and solution had not been so obvious.  The book is overall good, but it could have been much better.