Monday, December 30, 2019

The Problem with the Sweet Dreams Series

I loved Sweet Valley High as a teen.  On the other hand, I only read a total of three books from the Wildfire and Sweet Dreams series combined.  I recall that I did enjoy the few Wildfire and Sweet Dreams books that I read.

Around two to three years ago, I purchased a handful of Wildfire and Sweet Dreams books with the idea of building a set of each.  I wasn't very compelled to do so.  In early 2019, I read a few of the Wildfire Romance books and liked them a lot.  I then built a set of the Wildfire Romance books and began reading them in order.  I enjoyed more of the books than not, at least for the early books in the set.

Since I was enjoying the Wildfire Romance books, I became serious about building the Sweet Dreams set, although I still had reservations for an indefinite reason.  I ended up purchasing most of the Sweet Dreams books.  I did not purchase all of the books, due to some extreme prices.  Most all of the Wildfire Romance books can be found for reasonable prices, but some Sweet Dreams books are priced rather high.  I very much doubt that many people ever pay the high-end prices.

After I read through the entire Wildfire Romance set earlier this year, I began the Sweet Dreams set.  I found most of the first 20 books to be difficult to enjoy, so I became disgusted and quit.  I was burned out from having just read 82 Wildfire Romance books, and I needed a break.

Months passed, and in August, I decided to force myself to read books that I had not gotten around to reading.  I read or attempted to read Marjorie Dean, Grace Harlowe, Bob Dexter, Lakewood Boys, and books by Helen Girvan.  Finally, I was back to Sweet Dreams.

I started where I left off and ended up skipping over several books.  Finally, I found a book that I liked enough to read most all of it, although I was still not overly impressed by the story.  I tried to determine why I was having so much trouble with the books, when other people like them just fine.  I love Sweet Valley High.  Many of the Sweet Dreams books are not for me, but I do like some of them a lot.  What is the problem with the rest of the books?

While we all like varying types of books, people who like Sweet Valley High tend to like Wildfire Romance and Sweet Dreams books as well.  All three series had the same target audience, which was me and my peers during the 1980s.  All three series focus on romance and relationships.

I will always like Sweet Valley High the best.  I glanced over my Sweet Valley High reviews.  Many of the SVH books have not held up well, and I do not like them anywhere near as much as I did as a teen.  Still, I consider 50% to 60% of the canon books (#1-94) to be very good or better.  For the entire set of 82 Wildfire books, I find 42.7% to be very good or better.  For the first 41 Sweet Dreams books, I find 37.5% to be very good or better.  I like Sweet Dreams the least of the three sets.

The covers of the Wildfire Romance books and the Sweet Dreams books are practically the same.  Both series feature cute girls in different poses with catchy, often silly titles.  The books themselves are eye candy for Gen-Xers.

After I began reading the Sweet Dreams books again, I finally figured out several important reasons why I have such a problem with so many of the books.  One reason is that I have no patience for protagonists who are complete idiots. Some of the girls are too stupid for words.  It should be noted that this is also true for some of the Wildfire Romance protagonists, and those are the Wildfire books that I do not like.

One of the reasons I loved Sweet Valley High so much was that I always related to Elizabeth, and she has common sense.  Since I could relate to her, I was able to find the foolish decisions of Jessica and others to be entertaining to read.  With the Sweet Dreams books, the stupidity of the protagonist is often too much for me, since I just want to slap common sense into the character.  In the Sweet Valley High books, Elizabeth is the equalizer, and she gives the reader much-needed common sense.

I also want a book that isn't just about chasing a boy solely for the sake of having a boyfriend.  The girls who are chasing boys for that reason just want a boyfriend because all the other girls have a boyfriend.  I find that kind of story to be boring.  The books that are just about the chase or are full of silliness are not for me.  The girl needs to have some kind of struggle above and beyond the need for a boyfriend, or she already has a boyfriend but she has very real concerns about the relationship.  The Wildfire Romance books tend to feature a protagonist with a real problem.

I struggle with many of the Sweet Dreams books because the protagonist is stupid or because she wants a boyfriend for superficial reasons.  I also struggle with the books where the girl already likes a certain boy at the beginning of the story, but the author does nothing to cause the reader to feel the same way about the boy.  If I do not feel something as a reader, then I cannot read the book.

Another problem with many of these books is that the authors fail to hook the reader quickly.  They feel like they should tell the reader the girl's entire life story, usually in a boring fashion.  I have to give the books a fair shot, so I have to get past the expository information, which often lasts for far longer than it should.  Once I get past all of that, I can figure out if the story is worth reading.  This gets exhausting when I find that many of the books are not interesting to me.

You might wonder why I bother.  I try to read at least one-third of each book because I do love this genre and some books are truly excellent.  I don't want to miss out on those books, but it's so difficult having to try the rest of the books in order to find the excellent ones.

I have read or attempted to read 41 of the Sweet Dreams books.  I first broke off at around #20 or so.  I recently resumed reading the books after skipping certain titles due to disinterest.  I was doing okay but nearly bailed again at #35.  I got started again, but then found more books that I could not read.

I wrote reviews of the early Sweet Dreams titles back in April and May, and I held off on publishing them hoping I could resume reading the books.  Even though I have resumed reading the books, I am about played out for this second phase in reading them.  I should just try to read a dozen or so every few months. Eventually, I would get through the set.  Even though I'm not going to be able to go through the entire Sweet Dreams set at this time, I will now begin to release the reviews that I have prepared so far.

A list of all Sweet Dreams titles can be found here.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Great Library Series by Rachel Caine

The Great Library series was written by Rachel Caine.  The series consists of five books.

1.  Ink and Bone, 2015
2.  Paper and Fire, 2016
3.  Ash and Quill, 2017
4.  Smoke and Iron, 2018
5.  Sword and Pen, 2019

This is the publisher's summary of the first book.
In this exhilarating series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn....
The first four books are mostly very good to excellent.  I found that the first half of the first book drags a bit until the middle part of the book.  The book is very interesting from the middle to the ending.  The second book is quite exciting.

The third book also drags during the first half and then gets good.  The fourth book is excellent and interesting all the way through.

I did not like the fifth book and skimmed the entire book.  I wish that the author had ended the series with four books.  Almost all reviews for the fifth book are extremely positive, but I found the fifth book to be terribly boring.  The way the fourth book ends spoils having much of any story come after it.  The author should have wrapped up the story in the fourth book.

I went hunting through reviews to try to see if even one person agreed with me about the fifth book.  I couldn't understand how I appeared to be the only person who found it boring.  The reviews of the fifth book are practically giddy.

Finally, I found some readers who saw what I did.

PlusFour:  "[B]y the time we got this final book it was like nobody involved cared anymore: the plot was threadbare, the obvious attempts to stretch already overstretched material resulted in boring prose and so much unnecessary detail."

Chelsea:  "But it went too far in that this should have been a four-book series, and this one just feels unnecessary. Yes, it is the culmination of the others, but in feel it's just...blah."

Karin:  "A skimmer. I skipped from page 95 to 275 and didn’t feel lost at all."

Okay.  It's good to know that I'm not alone, but I remain perplexed that most people think the fifth book is spectacular.

The Great Library series features a gay couple.  Their relationship is quite well developed, believable, and central to the story arc of the entire series.  These two characters are my favorite characters in the series.  The relationship is quite well done, and the series would not be what it is without these characters.

The other characters in this series are from multiple racial and ethnic groups.  Like the gay couple, the other characters really shine through their differences.  The author created a memorable group of characters, and I loved reading about their journey.

I highly recommend this series for the characters in it.  They are excellent.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Books by Helen Girvan

This is a list of books written by Helen Girvan.

Blue Treasure, 1937
Phantom On Skis, 1939
The House at 231, 1940
Felicity Way, 1942
The White Tulip, 1944
The Light in the Mill, 1946
The Seventh Step, 1949
Hidden Pond, 1951
End of a Golden String, 1952
Patty and the Spoonbill, 1953
Down Bayberry Lane, 1955
The Clue in the Antique Clock, 1957
Disappearance At Lake House, 1959
Mystery of the Unwelcome Visitor, 1959
The Frightened Whisper, 1963
The Missing Masterpiece, 1965
The Hidden Treasure, 1968
Shadow in the Greenhouse, 1970

I read some of these books a year ago.  I read or tried to read through most of the rest of them recently.  I was not able to finish all of them.

Helen Girvan's books tend to be slow-paced.  I would say that all of her books are good or better, but the pace of many of them is too slow for my taste.  I struggled to read a number of them.

Here are brief thoughts on some of the books.

Phantom on Skis - I liked the book at first.  I then didn't read for four days.  I couldn't get back into the story and skimmed to the end.

The House at 231 - As I read this book, I had to wonder if someone from the Stratemeyer Syndicate read it and got story ideas for the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.  This book features a jewel box, a woman named Mrs. Egan, and a Chinese junk.  I found it very strange.  As with most books by Girvan, the story is a bit slow, but it is very good.

Felicity Way  - This story depicts a simple lifestyle in which herbs are homegrown and are very important.  Sachets of herbs are made to place in clothing drawers.  Pomander balls are created to use as Christmas presents.  The writing style is confusing at times.  Still, this is a very good book and a very good period story.

The Light in the Mill - I found this story intriguing.  The protagonist and her cousin look very similar, so they switch places for the summer, each pretending to be the other.  The book has a mystery and is a coming of age story.  I like what the protagonist figured out about herself.  This is a very good book.

Hidden Pond - This book has too many characters.  The story is good, but I found it hard to read due to constant confusion.  I couldn't keep the characters straight, and some sets of names begin with the same letter (Claire, Clem, Jarret, Jeanpierre, Joulin), which added to my confusion.  I feel like the story reads in a disjointed fashion due to information overload.

Down Bayberry Lane - I enjoyed this book at first, but I lost interest halfway through.

The Clue of the Antique Clock - I enjoyed this book but not as much as Mystery of the Unwelcome Visitor, which I read right before it.

Mystery of the Unwelcome Visitor - This book is very good to excellent.  The story is engaging all the way through, and the ending does not drag.

The Missing Masterpiece - This book has a lot of interesting plot points including an art heist, Communist sympathizers, a bratty kid, an annoying woman, and a play that isn't going well.  I found this book to be really interesting.  The story moves somewhat slowly, but the plot elements are interesting, so I greatly enjoyed it.  This book is very good to excellent.

The Hidden Treasure - I enjoyed this book, for the most part.  I feel that the story moves a bit slow at times, and I skimmed a little bit.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Girl from Sunset Ranch by Amy Bell Marlowe

In the Girl from Sunset Ranch, Helen Morrell is the heir to Sunset Ranch.  Helen’s father, Prince Morrell, recently passed away with a cloud over his name.  Years ago, Prince Morrell left New York City after he was accused of embezzlement.  Mr. Morrell had hoped someday to prove his innocence, but he never had the chance.

Helen vows to discover the truth about the embezzled funds, and she journeys to New York City to stay with her relatives, Uncle Starkweather and his three teenage daughters.  The Starkweathers’ reception is quite cold, and they relegate Helen to an upstairs room near where the servants stay. The Starkweathers incorrectly assume that Helen is poor, and they treat her badly due to their prejudice against people who don’t have much.

Helen is angered by the Starkweathers’ behavior, so she gives them exactly what they expect: a crude cowgirl with poor manners.  Meanwhile, Helen works on discovering the truth, with Uncle Starkweather hindering her progress as best he can.

This book is one of the best books I have read in a long time.  The last vintage series book that I responded to as strongly as I did this one was Capwell Wyckoff’s In the Camp of the Black Rider.  Like that book, I found nothing about The Girl from Sunset Ranch to be boring or slow-paced.  Every single passage is interesting.  The book is thoroughly engaging from start to finish, really outstanding for an early series book, which often tend to be slow.  

I laughed my way through the scenes with Helen and the Starkweathers, thoroughly entertained by how Helen messed with them.

This book is outstanding.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Reducing My "To Be Read" Books

I have been on a mission since August to reduce my "to be read" or "TBR" books.  I have made a few offhand remarks about it, but those remarks must not have been clear enough for readers to realize what I was doing.  As I made comments about struggling through books that I was reading, I received unwanted advice and implied criticism that really bothered me.  It's nobody's business why I am reading a certain book when I remark that I am struggling to read it.  I must have some reason.

Here are my responses to the advice I was given. 

1. You have been purchasing the wrong books.

My tastes have changed in the last decade.  I purchased some books in the late 2000s that I had never gotten around to reading.  The books no longer interest me.  The purchasing decisions were not bad at that time, but I am not the same person now.

2. You should not read books that do not interest you.

See above.  I am reducing my TBR pile.  I purchased books more than 10 years ago that I have never read.  I must try each book to see if it interests me now.  If I struggle too much, then the book goes in the "to sell" pile.

Also, I sometimes greatly enjoy books, like the entire Rick Brant series, that I never ever thought I would enjoy.  For that reason, I must try to read each book before I get rid of it.  I don't want to miss out on a hidden gem.

3.  You should use the library instead of buying books.

I read vintage series books that are 30 to 100+ years old.  The library does not have those books available

I looked for articles about working on TBR piles, just to see if I what I was doing matched the advice offered online.  I found the following article.

10 Reading Hacks For Finally Getting Through Your Overstacked TBR Pile

Interesting... My process does include steps from the article.  Below, I have copied and italicized the relevant steps from the article.  My additional remarks are below each step.

1. Step one: whittle it down.

This is self-explanatory and is what I have been doing.  I have tried reading the books and have removed many of them.

3.  Make sure it's an actual, you know, PILE.

This means to have the books together.  Most of my TBR books have been shelved together for years.  I moved more of them together in August.

4.  Organize by date.

The pile should be organized by longest in the pile to most recent.  I have been working on reading them or tossing them in the "to sell" pile by going straight across the shelf.  I try to read each book in the order that the books are on the shelf.  If I like the book enough, I will read it and keep it.  Otherwise, the book goes in the "to sell" pile.

10.  Make your TBR pile a priority.

And that I did beginning in August, which has caused me to spend time partially reading books that do not interest me, which then caused those books to go in the "to sell" pile.

I have cleared around six feet in shelf space.

I have been very aggressive in this endeavor.  If the books put up for sale do not sell in the first month, I reduce the prices.  If the books still do not sell, I reduce them again.  This is a fire sale, and I want these books gone now.

My entire set of Grace Harlowe books were put up for sale.  The set is gone except for one lone book that I had in duplicate.

The Grace Harlowe books were followed by my Shirley Flight books, since I will never read them.  Four books have sold, and I just did the first price reduction on the remaining 12 books.

My Dorothy Dale books were listed.  I lowered the prices, and all of the books have sold.  My Motor Girls and Bob Dexter books were put up for sale.  Some have sold, and some remain.  Prices have been reduced.

I put some of my Chalet School books up for sale.  I just did the first reduction on those.  If I can get some from the first group to sell, then I will put others up for sale.

The most recent books that were added to my TBR pile are the Sweet Dreams books.  I read some earlier in the year and have now resumed reading them.  Most of the books that I have already read or tried to read have been put up for sale.  I won't be reading them again.

As I have read through my TBR pile, I have also removed some international editions and variants from my collection that are no longer important to me.  My collection should be a reflection of what I like now, not what I liked 15 years ago.

Jennifer's Series Books on eBay

Jennifer's Series Books on Etsy

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Girls of Rivercliff School and Little Miss Nobody by Amy Bell Marlowe

In The Girls of Rivercliff School, Beth Baldwin desperately wants to attend Rivercliff School so that she can become a teacher.  The Baldwin family does not have enough money to send Beth to Rivercliff.  Unknown to Beth, Mrs. Baldwin sells a family heirloom, giving the family enough money to send Beth to school for one year.

During Beth's first year at Rivercliff, she mends the stockings of the other girls in order to earn money so that she can continue attending Rivercliff.  She is ostracized by many of the girls, since she is from a poor family.  Beth is unjustly accused of theft, and this worsens her situation.

This is a very good book.

In A Little Miss Nobody, Nancy Nelson has no idea who she really is.  She has attended school ever since she was young, and an attorney, Mr. Gordon, pays for her needs.  Nancy is then sent by Mr. Gordon to the very exclusive and expensive Pinewood School.  Nancy goes to see Mr. Gordon, but he will tell her nothing.  Nancy feels like "Miss Nobody from Nowhere."  She is terrified that the girls from Pinewood School will discover her secret.

This is a very good book.  I did skim some passages during the second half of the book, but most of the story held my interest well.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Girls of Hillcrest Farm by Amy Bell Marlowe

In The Girls of Hillcrest Farm, Lydia and Phemie Bray live in a miserable city apartment along with their sickly father.  Mr. Bray gets worse and is hospitalized.  Even worse, a fire upstairs causes the Brays' apartment to be damaged by water.  Aunt Jane suggests that the family move out to her vacant farm, which she does not like or use.

Lydia and Phemie get settled on the property and struggle to make ends meet.  They suffer from the taunts of the town girls, who do not like the newcomers.  The girls ignore the taunts as best they can and hope that they will be able to stay on the farm.

On page 12, a fire is on the upstairs floor of their tenement.  Lydia believes that they are not in danger, since the fire is above them.  She thinks that the fire will stay above them and will not harm them.  This is odd reasoning.  If not put out, the fire will burn through the ceiling.

Lots of dialect is used, and this slowed down my reading.

The book is quite slow-paced.  There is the slightest hint of a mystery, but it stays in the background for most of the book.

I overall enjoyed the book, but it is a bit too slow for my taste.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Nancy Drew Game Fan Meltdown

I mentioned in a recent post about Midnight in Salem that the Big Nancy Drew Fan Meltdown of 2019 was not the only Nancy Drew fan meltdown of the year.  The Nancy Drew game fans have been been upset and annoyed for most of the last five years, and have had multiple meltdowns as the game was delayed or as Her Interactive made various missteps during the process of getting the game finished and released.

Two major game fan meltdowns occurred this fall. The first one occurred on October 1.  Her Interactive had announced October 1 as the date that the game would be available for pre-order on its site.  Just a couple of hours before the pre-orders were to begin, Her Interactive pushed the date back two weeks.  Fans were livid.

The second major meltdown began on November 30.  Her Interactive released the trailer for the game.  The dialogue did not match up well with the movement of the characters' mouths, and the trailer also revealed some problems with the graphics.  Fans did not react well.  The meltdown that began on November 30 became worse, if that's even possible, when the game was released on December 3.

The meltdown is still underway.  The Nancy Drew game fans take the Nancy Drew game franchise rather seriously.  While the Nancy Drew book fans are obsessive and judgmental about adaptations of Nancy Drew, the game fans are 100 times more obsessive and judgmental about absolutely everything that Her Interactive does.

The comments about the Midnight in Salem game are similar to the ones made by book fans during the meltdown about CW Nancy Drew.  One person stated that this game has ruined all of the previous Nancy Drew games.  Others want Her Interactive to go out of business and have actually told them so.  They would rather have no more Nancy Drew games ever than to have any additional Nancy Drew games in the new format.

Some fans canceled their pre-orders of the physical game.  Other fans returned their digital game on Steam right after they began playing it.  So long as players play the digital game for under two hours, they can return it.

Some people have refused to purchase the new game.  They would rather go without than experience a Nancy Drew game that is at all different from previous games.

Some fans use strong language, like calling the game "garbage" and calling the graphics “trash.”  One person is "emotionally scarred."

Those who have played the game are complaining about how Ned is being treated in the games.  They don’t like that Nancy, Ned, and Frank might be in a love triangle. Some fans have sent Her Interactive hate messages about this.  It should be noted that Her Interactive hasn't done anything that Simon and Schuster hasn’t done with the franchise, and Her Interactive hasn’t even done as much as the publisher.  Yet somehow, Her Interactive is evil and has ruined Nancy Drew.

Fans don’t like the new voice for Nancy Drew.  I just hope that they haven’t contacted the voice actress, because she’s just fine.  The change was jarring at first, but I adjusted to the voice rather quickly.

Someone said that they were going to complain to Simon and Schuster if they didn't get their money back from Her Interactive.  It's like they see Simon and Schuster as the parent who will get Her Interactive back in line.  It doesn't work that way.  The companies are separate from each other.

Other fans have expressed concern about the tone of the complaints.  These fans are worried that the complainers will force Her Interactive to quit.  I fall into this group.  If I worked for Her Interactive, I'd want to quit.  I don't see how they put up with the behavior of their fan base.

The company has made some major missteps, but we are so lucky that we were ever able to enjoy any Nancy Drew games at all.  We are very fortunate to have 33 Nancy Drew games.

Take some time to read the following article, which will explain what happened to Her Interactive.

The Case of the Disappearing Nancy Drew Video Games

From the article:
The bulk of Her Interactive’s funding had always come from a venture capitalist who helped found some immensely profitable biotech companies.  The venture capitalist supported Her Interactive not because he thought the company would net him another billion, according to [Stuart] Moulder, but because he thought that making logic puzzle games for girls was the right thing to do.
If that person had not invested in Her Interactive, we never would have had any of the games.  The company allegedly has been in trouble for more than five years.  Will Midnight in Salem keep Her Interactive afloat?  I hope so, because I'd like to see more Nancy Drew games.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Nancy Drew Midnight in Salem Review (No Spoilers)

I finished the Nancy Drew game, Midnight in Salem, on Tuesday, one week after I started playing it.  The game is not awful like what has been reported by many angry Nancy Drew game fans.  The game might not be to the liking of all fans, but it is still a good game.

I played the game via a digital copy purchased on Steam, even though I also purchased a physical copy that still has not arrived.  Steam tracked how long I played the game, and it says that I played for 22 hours.  My actual time played was probably less by at least an hour or so, since I sometimes did other things while the game was open.  I did that because it would have taken 15 minutes to get the game started up again.

The game is different.  It has fewer puzzles and is very dialogue-heavy.  I had to play the game with the settings on low graphics, so the graphics are not as good as in all previous games.

The player movement is difficult to master.  I was never able to master the town square and kept going in circles.  It's like the town square has an invisible path with obstacles placed in such a way that the player cannot figure out how to proceed.  It is difficult.

Despite the problems, it still felt just like a Nancy Drew game to me.

I used Her Interactive's strategy guide to get me through several difficult parts of the game.  I have no patience for puzzles that require me to study obscure pieces of information and then use the information to figure out how to do something.  On the other hand, I love the puzzles where I have to turn and slide puzzle pieces into place.  This game has a difficult three-dimensional puzzle that involves turning and moving pieces around.  I never use spoilers for those puzzles since I'm pretty good at figuring them out.

I mentioned in my tips post on getting the game to run better that I clicked on each line of conversation to force the dialogue to flow better.  That works everywhere in the game except for during the cutscenes.

A cutscene is a place where the game play stops, and the player watches as an event occurs.  The player cannot pause the cutscene or interact with it in any fashion.

The end of the game contains two cutscenes, one immediately after the other.  The second cutscene consists of a lengthy conversation that lasts for 10 minutes, as reported by other fans.  For me, the second cutscene lasted for around 20 to 25 minutes due to extreme lagging in each line of conversation.  Since I could not interact with the cutscene, I could not force the conversation along.  I was so frustrated.

In hindsight, I probably should have restarted my computer and then the game right before the two endgame cutscenes.  My advice is to restart your computer when you reach the life-or-death climax part of the game.  You'll know because you'll probably be given a second chance when it doesn't end well.  When you get a second chance, make sure the game is saved at that moment, and restart your computer.  That might help with the two cutscenes.  It is worth trying since the second cutscene was torture for me due to the lagging.

Aside from the torturous endgame cutscenes, I enjoyed Midnight in Salem.  The game is not perfect. The graphics are a problem, and it's clear that the text of books and documents was not proofread as it should have been.  All that aside, the game is good, and I hope that Her Interactive can stay in business and continue making Nancy Drew games.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Amy Bell Marlowe's Books for Girls Series

Amy Bell Marlowe's Books for Girls series was published by Grosset and Dunlap.  This is a Stratemeyer Syndicate series that was written by W. Bert Foster.

  1.  The Oldest of Four, 1914
  2.  The Girls of Hillcrest Farm, 1914
  3.  A Little Miss Nobody, 1914
  4.  The Girl from Sunset Ranch, 1914
  5.  Wyn's Camping Days, 1914
  6.  Frances of the Ranges, 1915
  7.  The Girls of Rivercliff School, 1916
  8.  When Oriole Came to Harbor Light, 1920
  9.  When Oriole Traveled Westward, 1921
10.  When Oriole Went to Boarding School, 1927

This set is similar to the May Hollis Barton set, which was also a Stratemeyer Syndicate series.  In my opinion, the Barton books are overall much more interesting reading than these books.

I will only have reviews of the books that I actually liked.  Here are some brief comments on the books I didn't like or couldn't manage to read.

When Oriole Came to Harbor Light is too juvenile and cute for me.  I abandoned the book in the first chapter, so I didn't try to read the other Oriole books.

Wyn's Camping Days has a plot that jumps around.  I partially skimmed the book, and then I quit.

The Oldest of Four has lengthy passages that I found quite boring.  The story of the shipwreck is told over and over by different people, each time with a small piece of new information.  I felt like I was wasting my time.  I skimmed the book and didn't read that much of it.

Frances of the Ranges is not compelling.  A few parts are interesting.  The story had great potential, but the execution was lacking.  I skimmed the book and skipped a lot of it to read the ending.  I didn't care.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tom Swift Inventors' Academy #3 Restricted Access

In Tom Swift Inventors' Academy #3, Restricted Access, Tom's class gets to spend the night locked in at Swift Enterprises.  The field trip is expected to be great fun, until Tom learns that he is to be shadowed by Rowan, the son of a reporter who wants to write a story about Tom and his school.  Rowan has a body camera, so everything Tom says and does will be recorded.  Soon, Rowan is the least of Tom's concerns when Swift Enterprises goes into an unexpected quarantine.

I don't want to spoil any plot specifics, but Tom does some exploring in this book that is a lot of fun.

Tom Swift is in the 7th grade, so these books are aimed at a younger audience than the Nancy Drew Diaries and Hardy Boys Adventures books.  The book is quick and easy to read.  It is a bit simplistic.  However, I consider it to be a stronger, more engaging story than most of the Nancy Drew Diaries books.  This book is also stronger than some of the Hardy Boys Adventures books.

As compared to the most recent entries in the Nancy Drew Diaries and Hardy Boys Adventures series, I enjoyed this Tom Swift book the best.  The only Tom Swift books that I have ever read are the three books in this set.  Since I have no preconceived ideas about Tom Swift, then I can enjoy the books for what they are.  With the Nancy Drew Diaries books, I cannot help comparing the books to what I think Nancy Drew should be, which results in me not liking many of them.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Nancy Drew Midnight in Salem Tips (No Spoilers)

This post contains no spoilers.

Before I get to the main point of the this blog, I want to assure those who are awaiting their physical copy of the new Nancy Drew game, Midnight in Salem, that the game is nowhere near as bad as people claim.  In fact, the game isn't bad at all.  The game does have problems with functionality, some of which will be mentioned presently.  Even so, the game is enjoyable.

I wrote a post about the Nancy Drew fan meltdown of 2019, which was a negative reaction to CW Nancy Drew, but in truth, that was not the only meltdown this year.  The Nancy Drew game fans have had at least two meltdowns in 2019.  The most recent one was a week ago when Her Interactive published the game trailer on YouTube.  The Nancy Drew game fans immediately were in an uproar since they felt that the graphics were inferior.

Fans were so upset about the trailer that I decided that I had to check out the game on the day it was released.  Even though I had a physical copy on order from Her Interactive, I purchased a digital copy of the game on Steam.  I also was curious about Steam, since I had heard a lot about the site.

On Tuesday, I registered on Steam and purchased the digital copy.  My initial reaction to the game was disappointment.  The game took forever to load, and the first room seen in the game is so ugly, in my opinion.  The conversation lagged horribly, and I found the game impossible to enjoy.

I read many comments about the game and tried various suggestions to see if I could fix the issues.  I was able to improve my playing experience, but some problems simply cannot be fixed unless one purchases a brand-new gaming computer.  For most people, the game will have functionality issues, since most computers cannot handle the graphics.

The game does take forever to load on most systems.  On my computer, the game takes 10 to 15 minutes to load.  I am referring to the game after it has already been installed and played on the computer.  It does actually take a solid 10 to 15 minutes to start up every single time.

To keep this issue from being annoying, initiate the startup, then go prepare your snacks.  You are going to snack while you play the game, right?  Once you are ready, then the game will probably have loaded up.  As long as I find myself something to do while the game loads, it doesn't annoy me.

Once the game has loaded, it will be on the menu page.  Before you play the game for the first time, go to the settings and make some changes.  I want to emphasize this:  Save yourself some grief and change the settings first.  Unless you have a new gaming computer, you will need to change the settings.  I wish I could go back in time and do that first.  I hated the game on my first attempt to play.  It was that bad.

Not all suggestions that I read about the settings helped my situation.  The following settings are the ones that I used.  I doubt that they are the best ones, but the game does play decently for me.  Making these changes does cause the game not to look as nice.  I personally prefer a less attractive game that can be played over a pretty game that crashes immediately.

My audio settings did not help.  Some of the conversations are too low with the music too high, but I don't know that the settings can fix that problem.

The best piece of advice that I found online is to use the mouse to force the conversations along.  The conversations are awful unless the player intervenes.  The captions on the screen hang and don't match the sound.  After a character finishes a statement, the screen hangs for 10 or more seconds.  This was what really upset me.  After I learned how and when to click on the captions, I was able to begin enjoying the game.

As a character speaks to Nancy, watch for when the character reaches near the end of the caption that is on display. As the character reaches the last one to three words of the statement, click on it with the left button of the mouse.  Actually, I think you can click anywhere on the lower part of the screen, but I aim for the caption.  If you time it right, then the sentences and captions will match up perfectly and flow quickly from one statement to the next.  I mastered the timing pretty well once I figured out how this worked.  I began enjoying the game once I solved the problem of the lagging conversations.

The characters do flail their arms around randomly in slow motion as the player forces the conversations along.  The characters look pretty demented, but I ignored that.  The dialogue is still fun, as always.

The navigation is very different in this game.  I am about halfway through the game, and I am beginning to be able to navigate without much trouble.  The navigation is counterintuitive to how I think, so I have really struggled with it.

Even though I have not finished the game, the story is good, and the player gets to do activities that are similar to the previous Nancy Drew games.  The spirit of the Nancy Drew games franchise does live on in this game. 

The beginning of the game is quite jarring and different.  I liken it to reading a modern Nancy Drew book set in first person after having always read Nancy Drew books in third person.  I felt the same way as I began playing this game.  Once I adjusted and had played around 20% of the game, I truly felt like I was playing a Nancy Drew game for the first time in years.  And it has been years.

I hope that Her Interactive will be able to publish more Nancy Drew games in the future.  I always enjoy them.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Hardy Boys Adventures #18 The Disappearance and #19 Dungeons and Detectives

In Hardy Boys Adventures #18, The Disappearance, Frank and Joe attend a comic book convention with Jones and her friend, Harper.  After the convention, the young people enjoy pizza in Harper's apartment.  After the Hardys and Jones leave, Jones realizes that she has Harper's phone instead of her own.  When the boys return to Harper's apartment, they find it ransacked and Harper missing.

I kept confusing the characters as I read this story.  The characters might have been introduced too quickly, which often causes confusion.  Additionally, online chat names are given, which is more information than I needed.

I forgot to write a review of this book early this year, so I cannot remember exactly what I thought of it.  I do recall that I enjoyed it but not as much as other Hardy Boys Adventures books.

In Hardy Boys Adventures #19, Dungeons and Detectives, Sir Robert's Comic Kingdom has become a popular hangout for RPG fans, who especially love playing Sabers and Serpents, which is similar to Dungeons and Dragons.  Sir Robert plans to have a massive Halloween party to unveil the contents of a rare comic book that he owns, but the comic book is stolen!  The boys must find the culprit and locate the comic book.

On page 105, Charm from the Story Thieves series is mentioned.  It's rather odd for an actual name to be mentioned from another series, since names are usually changed or just not mentioned.  In this case, mentioning the name promoted another Simon and Schuster series, so of course they would be okay with it.

Nancy Drew is mentioned on pages 106 and 107.  This is a cross-promotion tied to A Nancy Drew Christmas.

A "missing map" is mentioned several times.

The book is a bit slow for the first 40 to 45 pages, then it gets pretty interesting once the boys arrive at the old castle.  After that point, I feel that the book continues to drag at times.  I was partially not interested and wished that the plot would speed up.  My problem might have been that the focus of this story is on activities that are not of interest to me, like role-playing games. 

Too much of the last part of the story is taken up with a lengthy explanatory session about what happened with the comic book.  The lengthy explanatory session is much like the lengthy sessions from the later titles of the original Grosset and Dunlap Hardy Boys series.  The rest of the story also contains great detail, and quite frankly, it was too much for me.

Interestingly, a review on Amazon highly praises the book for being like the old Hardy Boys books.  That was exactly my problem.  I actually do not particularly care for a large number of the original 58 Hardy Boys books.  After reading that review, I decided that this book is much like those which is part of what turned me off.

If you are a big fan of the original Hardy Boys books and have never read a Hardy Boys Adventures book, then this is probably the one to try.  I found it partially boring, but the people who have reviewed it on Amazon really enjoyed it.  My opinion of Hardy Boys books tends to be the opposite of many Hardy Boys fans, so there you go.  I am not in the target audience, which makes it not surprising that my opinion differs.

While I was not thrilled with this book, I suspect that is a very good book for Hardy Boys fans.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Nancy Drew Diaries #18 The Stolen Show

In Nancy Drew Diaries #18, The Stolen Show, Carson Drew's old friend, Louise Alain, has broken her ankle.  She requests that Nancy come to Quebec City to take her place in the dog show.  Just before the competition, a dog is drugged, presumably so that gum could be stuck in its coat.  Nancy must find the saboteur before any other dogs are targeted.

Like Nancy Drew Diaries #17 Famous Mistakes, this story appears to be about sabotage but isn't.  The publisher's summary and most of the story lead the reader to believe that the story is about sabotage.  The same approach was taken with Famous Mistakes.  It's like the people at Simon and Schuster are turning the sabotage into a running gag.

The two words "chuckled" and "smirked" are used a bit much in this story.  Use of "chuckled" doesn't mean anything, but I thought of Harriet Adams each time since I recently read through her Dana Girls books.  Harriet used "chuckled" excessively in her writing.

Use of "smirked" in these stories annoys me.  "Smirk" means "to smile in an irritatingly smug, conceited, or silly way."  I noted use of "smirked" on pages 3, 6, 29, and 67.  Nancy is guilty of three of the smirks, and George commits one of them.  In my opinion, Nancy smirking is out of character.  It bothers me.

From page 67:
I smirked.  "You just don't like that she calls you Chuck."  
I paused when I read that sentence and considered that "I smiled" or "I laughed" would have sounded so much more like Nancy Drew and would have retained the same overall meaning.  I cannot stand the use of "smirk" in these books.

Up until page 92, this book bears some similarity to The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane.  Really, it does, and that's very bad.

Nancy is portrayed in a negative fashion, like she was in Heliotrope Lane, on at least 13 pages.

Page 5:  Nancy is nervous.  She admits that she doesn't like being "in front of huge crowds of people."

Page 34:  Nancy feels "like a clumsy oaf."

Page 52:  Nancy panics and tries "to breathe through the nausea rising in [her] throat."  Admittedly, Nancy does have good reason to feel this way at this moment, but the original Nancy Drew would have been concerned and then would have taken action.  She would have solved the problem and single-handedly kicked someone's butt.  She would not have been nauseated.

Page 59:  Nancy's heart leaps into her throat.

Page 61:  Nancy is called "la petite inspecteur" which makes her cringe.

Page 67:  Nancy is called "little girl detective."

Page 79:  Nancy experiences "self-doubt."

Page 85:  Nancy admits that she is nervous.

Page 87:  Nancy says that she is "clumsy" and a "nervous wreck."

Page 89:  Nancy's stomach does a "few uncomfortable somersaults."  Also, Nancy hates being in front of an audience.

Page 90:  Nancy wills her "stomach to stop its gymnastics."

Page 91:  Nancy's heart hammers in her ears.

Page 92:  Nancy breathes "a sigh of relief."

Some of these examples of Nancy's fear are extremely like the examples from Heliotrope Lane.  The same person might have written both books.  Could we please keep this person away from Nancy Drew?  Surely some other writer could be found.

The main reason I am so offended by Nancy being portrayed as scared is that the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift are not portrayed in this fashion.  They do experience nervousness, but the way the emotion is conveyed to the reader is very different.  The way nervousness is conveyed in the Nancy Drew Diaries series comes across as an attempt to take Nancy down a notch.  The approach is different in the other two series.  I feel like Nancy is being treated differently for some reason.  It's very strange.

George also once again likes to eat and shows up in Nancy's room with a large amount of food.  I don't get it.

On page 94, the girls give the excuse that they are going to the bathroom to cover their exit from the show.  They don't go to the bathroom, but at least this book did get in the obligatory bathroom mention that is a staple of this series.  I would have been disappointed if it hadn't.

The first 50 pages of this book are quite boring.  I had to fight the urge to begin skimming during that part of the story due to my extreme boredom.  There is no reason why the reader should have had to endure so much information about how dog shows work.  Furthermore, the conversations are boring.  Absolutely nothing interesting happens during the first 50 pages.  This part of the story should have lasted no more than around 20 pages, and even that might have been too much.

The culprit is revealed during the first chapter—not so that the average child would know.  Perhaps some adult readers new to the Nancy Drew Diaries series might miss spotting the culprit.  On the other hand, anyone who has read through all the Nancy Drew Diaries books will spot the culprit immediately during the moment of the first encounter.  The Nancy Drew Diaries books do not have diverse plots.  Simon and Schuster must have one plot outline with empty spots where different names and places can be filled in, just like Mad Libs.  One story outline is copied over and over.

While the book becomes interesting beginning on page 51, it is still below average and weak for the Nancy Drew Diaries series.  On page 95, Nancy declares that she is done being "obedient" and that she will "bite back."  From that point on, Nancy is on fire.  Notice that my list of negative statements about Nancy Drew occur no later than page 92 in the book.  It's like this book was written by two different people.  Pages 1 through 50 are boring with negative statements about Nancy.  Pages 51 through 94 are better but still have negative statements about Nancy.  Page 95 through to the end of the book have no negative statements.  The last part of the book is very good.

It's quite odd.  Nancy is in no danger during the first 92 pages of the book, yet she is nervous quite often.  She is nervous about being a dog handler.  While I can understand the average person being nervous, this is Nancy Drew (said with a lilt, of course).  Nancy Drew wouldn't be nervous about being a dog handler.

Nancy seems to have a split personality in this book.  She's nervous about a dog show, yet from page 95 through to the end of the story, Nancy does a bunch of dangerous stuff that does not make her nervous at all.  That makes no sense!

The book was written overall in the style of the The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane up through page 94, and then the book was written more like a Hardy Boys Adventures book for the rest of the story.

I don't know how good I can even say that this book is overall.  I probably would go with overall good, but I strongly dislike a good part of the book.

This book is a disappointment, since the the previous two books are quite good and this one falls down again.  The Nancy Drew Diaries books continue to be uneven in quality.  Some books are good, and other books are bad.

Several fans state that the Nancy Drew Diaries series is an improvement over the Nancy Drew Girl Detective series.  I concede that some Nancy Drew Diaries books are an improvement over some Nancy Drew Girl Detective books.  I disagree with the blanket statement that the Diaries series is more true to the character.  The way that Nancy Drew is picked at in the Diaries series comes across as a bunch of cheap shots taken for no reason.

I have questioned Simon and Schuster's intent and practices for some years.  I have even wondered whether they were trying to destroy Nancy Drew by giving the inferior stories to the Nancy Drew Diaries series and using bad authors.  While unlikely that Simon and Schuster would try to destroy a franchise that it owns, the company is at the very least guilty of neglect.

I feel that Simon and Schuster (S&S) is taking Nancy Drew for granted just like Grosset and Dunlap did during the 1970s.  Grosset and Dunlap's neglect caused the Stratemeyer Syndicate to sell its series to S&S.  The Nancy Drew books created by S&S were, in my opinion, an improvement over the final Nancy Drew books produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

Nancy Drew is once again suffering at the hands of a company taking the franchise for granted.  This time, however, the franchise will not be sold to another company.