Monday, October 28, 2013

Book #9: The Sign of the Twisted Candles

A.K.A. "Daddy's Dyin'...Who's Got the Will?" starring Nancy Drew!

Alright, so it's possible that references to poorly received comedies from the 1990's are not relevant.  But seriously.  It's "Daddy's Dyin'...Who's Got the Will?" starring Nancy Drew.

This one starts out with Nancy, Bess and George traveling to visit an Inn called "Sign of the Twisted Candles," owned by an elderly relative of the Marvin and Fayne family but operated by two other douchebags.  Ooops.  Gave that one away.  But, spoiler alerts aside, it's pretty obvious from the get-go that the married couple operating the inn, Mr. and Mrs. Jemmit, are total d-bags.  While lunching at the inn, Nancy, Bess and George overhear a young waitress named Carol all in a tizzy because she has been forbidden from bringing lunch to Asa Sidney.  Being that Bess and George are relatives of the elderly Mr. Sidney, Nancy insists on taking the tray of food for her.

As it turns out, old man Sidney is turning 100 that very day, and doesn't feel like he has a friend in the world other than Carol Whipple, the teen-aged waitress who works at the inn under the almost Disney-esque foster parent villainy of the Jemmits.  Apparently, his actual family members have never really visited until now that he's over a hundred and will probably die soon.  Yikes.  Bess and George's great uncle and grandfather are apparently the worst offenders in this circling-vultures scenario.

Old Man Sidney's Dyin'!  Who's Got the Will?

Of course, Asa Sidney ends up hastily changing his will with the aid of Carson Drew, and dies the very next day.  This leads into the "family feud" plot, wherein Bess and George stop talking to Nancy because their parents have clearly told them that Nancy and her father underhandedly convinced Asa Sidney to change his will and disinherit them.

Unfortunately, this is the part where the book loses me for a while.  The plot itself is great--with twists and turns and villains hiding around every corner.  But the behavior of Bess and George just didn't make sense to me.  Yes, friends fight, and Bess, George and Nancy often do, but this is different and wildly out of character.  For one, if George thought that Nancy was doing something wrong, she would flat-out confront her about it, whereas in Book #9 she hides in her house and refuses to speak to Nancy.  Yeah, that's not the George Fayne I know and love.  Bess, similarly, coldly snubs Nancy.  That's SO not Bess.  She might burst into tears and storm out, but the stone-cold bitch thing just isn't Bess.  Later in the book, they make up and admit that they had been convinced by their great-uncle that the Drews were up to no good, but I can't help but think that they could have handled the "friendship crisis" a lot better in this book.

The last chunk of the book is non-stop excitement.  Nancy and Ned have a date...with danger! Nancy get's her fourth head injury (awwwwww).  Nancy is drugged, finds a snake in a box, and ends up being dangled from a windowpane like a guy that owes money to the mob.  Whoosh!

In the end, the Jemmits are arrested and it is discovered that Carol Whipple, Asa Sidney's only friend, is also his biological great-grandniece--a fact that he was too ashamed to tell her, as he felt he had not given his own wife and children the love they needed.  Soon, both sides of the family calm down about the will...but then start a fight about who will foster Carol.  Awwww.  Just like "Daddy's Dyin'...Who's Got the Will?"  Blood is thicker than water...

This is a very good one, but I can't help but be left with a sour taste in my mouth due to the out-of-character behavior of Bess and George.  This one might have been a 4 1/2 or 5, but I'm landing on 4/5 mags.

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Head Injury Count: 1 (4 total)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book #8: Nancy's Mysterious Letter (1932 version)

...or, as it should be known "Nancy vs. A Bunch of Total A-holes and Constant Interruptions"

This is the 1932 original version of the story.  It should be noted that the rewrite eliminated parts of the story as well as the blatant racial slurs.
Nancy's Mysterious Letter gets to the story just as quickly as usual--in the first chapter, Nancy receives the "mysterious letter" and invites the kindly postman, Ira Dixon, in for hot cocoa.  By 1st chapter's end, the postman's mailbag is stolen and his career is in ruins! Oh, poor Ira Dixon! But...let's get back to that mysterious letter.


Nancy runs around the neighborhood trying to track down the evil man who stole the bag, getting a surprising amount of information from a young boy named Tommy (I feel like Tommy comes back in Whispering Statue).  Then, Nancy decides to go face the music with Mr. Dixon.  All the while, Nancy keeps the letter in her pocket so that she can read it later.

I'm all for your weekly charity cases, Nancy, but remember that letter?  Yeah, we want you to frakkin' read it already.

Unfortunately, my silent pleas are ignored, as they are made to a book that is over 80 years old.  Nancy goes to the Postmaster's office and finds a man whom she describes as "very unpleasant."  Uh, THAT'S the understatement of the year.  The postmaster, Mr. Cutter, screams at Nancy, blaming her for the theft, and promises to fire Ira Dixon without pension and discharge him dishonorably.  Really?  For a mail bag?  Uhhhh...okay.  Anyhoo, the postmaster calls the police, who surreptitiously tell the man that he's berating the daughter of Carson Drew.  Of course, the sycophantic buffoon proceeds to kiss her ass.  But Nancy's in no mood for her practically perfect ass to get kissed.  Oh, no.  She's got a letter to read.


She goes home, expecting to read the letter, but finds she has to drive Bess and George home, along with several bags of squash (WHAT?).  Then, of course, Nancy has to help Bess inside with the squash and make pleasantries with Mrs. Marvin, all the while grasping the letter inside her coat pocket and praying she can read it soon.

Seriously, screw manners, Nancy.  Just READ THE LETTER.

But no.  Now it's too dark to read the letter, and Nancy almost loses it when it flies out of her coat pocket and back into her convertible.  Close call.  Why don't you stop somewhere with a light and READ THE LETTER?  She finally gets home, and explains the letter to Hannah and her father.  The letter opener is in her hand and she slowly starts to cut through the envelope when...

The doorbell rings.  It's Ned Nickerson, asking Nancy on some kind of elaborate weekend date and to meet his parents.  Whoop-de-frikkin'-do, Ned.  We all love you but there's a MYSTERIOUS LETTER to read, man!  Then, just as I think I might explode, Ned and Mr. Drew start to talk about football and Nancy just zones out (been there, Nancy) but still feels like she has to sit there and listen to their boring-ass sports con-fab.

3-2-1...Kate explodes.  But, just after my splattered remains are recovered, Nancy finally reads the letter.  After 50 PAGES.  It's a notice from a legal firm in London, wondering if she is Nancy Smith Drew, a woman who stands to gain a large inheritance but the estate lawyers have not been able to locate her.  Of course, Nancy takes on this mystery too.

Just as she is about to start investigating, another very unpleasant person (VUP) shows up at the Drew abode.  Her name is Maude Sheets, the wife of Sailor Joe Sheets (I know what you're thinking but, despite their ridiculous names, they are not the perpetrators).  Turns out, Maude is sent a weekly stipend from Sailor Joe's sister as he is often away on long voyages (which I would be too if I was married to that infuriating hag).  Apparently, it's all Nancy's fault that she didn't get her mail (because she invited Mr. Dixon in, I guess--but who leaves their mail bag out on the street?).  Not only does Nancy owe her $10, but she proceeds to ramble on about how Nancy's generation has no respect for her elders, and Nancy should be scrubbing floors and making dinner, blah blah blah.  What.  A.  Bitch.  Nancy promises her the $10 so she'll shut up and we are all thankful.

Nancy goes down to the bank to get $10 (no ATMs in River Heights in 1932, yo) and runs into the postmaster again, who yells at her, claiming he now doesn't care who she is--he'll have her blamed for all the stolen mail.  Then, she must endure another lecture from Maude Sheets when she shows up with the $10.  I swear, all of this is taking another 50 pages.  But finally Nancy gets home and can start focusing on the mystery...


That's right.  It's Maude Sheets again, who proceeds to scream at Nancy again for being a disrespectful youngin' who deserves to get "taken over the knee," and then toss the ten dollar bill at Nancy's feet and offhandedly tell her she got the mail after all.  Seriously, if I were Nancy, I would claw this woman's face off right about now.

Sorry for the long recap of the worst part of the book, but I had to.  The second half (this book is 200 pgs--longer than most in the ND collection) progresses much more smoothly, with the focus mainly on Nancy heading to Emerson for Ned's big football game and, with the help of Mr. Nickerson, tracking down Ira Dixon's no-good mailbag-stealing brother, Edgar Dixon.  He, along with being responsible for ruining his half-brother's USPS career, has been running a Nigerian Prince-type mail scam to get money from naive housewives.  She also discovers that Nancy Smith Drew, the subject of her mysterious letter, is set to marry the evil Edgar Dixon.  Of course, just in the nick of time, Nancy saves the other Miss Drew from being on the River Heights Edition of "Mob Wives" and gets her the proof she needs to claim her inheritance.  Edgar Dixon gets away (a rarity for Nancy Drew cases) but is never heard from again, and Ira Dixon is cleared and receives his pension.  Three cheers for Nancy Drew!

This one is a toughie.  If I were rating just the second half of the book, it would get 4 stars.  But, despite having some good villains, both evil (Edgar Dixon) and regular (Mr. Cutter and Maude Sheets), the first part was just too rage-inducing.  I give this one a 2 1/2 out of 5.

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Head Injury Count: 0 (3 total)
Racial Slurs: 3+
Total A-Holes: 5
Interruptions: Countless

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book #7: The Clue in the Diary

Starring NANCY DREW as our heroine!
BESS MARVIN as the "But I wanted to wash my hair!" scaredy-cat whiner that we all love anyway!
GEORGE FAYNE as Buttercup the, I mean as Nancy's fearless chum!
...and introducing NED NICKERSON as Nancy's charming new suitor!

That's right, despite the numerous errors in The Secret of Shadow Ranch, this is the book where Nancy finally meets Ned!  Oh, and it's awesome, let me tell you.

This one starts out with Nancy's curiosity already piqued by a family in need, the Swensons.  The father has been mysteriously absent and the daughter's name is "Honey" so you already know our heartstrings will be tugged by this book's charity case.  While Bess, George and Nancy are on their way back from town, they see an enormous explosion and a mansion engulfed in flames.

Woah.  There are seriously a lot of explosions in these books.  Boat explosions, cabin explosions, and now a whole mansion.  What I want to know is: when will we get to read about Nancy running in slow motion from the explosion like Jeff Bridges in that movie Blown Away?  I guess I'm not expecting it.  If Nancy ever faced a bomb before the fact, we would probably discover that, among her other varied talents, she's also a skilled bomb difuser.

Anyhoo, Nancy and her friends run up to the burning house to make sure no person or kitten is trapped inside, and sees a mysterious man running from the fire!  He drops the titular diary (do you think there's a clue in it, guys?!) and escapes.  A frustrated Nancy heads back to her car, only to see a young man driving away with it.  "WTF?!" Nancy wants to shout.  But, being a proper young lady, she merely runs alongside the car, baffled when the young man parks it at a safe distance from the fire.

And who is this young man?  None other than Ned Nickerson, of course--car thief and gentleman.


Ned takes an instant liking to Nancy and soon becomes embroiled in the mystery, although it's pretty obvious that he's only doing so to get close to our heroine.  As it turns out, the owner of the exploded mansion is Felix Raybolt, known to many in the Mapleton area as "Foxy Felix."  Foxy Felix has been known to buy patents and promise royalties to inventors, only to renig on the contract and laugh in the inventors' faces, dancing like a happy prospector and shouting "haHA! I gots your money!"  Okay, the happy prospector thing I made up, but doesn't it make sense?

The plot thickens when Nancy realizes that Mrs. Swenson's missing husband is the man whom Nancy caught running from the fire, and that the diary she found written in Swedish is his.  Ruh-Roh!   Of course, Nancy comes to the conclusion that I did: no one with an adorable, malnourished child named Honey is going to be responsible for a house explosion.  It's just not going to happen.  My money's on Foxy Felix.  Mostly because know...his name.

Nancy, Bess and George set out to find Foxy Felix, intensifying their efforts when Mr. Swenson is arrested.  Talk of a strange unkempt man, often seen dancing like a happy prospector, has spread around the country outskirts of Mapleton, and Nancy knows this man to be Felix Raybolt.  Also, she has, with the help of the kindly old Swedish baker, translated the diary and figured out that Felix must have a safe with papers that could prove his guilt somewhere in the mansion's foundation.  So, despite Hannah's insistence that they "need a man" to go with them, and Bess's moaning about giving up three dates and wanting to spend the evening washing her hair, Nancy insists the three girls go to the exploded house ruins and lie in wait for Foxy Felix.

After the world's most boring stakeout (Bess keeps insisting she's heard something, George yells at her, and then they both fall asleep), Nancy comes face to face with the nefarious Foxy Felix!  With the help of Carson Drew and Ned Nickerson, who show up in the nick of time (I don't love the fact that Nancy did in fact end up "needing a man," but Bess and George were off snoring in the woods, so I get that) and restrain the man.

Then, as is the case with most Nancy Drew books, everyone is happy!  Foxy Felix and his Cruella Deville-esque wife confess, Joe Swenson and his family are given money for his inventions (Yay!  Honey won't starve to death!), and Nancy now has a favorite date.  Woo-hoo!

I really do like this one.  I admit, it lags somewhat during the Swenson scenes and Bess and George are kind of pulling a Helen Corning in this one, so there are some flaws, but the early chemistry between Nancy and Ned is almost palpable and the action sequences are definitely exciting.  I give this one a 4/5.

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Head Injury Count: 0 (3 total)
Explosion Count: 1 (3 total)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book #6: The Secret of Red Gate Farm

...a.k.a. Nancy Drew vs. the KKK.  Alright, not really...but counterfeiters that dress like the KKK.

This was a good one, especially after the disappointing Secret at Shadow Ranch.  It really allowed the three girls to operate as a unit, with Nancy as the leader, George as the sassy daredevil and Bess as the frightened but loyal ice-cream-sundae-lover.  One of the things I love most about them as a trio is the fact that they all give each other shit from time to time but will clearly do ANYTHING for one another.  This book definitely showcases that.

The book starts out with Bess loudly pointing out that an "oriental-looking" salesgirl looks mysterious.  While I cringed a little at the quaint 1960's racism, I would soon be desensitized after the 15th or 16th time that word was used.  The salesgirl sells Bess some pungent perfume, which spills all over Nancy as they are riding the train back to River Heights.  A man grabs her arm and says something to her that sounds like a code.  Clearly, the perfume was supposed to be some racketeer's idea of a single red rose in a thieving meet-cute situation, as the man started muttering about the Blue Jade scent and ran away.  Hmmm...sounds like a mystery is afoot!

The girls soon meet their mystery charity case of the week (Or weeks, or months.  Who knows in this unmoving time bubble that is the life of Nancy Drew?), a girl named Joanne Byrd.  We find out that her aunt is being pressured to sell her beautiful farm just outside of River Heights, half of which is currently being rented out to a nature cult called "The Black Snake Colony."  The presence of the cult has made it difficult for the girl' aunt to attract boarders--probably because they look like the KKK--so Nancy, Bess and George decide to hit the farm for a few weeks.

Staycation, baby!

Meanwhile, a counterfeit scam has been running in River Heights and Riverside Heights (um, whose idea was it to put those towns right next to each other?  It would be like San Francisco being right next to a "Shman Francisco") and Nancy herself is accused of passing counterfeit bills!

Oh, sweet, stupid criminals. Don't  you know that framing Nancy Drew will just make things worse for you?

True to form, Nancy steps up her game, going right to Chief McGinnis and asking about a possible connection between the nature cult and the counterfeiters.  Chief McGinnis says that The Black Snake Colony isn't a registered cult.  Um, wait a minute.  Do you have to register cults?  Was this a thing back in the day?  Because it seems to me that all those cults that had an endgame of drinking Kool-Aid and passing on to the holy land would have had a really awkward registration process.

BEAURAUCRAT (in monotone voice): "Name of cult."
CHARLES MANSON: "Um, the Manson Family."
BEAURAUCRAT: "State your purpose for forming this cult."
CHARLES MANSON (looking shifty): "Helter Skelter."
BEAURAUCRAT: "Please state a purpose that a reasonable person would understand, sir."
CHARLES MANSON: Sigh. "Stabbing people."
BEAURAUCRAT: "Okay, then."

In any event, Nancy uses this new information to link the two mysteries, plotting an elaborate undercover scheme in which Bess, George, Joanne and herself will dress like the KK...counterfeiters and make their way into the mysterious cave that has been guarded by the colony for months.  The girls go along (even Bess, who is frightened by a pin dropping, thus proving she is actually braver than the rest of them) but are abducted by the cult!


I won't even tell you the end because you should read it for yourself.  Let's just say the U.S. Secret Service gets involved...

This is a really fun read, despite being a bit slower and overusing the word "oriental."  I give it a 4/5 mags.

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Head Injury Count: 0 (3 total)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book #5: The Secret of Shadow Ranch (1965 Edition)

Alright, I have something potentially shocking to say.  I think that the "secret" in The Secret of Shadow Ranch is that this book just isn't very good.  It had to happen eventually, and I think I have always had a slight favorable bias towards this one because it's the first appearance of Bess and George, but I have pledged to give a fair review, and this one just doesn't hold up.  To be fair, this is a review of the 1965 rewrite, and I've taken off a star due to the horrendous consistency issues that were not present in the original version (more on that later).

The book starts out a bit awkwardly, with Nancy arriving at Shadow Ranch to hang with Bess and George's relatives and pretending as though they've been around watching her solve mysteries for all these years.  Um, when?  Because it's stated many times that Nancy's first "real" mystery (despite perhaps being interested before) was The Secret of the Old Clock and I haven't heard word one about Bess and George in any of the first four novels.  Despite the incredible awesomeness of Bess and George, it's clear that they've been brought in, much like Poochie, to boost ratings and deal with the increasing uselessness of Helen Corning.  Well, the first reason is like Poochie, anyway.

They're cousins, they're opposites and they're here to solve the extreme!

The book starts out with talk of a phantom horse (Oh yeah!  A haunting!  Awwwww...) which clearly isn't a phantom but some kind of ruse.  Bess and George's aunt and uncle predictably want everyone away from the ranch but Nancy will hear nothing of it: there is an explanation and she WILL find it.  Nancy, Bess and George then proceed to meet a series of cowboys, three of whom are hot, and one of whom is middle-aged, shifty and is named "Shorty Steele."

Hmmmm...who do you think the criminal will be?  I'm gonna go with the one no one is attracted to who is also spotted doing numerous shady things around the ranch.  SPOILER ALERT:  I'm totally right.  It's Shorty.

Nancy is also asked to solve a second mystery.  Six months earlier, Bess and George's uncle Ross went missing and his daughter Alice is beside herself because no one seems to know where he went.  Um, I feel that, Alice.  It IS kind of strange that, in a whole RANCH full of family members, you're the only one concerned about your father's disappearance.  In any event, Nancy takes the case.

There are a few thin leads on Uncle Ross, but the poor old guy has to move to the back burner because here comes...the phantom horse!  Except it's obviously not a phantom.  It never is, folks.  It never is.

You see, the "phantom" horse is allegedly an omen of danger and destruction based on the legend of this old outlaw named Dirk Valentine who fell in love with a proper town girl named Frances Humbert.  Ouch.   Humbert.  I would marry an outlaw for that last name-switch too.  As we get more into the phantom horse, a third mystery develops concerning Dirk Valentine's lost treasure.  Handsome cowboy Dave wants the treasure almost as bad as he wants Nancy.  Can she help him find it?

Okay.  This is where the story really falls apart for me.  We now have three mysteries, with Nancy getting leads on any one of them at random times.  It gets to the point where she sees a mysterious figure and I have to wonder if it's about Uncle Ross, or the treasure or the phantom horse.  Now, of course it turns out that they are all related, but due to the story treating them as separate issues, the narrative gets kind of murky.  Then, out of nowhere, Bess and George start teasing Nancy about how Ned will feel about the cowboy's interest in her.

You mean Ned Nickerson, the boy she will not meet for another two books?  Yes, I realize later as they mention him like FIVE more times.  That Ned.  Who doesn't exist yet.  Who they clearly introduce in a major meet-cute in The Clue in the Diary.  So clearly whoever rewrote the fifth book had not read the seventh one.

I don't want to completely under-sell this book.  The addition of Bess and George to the series is a great moment in the series, and their loyalty to Nancy, bickering, and sassy attitudes really do make a perfect balance to Nancy's almost annoying perfection in the early books.  All the scenes featuring them are strong, and the friend chemistry (fremistry?) between them is definitely stronger than what she had with Helen.  However, the story is a bit all over the place, relies too heavily on cutesy "old western" expression (seriously, if I took a shot whenever I read the word "tenderfoot" I'd be about fourteen sheets to the wind right now), and doesn't build any real suspense.  We always know the horse is a trick, we know that Shorty and the random mysterious men they keep seeing are responsible, and we know that Nancy will eventually find the treasure and Uncle Ross.  However, the fact that no one but Alice seems to care about Uncle Ross, and that there's no real pressing need Bess and George's aunt and uncle have for the treasure, it all just seems a little blah.

With a heavy heart, I give this one a 2 out of 5.

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Head Injury Count: 1 (3 total)