Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book #44: The Clue in the Crossword Cipher

This book's got a little bit of everything: travel, intrigue, natural disasters, interestingly-named villains (El Gato), disguises and phat George Fayne judo moves.  Unfortunately, there's one other not-so-great thing this novel has in spades: the constant fat shaming of Bess Marvin.  Thus, part of my review will be in the form of a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, entitled:

Too Fat to Ride an Alpaca: 
The Mysterious Fat Shaming of Bess Marvin

A small town girl, Bess Marvin never imagined she'd end up as the unwitting third member of a detective team.  All her life, she'd been scared--scared of smugglers trying to kill her, of out-of-place sailors, and most of all--letting people in.  You see, Bess faces a tragic hardship.

Her parents, if you can call them that, are basically invisible.  Barely around, they only seem to show up when their house is being robbed, their family fortune in question, or as a dim voice at the other end of the phone when Bess is asking to fly off on one of her many trips with girl detective Nancy Drew.  At first, Bess was happy with the freedom Mr. and Mrs. Marvin's negligent parenting allowed.  But, as the year wore on for some eighty years, their careless attitude gave Bess a complex.  Why is it that her parents never seemed to be around?  So, Bess did the only thing she could do: eat.

Yes, she ate and ate and ate.  Of course, realistically, she only ate a little more than her friends.  And all illustrations depict her as vaguely the same size as her cousin, George and friend, Nancy Drew.  Why then, is she the constant butt of jokes and subject of ridicule?  Why can't her friends just let her eat that second piece of corn with swiss cheese on it?  Bess doesn't know.  All she knows is that life scares her.  And carbs are great.

"I'm just so excited about this trip to South America," Bess Marvin exclaimed, tossing her mane of light blonde hair.  "I might just burst."  Bess placed her hands on her slightly curvaceous hips.

George Fayne snorted in reply.  "My dear, fat cousin," she said.  "Maybe hold onto that feeling.  Because then maybe you won't eat so much, fatso."

Bess's eyes glimmered with tears, but she said nothing.  The girls' trip to Lima was peppered with just such remarks--George grabbing her arm as she went for an extra piece of bread, George laughing at her desire for South American food, and George warning her not to eat that extra corn cobb with cheese on in.

Barely able to take it, our heroine takes to the streets on her own, only to be asked out by some smarmy loser and then chased by a ne'er do well.  Winded from the extra cheese corn, Bess falls to her feet in tears.  Can she possibly overcome these hardships?  Was George right?  And will the fat shaming ever end?

Sadly, this book has a tragic end.  Despite Bess's bravery in the face of villains, she is left just as she is at the start: a scaredy-cat.  The butt of a joke.  Too ride an alpaca.

The End

Alright, so there was actually a mystery in here too.  A Pervian American Princess (PAP?), Carla Ponce, asks Nancy to solve an old family mystery.  The Ponce family has a very old wooden plaque left by a centuries-old relative.  There is a message on the plaque, but in cipher form and has been very difficult to interpret.  There are long-standing rumors of a family fortune as well, something that Carla Ponce and her parents scarcely seem to need.  But, despite the fact that this mystery has no obvious charity case, Nancy is intrigued.  Adding to the risk factor is a letter sent to Carla that says: "Cuidado con el gato," or, for you English-only speakers: Beware of the cat!

Nancy, Bess, George and Carla fly to Lima, Peru, where her parents live.  Of course, even before they leave, several attempts at theft are made on the plaque and we know that some gang of villains has figured out that they are on the trail of a treasure.  When they arrive in Peru, they meet all sorts of shifty figures, any of whom could be the mysterious El Gato.  Because the wood from the plaque comes from the arreyanes forest, Nancy asks to go there. 

Because they can just fly to Argentina, no problem.  Hah!

Oh, wait.  I forgot.  Carla's parents are rich, and willing to fly Nancy anywhere.  Apparently, it coincides with some kind of golf tournament in a fancy hotel.  Seriously, do these people really need a fortune?  

Over the curse of the book, Nancy and her friends travel to Argentina and the famed  Machu Pichhu with a paid guide.  They eventually solve the code on the plaque, which ends up being something like "purple monkey dishwasher" but I don't really remember.  Eventually, they realize that El Gato himself is a smuggler that has been posing as the assistant to a woodworking master they had previously asked for help.  They had suspected him of being a part of the gang all along but--surprise, surprise--he was the final boss.  

Well, "final boss" in the sense that he was the main villain.  He actually confessed and went pretty quietly.  Once they were rid of El Gato, the Ponce's dug up their ancestor and robbed his shallow grave of its riches.  Yaaaaayyyyyy!...?

This book was actually quite good, save for the constant fat shaming of Bess.  Seriously, I kind of wanted to punch George in the face throughout the book.  At one point, she tries to ride an alpaca (hence my Lifetime title) and is told she must be too heavy because she weighs over a hundred pounds.  Is that really fat back in 1967?  Or is Bess like 4'8"?  Because, estimating Bess's height at a petite 5'2", even if she weighed 120 that would be within a normal weight range.  

And I know that George is the main offender here, but I feel like Nancy could step in.  Because right now, I feel like I'm solving The Mystery of the Terrible Friends.  Let Bess eat her frikkin' cheesy corn.  Unless the cover art depicts her as 100 lbs. lighter than she actually is, she's fine.

Nevertheless, as a mystery, this one gets a strong 4/5 mags.

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Head injuries: 1 (21 total)
Explosions: 1 (10 total)
Fat jokes: Oh my, yes...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book #43: The Mystery of the 99 Steps

...or, as it's known by me: The Mystery of the 12-15 Staircases, All of Which Have 99 Steps, also known as The Case of the Frightened Fincancier.

I'm back, everyone!  I took a little respite due to holiday business but now I'm back on that addictive Nancy Drew juice, and I hope to crank out a few more reviews before the year is out!

This tale starts, as per usual, back in River Heights, where Nancy is explaining to Bess and George that they must accompany her to France for a case that she calls "The Mystery of the 99 Steps," accompanying Carson Drew on his own legal case. This mystery is so named because a local French ex-pat, Josette Blair has been having numerous recurring dreams about a secret on a 99th step.  She shared her dreams with a few, but then received a letter in French that said: Tell no one about the 99 Steps.  --Monsieur Neuf 

Quickly, Nancy also explains that a pair of French siblings (Monique and Marie Bardot) will be taking their place in a sort of foreign exchange deal, with Nancy and the girls staying with the sisters' parents in France.  George jokingly asks if there will be a boy to replace her, and I raise an eyebrow, but choose to let my favorite tomboyish character work out her gender identity in her own time.  The Bardot sisters have barely arrived when a strange man strong-arms his way into the Drew home.  He shoves a letter into Nancy's hand and leaves.  And what does the letter say, you may ask?  Well, fortunately, they don't pull a Nancy's Mysterious Letter and make us wait 75 pages.  The note says, in clear bold writing: STAY OUT OF FRANCE!  --MONSIEUR NEUF

Alright, it's time for me to bring up the name.  I did a lot of soul searching about this name.  Monsieur villain name so far?  It is hilarious, like the name of a nebulously foreign Scooby Doo bad guy.  But, as it always has so always comes back to Snorky.  Heh.  Snorky.

Anyhoo, once again an idiotic villain has chosen to peak Nancy's curiosity by threatening her rather than playing it cool.  Good going, Mister Nine.  When Carson comes back home to discuss the details of the trip with the girls, they find out that he wants their help on a mystery he likes to call: "The Case of the Frightened Financier."

Okay, wait.  Is this the mystery of the 99 steps or the frightened financier?  Even before these two cases are inexplicably linked, I'm already confused.

Apparently, some investors have hired Mr. Drew to find out why a French mogul has been selling stocks and securities in his company without any reason or financial advice.  Such a dramatic move has already had an effect on the economy, as it is a huge company.  Nancy and the girls agree to help him.  Before they leave for France, however, Nancy helps the Bardot sisters settle in, even asking them to sing in a local review.  Unfortunately, the man who had left the note (is he Monsieur Neuf?) stalks the girls and almost attacks them.  The man is caught and I briefly wonder how there is still 150 pages left in this book, until I remember the 99 steps and financier.  The man, named Claude Aubert, is clearly connected with the mystery/mysteries but Carson, Nancy, Bess and George have little time to  figure this out as they are scheduled to leave.

And off to France we go!

The rest of the book is mainly a series of amusing montages featuring the girls locating several staircases with 99 steps.  Some have suspicious markings, some have children in suits of armor, some have giant French women who threaten to bump the girls down each of the near 100 steps like an Oompa Loompa.

Of course, as is usual with Nancy Drew books in foreign locations, there's also a lot of history and education.  The case of the frightened financier turns out to have a lot to do with alchemy, as Claude Aubert's twin brother (Louie Aubert) has been posing as a Middle Eastern swami-type man that has convinced the financier, Monsieur Leblanc, that he can turn any substance into gold.  While in his Arabian gear, the girls simply refer to Louie Aubert as "The Arab" over and over again until my politically correct ass starts rolling around in its future grave.  The girls also realize that Josette Blair's memory of the 99 steps is due to the fact that her governess as a child was involved with, and now married to, the villain Louie Aubert.  It was a recovered memory of something that scared her as a toddler.

The frightened financier is obviously very grateful, as is Carson Drew, who offers Nancy half of his legal fee.

Um, what about Bess and George?

Anyhow, all's well that ends well (except for poor Bess and George, who paid for a trip to France and get little acclaim) with another two mysteries solved.

This book is definitely enjoyable in some ways, but there were quite a few issues for me.  For one, we never really get to know Ms. Blair, so her mystery always seems quite vague and I never really care about it.  The frightened financier seems like an idiot, and part of me feels like he's similar to the characters in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall--too stupid for me to feel bad for.  Also, there are so many superfluous French characters that are too minor to care about but take up text nonetheless, and it was very difficult for me to keep track.  Also, Louie Aubert has so many aliases by the end of the book that Monsieur Neuf is all but forgotten.  Boooooo.  This one gets 3/5 mags.  Not great, but certainly not bad either.

Head Injuries: 0 (20 total)

Best Villain Name Runner-Up: Monsieur Neuf!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book #42: The Phantom of Pine Hill...FEATURING GUEST REVIEWER, MAREN LANE!

 Hey there everyone, Maren here J So I have the joy of reviewing the only book that can compete for #1 against Clue in the Diary. The Phantom of Pine Hill. The reasons for loving this book are numerous and, if you don’t agree, well you’re just wrong. Ok no everyone can think whatever they want, but since I’M writing this I can say what I want, heh heh.

First off, literally on the first page, we already have a Ned Nickerson saves the day moment! The girls have come to visit the three boys during a week of Emerson fun. Now I hardcore love Ned Nickerson, and I mean that truly, I may have judged every date I've ever had against him and unsurprisingly my husband is actually pretty close. What was I saying? Oh yeah Ned already saves the day, which just shows how much he’s going to be in this one, which makes for a happy Maren.

Ok seriously enough Ned distractions. The titular phantom “resides” at John Rorick’s (also known as Uncle John) mansion. Nancy, Bess and George stay with him following a motel mishap and get to stay there for the week rent free, so long as they help catch the phantom! Woohoo excitement J Luckily we do not have to wait long for the phantom to make his first strike! Within the first ten pages Nancy returns to the house to change her party dress after a waiter named Fred Jenkins spills punch on hers, and discovers that her pearl necklace has disappeared!! Later that night Nancy does what she always does and hears a creaking in the dark house and decides to investigate...ALONE!! Because she legitimately thinks that’s a better idea. I mean, I understand not bringing Bess since she sometimes can’t stop talking, but, hey, why not George!? At least she came to her senses and didn’t go outside when she saw a fleeting light in the woods. Good move, Nance. Later that morning after breakfast we get introduced to mystery #2! Uncle John’s ancestor who came to this country in the 1700 had a young French bride. When they had a daughter, Abigail, the French family sent a chest of gifts. Which got lost in a steamship (the Lily Belle) accident. In the river like 50ft from the house. Are we dealing with sunken treasure!? (ummm the answer is always yes.)

Hmmm I wonder if the two mysteries might SOMEHOW be connected. Anyway it can’t be all work and no play. The girls go to the Emerson crew race, because OF COURSE, Ned is on the crew team. Isn’t he just perfect? Ned and Nancy have a quick impromptu picnic before the race, and who is lurking about, but Fred Jenkins. Hmmmm 2 instances of seeing this guy in 3 chapters? Yeah he’s got more involvement! Crew race happens, Emerson wins (DUH) and it’s all very exciting. Ned and Nancy decide to take a romantic canoe ride....over to the site of the Lily Belle sinking. Hmmm Nancy I believe you have ulterior motives here...not just trying to get alone time with Ned! Although gotta love how he puts on his professors cap and explains the history of the phrase “two bits.” But wait, what’s this? A motorboat is trying to run them down!! Accident #1.

What is Nancy’s solution? To go alone into the woods to search for the motorboat captains accomplice. Always with going alone into the woods right Nance? Only creepy thing to happen, however is a piece of paper that floats down on her from above that is blank except for two perfect thumbprints. UMMM HOW IS THAT NOT CREEPY AND ALSO JUST PLAIN WEIRD? Ok thank god for Bess who bluntly just declares how creepy that is later on.

Ok time for the Emerson dance. Nancy get’s all pretty, and her beauty causes Fred Jenkins (him again?) to drop a vase of flowers he’s carrying. Like he actually tells her she shouldn’t be so beautiful because he got distracted by it which caused him to drop the vase. While she waits for Bess and George, Nancy gives the adorable housekeeper, Mrs. Holeman a lesson on how to look for clues to how an intruder could get into the padlocked library. However, after 5 minutes Mrs. Holeman declares that since Nancy has found no hollow spots in the walls then it must be a spook. Like a ghost. Is it ever actually a ghost though? I’m thinking no. Nancy does go in to the library and find that some of the hidden money she had discovered the day before has gone missing. DUDE THIS LIBRARY IS PADLOCKED! HOW IS HE GETTING IN! Ooooooh maybe it is a ghost. Ok no just kidding it’s never a ghost.

Mrs Holeman has to go out of town suddenly. Uncle John has already gone away for a few days. You know what that means. Nancy, Bess and George in a haunted creepy house all alone. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Which means Nancy and Ned (oooh la la) are going to do a stakeout in the locked library all night to see if the phantom shows his or herself. Well sadly, the only shenanigans that occur overnight are actually a prank played by Bess and George. Also there’s a later moment where George teases Bess about her weight. Something no Nancy Drew would be complete without. Poor Bess L And there’s a moment with the Chief of police who decides Nancy isn’t a flighty bimbo; he actually admits that he thought she had mislaid her pearl necklace and just got excited over nothing. What a jerk. Also Fred Jenkins is being nosy again. But that’s no surprise. Ok random interlude stuff over and Bess finds a clue! Go Bess!

Wow I really need to be less wordy in my reviews. I’m not even halfway through the book yet. Ok I may need to edit for the rest.


What?--I love Nancy Drew!

Don’t judge me!! You don’t know Maren.

Wow ok panic moment over. Back to the big Emerson pageant. Ned, dressed as an American Indian,  swoops up Nancy and "kidnaps" her and take her to “treasure spot.” Burt is dressed as a fully bearded captain and Dave plays what appears to be Noah on his ark and it goes on and on because racism. This ends up being the spot where the main Pine of Pine Hill is said to be the site of a buried treasure! Sadly, not the Lilly Belle treasure.

The crew all goes back to Uncle John’s only to discover that the locked library in the locked house has been torn to shreds!! Cue Twilight zone music. (now tell me you didn’t just hum that in your head!) Ok off to the dance (another one!? Geez where do the girls get all their frocks....pretty sure Target and TJ Maxx didn’t exist yet) And at the dance a big announcement is made! Ned has been made fraternity president! Seriously is there anything wrong with him? Long nose hair? An awkward mole? SOMETHING?

The happiness form the night is semi dampened when the girls return to Uncle John’s to find a threatening note from the phantom. It’s quite terrifying. Especially since, in the note, the phantom refers to himself in the third person. Woooooooooooo scary. This prompts Nancy to begin a search of the house again to find hidden panels. Because in this type of scenario there are ALWAYS hidden panels. And sure enough she finds one! Unfortunately she tugs on it too hard and it falls on her hitting her hard, causing her to black out. Accident #2, Blackout/Head Injury#1.

A day or so later, after she recovers, the three go digging at an old burial ground which is no longer actually there. Bess screams and what has she found? A HUMAN SKULL. Gross. Poor Bess...again.  They go investigate some caves in the area and see someone spying on them.  When going to investigate, George and Nancy are standing closeish to the edge when the ground under them gives away and they slide/roll/fall down the hill! Accident #3. Bess runs down to check on them and manages to get a glimpse of who she thinks is the spy.

Hmmm I wonder who it is? Is it Fred Jenkins perhaps? I’m thinking its Fred Jenkins.

Yup it’s Fred Jenkins. Told you.

Back at the house Nancy asks for some info on Fred from Mrs. Holman. Hmmm he’s a loner who lives with his dad. Sounds ripe for being a Nancy Drew culprit to me. Nancy investigates a little more then it’s time for evening festivities with the boys. The evening is marred a little though when Nancy’s car is stolen! Seriously so much happens in this one! And it’s stolen from Uncle John’s house, not like a public lot. Hmmm looks like Fred Jenkins stole it. Under the pretense of washing it. Fat chance! Hah!

Well it’s a new day and you know what that means? Time to investigate the library again. After finding some clues involving freshly mown grass (Hermione would love it) there doesn’t seem to be much else out of place. EXCEPT THE PRICELESS COIN COLLECTION! Seriously there was a coin in there worth 7500 bucks. And that was in 1965......oh man that’s a pretty penny (heh heh). But there’s also still the question of how the phantom is getting in and out of this room.

Nancy and Ned go off on a scuba adventure to try and find the Lily Belle. Meanwhile, back at the house, Bess, George, Burt and Dave decide to do a little investigating of their own. They do all they can to find a way in and out of that library. Which ends with Dave disappearing headfirst down the chimney. Accident #4.

Nevermind that at the same moment Nancy and Ned are diving and Nancy gets her oxygen hose tangled and she can’t breathe underwater. (Does that count as Accident #5? Maybe 4.5 it’s a smaller mishap easily and swiftly rectified) After their diving adventure gives them no solid clues they drive home, taking a detour by Fred Jenkins house. Who should they see but Fred’s father, WHO IS ALSO THE OTHER MAN THEY’VE BEEN SEEING IN THE WOODS?! Ooooh a father/son duo. I like it. Nancy and Ned totally break the law and investigate the Jenkins house after the two men have left and find nothing, although Ned does come up with an amusing rhyme. They do, however, find a key making machine (seriously who other than criminals has one of THOSE just lying around at home) which explains how Fred was able to take Nancy’s car!

Going back to the house leads to yet another investigation of the library. This time it is to discover the last of the hidden money has been stolen. Nancy is fed up and determined. This time she is finally successful. In the dining room, with a nail file (she killed Colonel Mustard), she finds a lever that opens a secret passage! Huzzuh!! George is the first to investigate and hidden in the passage is the missing coin collection. Score 1 for George!

We are winding down and you know what that means? Time for a stakeout! The girls hide in the library when a man in stocking feet and gloves comes in. They watch him steal some costume jewelry and Nancy bursts out to confront him. He sprays her with something that knocks her out. Oops. Knockout #2. He does the same to George who has come to Nancy’s aid. Bess who is still hiding almost panics but comes to her senses and shouts and the guy and before he has a chance to spray her she throws a heavy book at him!! Woohoo way to go Bess! Bad guy loses his balance and falls hitting his head. Bad guy taken down by Bess. Yet another reason to love this particular book so much. But it’s not over for her. While the three others lay unconscious Bess calls the cops. As she waits for their arrival Fred comes in the house. OH NO! What does Bess do best? She flirts with him as a distraction. Dude Bess totally saves the day in this one I love it J She even tempts him with cake and everything. Just in time for the cops to show up and chase him down and arrest him. Suckaaaaaaa!

Turns out Fred and his father WERE looking for clues to the missing treasure lost on the Lily Belle. (like we didn’t see that one coming) Fred also admits that he and his father had stolen the coins and the money and Nancy’s pearl necklace. And golly Pa Jenkins admired Nancy’s grit so much he was going to tell her where everything was. Wow, what a nice thief!

Now it wouldn’t be a proper Nancy Drew conclusion without the miraculous discovery of the treasure! Struck by genius Nancy and the gang go to an old stump near the tribal village site/burial ground and dig up and old tree stump! Woohoo there’s all the treasure! Trunks filled with gold coins as well as the missing Rorick chest were indeed buried underneath. Yaaay happy ending!!

Man I forgot how much I love this one....

Soooo many accidents and head injuries....gotta love it! 5/5 mags.

Head Injuries: 2 (20 total)

Accidents: 4.5 (Infinity total)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book #41: The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes



Villainous Sailor: Alright, IVU team.  I heard from our central unit in River Heights that Nancy Drew is heading out on some kind of trip to Scotland.  We need our best men on this NOW.

Random dark and shifty dude: But that's where we have our sheep thieving ring!  Noooooo!

Shrewd-Looking Man #5: Can I say something?

Villainous Sailor: Only if it's not some terrible advice about not drawing attention to ourselves by leaving the Drew girl alone.

Shrewd-Looking Man #5: Shutting up now.

Villainous Sailor: Listen, gang.  The sheep thieving ring isn't our only problem.  Nancy Drew is taking the trip to track down a family heirloom we stole.

Shrewd-Looking Man #5: Can't we just mail it back or something?

Villainous Sailor: (rolls eyes)  No, we can't just mail it back.  Don't you know there's a narrative structure we have to follow?  Attack the girl in her home, do something to her car, send a threatening note or make a call, follow her on her trip, and then cause a series of easy to escape accidents.  Is that so difficult?!

Shrewd-Looking Man #5: (sighs) No, sir.

Random dark and shifty dude: So what's our first move?

Villainous Sailor:  Something different.  Something she'd never suspect...

Random dark and shifty dude: A conspicuous car crash?

Villainous Sailor: That's the ticket!

Shrewd-Looking Man #5: I'm gettin' too old for this shit...


Okay, I can't keep up a whole entry in Criminal Suspicions IVU without sacrificing our heroine's perspective so back to the normal review.  Despite the fact that pretty much all the Nancy Drew international mysteries follow this predictable theme, I have forgiven this one for one very good reason.  Which I will explain later.

Our mystery starts out in River Heights as Carson tells Nancy of a priceless family heirloom (and her inheritance) that has gone missing.  Nancy's great-grandmother, whom she has never met, insists it must have been stolen.  Nancy quickly agrees to take the case (doesn't hurt that the prize is a priceless heirloom) and the Drews are going to Scotland!

But wait.  Bess shows up, saying that she's been given two tickets to any destination in Europe as she's won an international photo prize for a picture she took of Nancy.  Herein lies the snag that makes the usually ludicrous villain commute between far-off lands and a Podunk suburb of Chicago seem a bit more realistic.  The picture, which depicts Nancy with a magnifying glass and accompanies an article about her girl detective skills, is a surefire way to alert any criminals keeping their ear to the ground that she might be coming to bust up their gang.

Despite being a little irritated at a clueless Bess, who has probably blown her cover until the next major disaster, Nancy tells her to give the spare ticket to George so they can both accompany her to Scotland to find the missing brooch.  The widely-circulated article brings something to this particular story that we haven't really seen before, which is Nancy suffering the negative effects of her celebrity.  Her and her father's notoriety has mostly been used to get Nancy and her friends out of a jam when they are framed for a crime or scoffed at in disbelief.  But, in this case, Nancy is immediately inundated by fans, hoping to get the autograph of  the famous girl detective.  She gives out her signature to a few children for fun, but worries when one of the kids sells her autograph to a smarmy looking dude in the crowd.  She tries to protest but he says, I kid you not, "Thanks, baby!" and shuffles off.  Will we see this man again?  My vote's YES.

Meanwhile, as Nancy prepares for her trip, several not-so-bizarre incidents befall her.  Her car is crashed into, she receives a threatening note about any car she's in being destined for an accident, and she receives a bomb threat.  Needless to say, the trip to Scotland sees some white knuckles among our group.  However, Nancy, Bess, George and Carson safely land.

Before setting out to the more rural area where her great-grandmother, Lady Douglas, lives, the girls do some sightseeing.  This is one of the best devices of the international mysteries for kids, as the cultural information is generally quite expansive and interesting.  This book proves to be no exception.  The tour guide/chauffeur tells the girls tales of kings, war and bloodshed, not to mention a few obscure Scottish jokes.  He does so in a written Scottish brogue, with all the canna's and dinna's you could ask for.  Despite Bess's objections when the stories get too bloody, I personally was pretty riveted.

On their trip, Nancy and the girls even learn about the history of bagpipes, at which point Nancy attempts to play.  Now, if any regular person were attempting to play the bagpipes for the first time, they would sound a lot like Ross from Friends sputtering out "Celebration" while their friends looked on in abject horror.  Not Nancy, of course.  No one can believe how great she is!  She could go pro! Everyone is awestruck, but they don't know as I do that Nancy is an android.

Before the girls head to the countryside, Nancy connects with Ned, who has just returned from a school trip to South America.  BRIEF ASIDE: WTF?!  What is this guy studying, ambassadorship? He was just in frakking Hong Kong!!!  Anyway, she asks him to look into who wrote the accompanying article in the magazine that has brought her all this celebrity since Bess had no idea.  He discovers that the writer is a man she doesn't even know.  Hmmmm...a villain?

Nancy, et. al head off to see Lady Douglas when they realize they are being followed.  Nancy thinks he looks vaguely familiar, which I can easily attribute to the fact that, from his description, he is Groundskeeper Willie.  Before you tell me I'm being Scot-ist, he was red-haired and bearded with "crazy red side-whiskers" and a kilt.  Um, that's Willie.  With an air of caution, Nancy and the girls meet up with a guide, Fiona, and head across a loch to the small village near her great-grandmother.

After a heartwarming first meeting, Nancy and her great-grandmother become fast friends.  Lady Douglas explains that the heirloom, a beautiful brooch, was basically there one day and gone the next.  Nancy sets out to search the area, discovering that there has also been a rash of sheep thefts across rural Scotland.  It would appear that the pelts are being sold through underground dealers, leaving the local farmers impoverished.

Throughout the investigation, however, Nancy becomes more and more frustrated as people keep identifying her as the girl detective they've all been reading about.  It seems she's always a few steps behind the criminals while the article is out.  Another snag reveals itself when the police try to arrest Nancy because a forger has been using her signature (from the autographs) to write bad checks.  The officers soon realize Nancy is not this kind of girl, however, and soon agree to help with the case.

Nancy soon realizes that the sheep thefts are being carried out after the signal of a particular bagpipe tune being played over the hills and schemes to play the tune herself.  Newly a bagpipe prodigy (apparently) Nancy is able to catch the thieves with the help of her great-grandmother's staff, Fiona, the police and Bess and George.   As it turns out, Groundskeeper Willie is actually the smarmy guy who bought her autograph in a Groundskeeper Willie costume.  He shouts: "No Scotchtoberfest?  Ya used me Skinner!  Ya uuuuused me!" and is led off to prison with the rest of the sheep-stealing clan.  It would appear that the criminals' inability to not steal Nancy's heirloom is really what led to their downfall.  And, of course, that these criminals are idiots.

I hadn't read this one in a long time and wow did it hold up.  It had great action, was rich in historical info, used Ned, George and Bess, and offered up the interesting twist of Nancy struggling to do her work under a spotlight.  I give this one 5/5 mags.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book #40: The Moonstone Castle Mystery

And so we review The Clue in the Crumbling...

Wait a minute.  You say this isn't The Clue in the Crumbling Wall?  But, there's a castle...and a missing heiress.  And a moat.  And action scenes with boats on the river.  And a kidnap victim hidden in the castle...

Are you sure?

Oooohhhh, you say: "But, there's a moonstone!"

Sure.  Totally different.  I get it.

Of course, my text drips with sarcasm.  While I can't say I didn't enjoy The Moonstone Castle Mystery, I must admit that it is far too derivative of it's predecessor, The Clue in the Crumbling Wall.  Only it doesn't have a hilarious scene with George losing her clothes.

The story begins with Nancy hearing about a mystery, a missing girl who is set to inherit a large sum of money but went missing after the death of her guardians.  She is almost immediately sent the cryptic gift of a moonstone which, the accompanying note says, will keep her from danger.  Is this note from friend or foe?  I can't really say I care, because I'm already feeling like I've read this book before.

Nancy, Bess and George visit Deep River Valley (formerly known as Moonstone Valley...coincidence?!) and stay at a local hotel, where Ned, Burt and Dave are to follow.  Bess soon meets an attractive young man named Alan, and is relieved when he has to leave before Dave Evans arrives as she "hates complications."  Oh, no you don't, Bess!  You loves you some drama!

The girls immediately try to befriend the town busybody, the proprietor of a tea shop and cafe called the Brass Kettle, only to learn that a ne'er do well named Mr Seaman has already been inquiring about her!

Wait, Seaman?  Is this a mother&**^%*ing SAILOR again?

Apparently not; it's just some guy named Seaman.  If that sounds fake, it's because it is.  Nancy manages to evade Mr. Seaman, and she and the girls come across a mysterious castle.  Moonstone Castle.  COINCIDENCE?!  NEVER.  After a number of repetitive scenes wherein Nancy and the girls can't control the mechanism on the drawbridge, they realize someone must be living in the castle.  With this and the name of the castle, Nancy and the girls rightly assume it is somehow connected to the mystery.

After investigating the castle, the girls try to track down the executor of the missing heiress's guardian's will, Mr. Wheeler, but are shut out at every turn.  Then, just when the lawyer seems ready to share what he knows about the missing girl, he is kidnapped from the hospital after a crazy boat chase.  Nancy, of course, would have never let this happen, but she was detained by local police who suspected her of stealing the boat that struck them. Ned points out that they have no evidence they stole, while the deputy provides the counterpoint that the group has no evidence they DIDN'T steal the boat.  Unsurprisingly, they are not able to convince the police of this egregious assault on logic.  However, Nancy mentioning her father's name always does the trick, as he is seriously the George Clooney (or Jurj Clooners?) of lawyers.  Everyone, everywhere knows about Carson Drew.

Even though Mr. Wheeler is missing, the gang finds a new lead: a girl in town who has a similar name to the missing heiress, Jody Horton (the girl in town is named Jodine Anderson).  This is a razor thin lead, but of course, turns out to be correct.  The girls are able to prove that Jodine Anderson is really Joanie Horton, they find Mr. Wheeler trapped in the castle, and the villains are finally caught.

Who sent the moonstone, you may be asking?  Well, apparently a former housemaid who assisted Hannah Gruen when Nancy was younger got into a bad relationship.  Once she overheard her husband's plans to stop the Drews from finding the girl by any means necessary, she sent Nancy the stone as a warning.  I don't really know how the villains knew that Carson and Nancy were on the case so fast, but whatever--it was a medium-exciting reveal.

As you can probably guess, this one didn't end up being a favorite upon re-reading.  I give it 2/5 mags (some enjoyable pieces, but not enough to save it from the inevitable deja vu  of coming after The Clue in the Crumbling Wall).

Head Injuries: 0 (18 total)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book #39: The Clue of the Dancing Puppet

Ever since I saw Chucky and especially the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Puppet Show," I've always thought puppets were a little creepy.  They move in jerky, peculiar movements like zombies and have frozen, unchanging faces like clowns.  Like I said, mega-creepy.  This is particularly the wooden or doll-like puppet.  I take no issue with Muppet-style puppets, as their cute and malleable faces seem to register emotion where dolls and dummies cannot.  The dancing puppet in this book definitely falls into the creepy category.  Life-size and made of wood, these puppets totter around throughout the mystery, pretty much totally freaking everyone out, myself included.

The Clue of the Dancing Puppet is one of those N.D. books I always forget how much I love.  It really does have a little bit for everyone and the narrative never falters or drags.  The story starts with Nancy being asked by a local theatrical group, The Footlighters, to solve an intriguing mystery.  The Van Pelt Estate, which the troupe uses for their rehearsals and performances, has been the site of several bizarre sightings--a life-sized ballerina puppet moving around the grounds.  Since Bess is already a member of the community, she persuades them to let Nancy and George join so that they can work on the grounds without suspicion.

What Nancy fails to realize is that there is clearly a worldwide network of criminals who have her name and picture in their headquarters.  KSTR Headquarters (kidnappers, swindlers, thieves and ruffians) is located, of course, in River Heights, where all major criminals commute on a bi-monthly basis.  Once Nancy is approached for a case, or happens upon one, the signal sounds and all KSTR members get ready to break into the Drew house, steal Nancy's car, or make a threatening phone call.  Works every time....oh...wait.  It totally doesn't.

Our villain makes a creepy threatening phone call right off the bat, doubling Nancy's interest in the case, and she promptly ignores it.  Bess, George, and Nancy head to the Van Pelt estate and start investigating.  After a thorough search of the place and a very early head injury (Nancy is struck by a small cannonball and SHOULD be dead, but let's ignore that), the girls have found TWO creepy puppets, but not the ballerina one that has been sighted.  The girls decide to take in a nice, big dinner  with their hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Spencer.  The description of the food makes me noshy, as per usual, and I am driven to the kitchen.

Swallow, belch.  I'm back.  If I'm not careful, these food descriptions will drive me to pack on more pounds than Bess after a couple dozen ears of cheese corn..

No sooner than the girls have met their hosts, as well as the Spencer's good friend Emmett Calhoun (a pretentious Shakespeare loving buffoon fondly refereed to as "Cally Old Boy"), they are in a hit-and-run accident and EACH suffer a head injury.  While there have technically been FOUR head injuries in the first 75 pages alone, I will keep my count to two as I am only tracking Nancy's brain damage.

Despite the fact that Nancy should by all rights be drooling into a cup, she continues her investigation.  As she begins to look into the members of the Footlighters, she finds something even more dangerous than a cannonball to the head:  Tammi Whitlock.  Tammi had apparently been anticipating Nancy's arrival and had spoken out very strongly against her and George being allowed into the theater troupe.  A stone-cold diva, Tammi will not abide by anyone potentially taking away her turn in the spotlight.  She clearly has it in for Nancy, as well as her shy young understudy Kathy who has been dating the male lead, Bob Simpson.  Another wrinkle: while Nancy suspects that Tammi may have some connection to the mystery, Cally Old Boy blocks her at every turn.  Despite the fact that he is old enough to be her MUCH OLDER father, Emmet Calhoun can think only of two things in this life: Shakespeare and Tammi.  Unfortunately for him, he's more likely to get sexual healing from the cold, dead corpse of the Bard than Tammi.

When Tammi goes off (probably thieving) and fails to show up for a rehearsal and performance, Nancy is able to take over.  Why?  Because, despite her two head injuries and having been busy with the case, she's memorized Tammi's lines.  And of COURSE she's a natural actress, because Nancy is practically perfect in every way.

I must point out that, at this time, other than a short subplot about small-time thieves operating out of a local restaurant, we have no motive or clue regarding the puppet, which has shown up two or three times throughout the book.  Is the figure a scare tactic, or a distraction?

It's a bit of both, but I'll get back to that.

Curtains up, and Nancy is awesome.  She's somehow even better than Tammi, who has been rehearsing for weeks.  Hamilton Spencer is ready to cast Nancy in every lead role, when she points out that she's there to solve a mystery.  Being of a singularly artistic temperament, he does not take this well, but reluctantly agrees.

Meanwhile, the cover story on the local news is Nancy's superior performance in the play.  The author even goes so far as to say she's pretty much blown Tammi Whitlock out of the water.  Yikes.  Watch out, Nancy.  Hell hath no fury like a Whitlock scorned.  Also, it must be a particularly slow news day if that's the top story.

The thieving ring is eventually caught in a somewhat anticlimactic scene, and we discover that there is a motive: a secret hidden in a FOURTH creepy puppet.  Whaaaaaa?  As Nancy is looking for another puppet, one appears on stage in front of her.  But...what's this?  It's not a puppet but a human being!  TAMMI!

Tammi attacks Nancy in a jealous rage but Nancy is ready for her.  "I'm gonna tear you a new puppet-hole, bitch!" she screams, lunging at Tammi and finishing her off for good...

Okay, that didn't happen, nor did they get into a hilarious wrestling match, during which a giggling Nancy declared: "You're a bloody puppet!"  I guess that all went down on that puppet episode of Angel.  But it's just so funny!

What actually happens is that Tammi's attack leads to a tearful confession of her involvement in the mystery.  As it turns out, she had turned her less-than-honest brother onto the possibility of a valuable hidden secret when none other than Cally Old Boy let her in on the contents of an old diary he'd found.  Poor Cally was never involved in any of the deception or thievery with Tammi and her gang, but wanted so badly to please the MUCH YOUNGER girl that he broke.  Oh, yeah, he broke like that glass cow in the Mr. Sparkle commercial.  Either way, Tammi's Bieber-esque behavior and trickery didn't find her the secret and she is taken away by the police.  Muhahahaaa.

The secret turns out to be a patent for an aluminum fuel cell that operates off of melted chemicals.  Wow, does that NOT sound green.  But Nancy happily gives the earth-killing patent to the Footlighters, who sell it for a pretty penny, their shows funded for years to come!

This one was just great-- 4 1/2 out of 5 mags.

Head Injuries: 2 (18 total)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book #38: The Mystery of the Fire Dragon

Explosions, Kidnappings, and Doppelgangers, oh myyyyyy!

See what I did there?  It was a Wizard of Oz and George Takai reference all rolled into one.  Primo.

This book would appear to have everything.  It's action-packed, contains both doppelgangers and head injuries, is chock-full of explosions, and features Ned.  What else could a girl want?  Well, unfortunately, while this all looks good on paper (metaphorically, of course--I mean the book IS on paper), it definitely suffered in execution.  Most of this suffering was at the hand of mid 20th century cultural insensitivity and a preponderance of coincidences.

Our story begins with Nancy receiving a letter from Ned, who is in a cultural exchange program in Hong Kong.  While she is marveling at the idea of traveling there, her father says there might be a case he is working on there she could help him with.  At the VERY SAME TIME, Aunt Eloise calls with a mystery involving an older gentleman from Hong Kong named Grandpa Soong.

Now, imagine I'm Will Arnett as I say this...C'MON!

But, okay, I've gotten past the most ridiculous series of coincidences since the prevalence of delinquent sailors in River Heights.  Moving on.  As we get to New York, the mystery hits the ground running with an explosion.  After the dust settles, so to speak, we find out that Grandpa Soong is a man who occupies the adjoining duplex-style apartment with Aunt Eloise.  His granddaughter, a college student named Chi Che, left a very mysterious letter and has likely been kidnapped.  As soon as Nancy sets out on the case, she is hounded by a series of oddball villains with names like Ferdinand Breen, Smitty, and Skinny Kord.

Very quickly, the girls realize that Chi Che looks a lot like George and they decide to trick the villains by having our favorite tomboy prance around town in a high-necked silk dress and affected eyeliner (cringe!).  The ruse works, only too well.  The villains attempt to kidnap George and later succeed in kidnapping Bess.  All the while, I am left to wonder why in the hell this gang of ne'er do wells cares about Chi Che or Grandpa Soong enough to go to all of this trouble.  Grandpa Soong is an archaeologist working on a manuscript about a hidden frieze, but it doesn't sound to be particularly valuable.  Nevertheless, the manuscript is stolen and I begin to accept the fact that these villains are dumber than the idiots from The Ringmaster's Secret.

Just when the girls start to settle down and relax for a moment...ANOTHER EXPLOSION!  Someone has put a firecracker too close to the gas main in Eloise's kitchen.  I honestly have no idea how there aren't more injuries in this book.

BUT, WAIT!  Nancy investigates and is smashed over the head.  Boom, head injury.

Eventually, the girls discover that Chi Che has been moved overseas.  The coincidences start to figuratively close in on me as Nancy finds out there just happens to be a student trip to Hong Kong with enough seats for her, Bess, George and her father.  And they can stay with Ned!  Seriously, I love Ned, but this is just one happenstance too many.

Before they leave, however, two things happen.  First, there are about 10 pages peppered with fat jokes about Bess and, despite the fact that she laughs it off, I feel like punching George.  Lay off the girl!  We all like bonbons, and judging from the cover art she's got maybe five pounds on you guys.  Sheesh!  Secondly, they begin to wonder whether they can go at all because there is ANOTHER THREAT OF EXPLOSION.  The villains make a bomb threat on the plane and it's only by way of Nancy's clever use of their surveillance equipment that the girls are able to make it appear as if they are heading home. to Hong Kong!

The rest of the book is actually quite interesting, with Ned being a font of information on Chinese culture due to his stay there. Of course, it's all from a white dude's perspective, but whoever ghostwrote this clearly read a book or something. because it actually comes across as information about Chinese culture rather than crass stereotyping a'la Leaning Chimney.

Between visits to the opera and local gardens, Nancy manages to track down the villains (again, Skinny Kord?!) and discover that their motive wasn't based on the manuscript at all but on Chi Che discovering their smuggling ring.  The crooks had simply stolen the manuscript to make sure any evidence of their crime was destroyed.  Ah, okay.  They are upgraded to only minorly stupid.  After a thrilling sequence involving Nancy escaping the villains with Chi Che, only to be taken aboard a plane that may be shot down, the crooks are finally arrested and the smuggling ring is dead.  Wa-hoo!

I must also mention a delightful scene in which Nancy discovers Chi Che's location when she overhears one of the criminals screeching that "Chi Che's off the junk!"  I, of course, did not realize that Chinese sailing vessels are called "junks" so you can imagine my confusion amid lines like: "Where are they?  They're on Mr. Lung's Junk!" and "At that very moment Nancy was being pushed aboard the large, sumptuous junk."  Heehee.  Sumptuous junk.

In any event, this book definitely had some issues, even aside from the multitudinous coincidences.  While this is common at the time, the number of times Asian individuals were referred to as "The Chinese" or "Oriental" was overwhelming.  At times I felt as if I was reading the prose of my racist, out-of-touch Great Aunt Flotilda.  Flotilda doesn't exist of course, but you get my point.

I am taking away two full mags, but adding half a mag for the better-than-average action and suspense.  3 1/2 mags out of 5.

Head injuries: 1 (16 total)
Doppelgangers: 1 pair
Explosions: 2 (9 total)
Kidnappings: 3 (infinity total)
Fat jokes: 5
Weirdest Villain Name: Skinny Kord
Most Hilarious Moment: My confusion over the word "junk"
Cultural Insensitivity: 1.5 liters

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book # 37: The Clue in the Old Stagecoach

Nancy vs. No-Good Thieves…and Fuzzy Lumpkins?!
Our next book finds Nancy, Bess and George hiking up a steep hill, on the way to investigate their next mystery. Of course, Bess (our resident “shopping is exercise!” advocate), is already complaining that they shouldn’t take on any case that involves such a drastic elevation change. Unsurprisingly, her suggestion falls on deaf ears.
The girls are visiting Mrs. Strook, who lives in a village near a camp that the girls are visiting on their neverending summer. The kindly old woman, unlike our usual charity case, is living well, but wants the girls to help unearth clues to an old family treasure that could provide the money to build a new school in Francisville. Apparently, Mrs. Strook has a great uncle named Abner Langstreet who hid a vital clue to the treasure in an old stagecoach.
Pretty much from the moment Nancy agrees to solve the mystery, she is beset by a nosy couple named Ross and Audrey Monteith, a surly libertarian named Judd Hillary (think more Fuzzy Lumpkins and less Gary Johnson…in fact, that’s Judd Hillary’s name now) and a pack of mysterious thieves who make off with the old stagecoach as soon as she has it.
The Monteiths, a couple in their 30’s, are this book’s Mortimer Bartescue. They are arrogant, obsequious, insufferable buttinskies (yes, I need all those adjectives!) who insist not only on talking to Nancy and her friends every chance they get, but eavesdropping on every conversation. First of all, I have to point out that, as a woman in my thirties, if I showed up at a summer camp and inserted myself into the activities of teenagers, I’m sure it would go a lot worse than it did for the Monteiths. At least Nancy and her crew simply ignored them and made up polite excuses at first.
As the book progresses, however, Nancy just says “screw manners” and starts ditching them. And, honestly, I don’t blame her. Of course, just as in some of the earlier books, we are left to puzzle over if they are simply an annoyance (like Bartescue) or part of the larger crime ring (think fake Prince Michael). In this case, they are totally guilty.
While in Francisville, Nancy is also accosted by Fuzzy Lumpkins. He basically accuses her of ruining the town and creating more taxes for the townspeople.
Uh, what? How, we are forced to wonder, is that even possible? Who goes around accusing random people of putting “city folk ideas” into the local townspeople’s heads, raising taxes and limiting hard-working Americans’ right to bear arms and kick the ass of…oh, wait. He’s this guy:
Yep. That all makes sense now. Nancy is unsure as to whether he is just afflicted with those pesky bonnet bees, or if he is also part of the criminal ring trying to keep her from the treasure. However, I am sure. Guilty.
While Nancy dodges the Monteiths and Judd Hillary, she, Bess and George also find time for some tennis and water ballet. The girls sign up for a comedic clown-themed water performance and I am torn between delighted anticipation and cold fear at the thought of clowns chasing me down like sharks in the water. During this story, the girls are being “escorted” by three other boys (whose names I refuse to remember because they aren’t Ned, Burt and Dave). While I totally get that these other boys are more of a “group hang” scenario, I still get enraged at the idea of Ned being replaced. Could be leftover PTSD from the Nancy Drew Files. In any event, Ned, Burt and Dave do show up in the home stretch to help out and I am placated.
In the end, Nancy and the gang are able to track down the clue in some letters left at a local farm. They dig up the old stagecoach (despite a botched poisoning attempt by the Monteiths) and find the treasure. A classic line is uttered at the end, when the Monteiths, Fuzzy Lumpkins, and two other local toughs are brought in on theft and attempted murder charges. As the bad guys are led away, Bess sighs and says: “Oh, why can’t people be honest?”
Um, because there would be no books, Bess. And River Heights would be filled with normal, boring citizens instead of embezzling sailors.
But, seriously. How cute is Bess?
This one was very good. It was well-paced and didn’t try to fit too many mysteries into one case like some of the books do. However, the end was a bit rushed, and where the hell was that clown water ballet? My fear has passed and now I want it! Ah, well.
4/5 Mags
Head injuries: 1 (15 total)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Book #36: The Secret of the Golden Pavilion

That's right,'s time for a spinoff.  You fell in love with hard-boiled Nancy Drew in River Heights: Criminal Suspicions.  Now get ready to dig even deeper into the dark underbelly of this idyllic Midwestern town in River Heights: Gangland Style.



Nancy Drew sits in a private helicopter, petting her dog, Togo.  Evidently, when your dog wins first prize at a dog show, they take you home in a helicopter.

Nancy Drew: [peering out the window]  Oh look, it's our house, Togo.  Wait...what's that?  Some kind of ruffian trying to break in?  Chauffeur, fly closer please!

Pilot: Ma'am, I'm a certified pilot, not a chauffeur.  Also, we can't just "fly closer" to a suburban neighborhood.  That's how helicopters fly into houses.  Also, why in the hell did I take this job escorting the dog show winner in a frikkin' helicopter?!

Nancy: [rolls eyes]  Whatever.  I'll take those binoculars.  Wait--it is!!  Someone is breaking into our house!  And with such an interesting ladder...

Pilot: What could be interesting about a ladder?

Nancy: Chauffeur?

Pilot: [clenches teeth] Yes, ma'am?

Nancy: My father is an important lawyer.  I will now have to insist that you shut your pie-hole.

Pilot: Yes, ma'am.


Carson Drew: Nancy, I want you to meet Mr. Sakamaki.  He has a mystery for us.

Mr. Sakamaki: Yes, it is most intriguing.  I recently inherited my grandfather's estate in Hawaii but another family has come forward to claim the inheritance.  They are loud, pasty white and fat American types.

Carson: [nodding] That does sound like Americans...

Mr. Sakamaki: Well, it doesn't end there.  Not only are these albino fatties trying to claim my estate, there's also been some mysterious damage done to our legendary golden pavilion.

Carson:  Hey, Nancy!  That's the title!  It's titular!

Nancy:  Hmmmm...I don't know.  We sort of already have a fascinating mystery going.  I call it "The Case of the Collapsible Ladder."

Mrs. Sakamaki: With this mystery, you get to go to Hawaii.

Nancy:  Sold!


Chief McGuinness: So, it looks like the man who rented the collapsible ladder to break into your house fits the description of the leader in an international gang called the Double Scorps.  We would have never figured that out if it wasn't for the strangely-apt description you and several townspeople gave of the man and his unusual tic.  Who would have thought so many people would remember the way a man played around with his hands?

Nancy: [laughing]  Well, it was quite unusual, Chief.  These criminals, with their swarthy looks, weird birthmarks, signature tattoos, and idiosyncrasies.  Frakkin' amateurs is what they are.  Am I right?

Chief McGuinness:  [chortling] Signature tattoos--that's my bread and butter right there.

Nancy: Isn't that the truth?  Well, I'm off to learn some more about Hawaiian characters and legends.

Chief McGuinness: That's right!  Nancy, what on earth are you still doing here?  It's been seventy pages! Shouldn't you be already be in Hawaii by now?

Nancy: I just need to lock down a few details before I go, Chief.  So far I'm not quite sure that the international gang will follow me to the islands yet.

Chief McGuinness: You know they always do.

Nancy:  [shakes head]  Frakkin' amateurs...


Bess Marvin: Oh, what a frightful journey!  But here we are in beautiful Hawaii.  Now it's time for some fun in the--

Nancy: Not so fast, Bess.  We have a gang to catch.  Someone's still hacking away at the beautiful golden pavilion on the Sakamaki estate.  And I spotted a ghostly figure dancing there last night.

Ned: But not an actual ghost, right?

Nancy: [laughing]  Of course not a ghost.  It's never a ghost.

Ned: Right.

Nancy: Maybe if I take over the role of the ghostly dancer, we can draw out the gang and catch them in the act...

George: Wait, the gang?  I thought we were looking for the chunky inheritance thieves Mr. Sakamaki told us about.

Nancy:  George, what have we learned after all these [year]?

George: [sighs] Of course.  They're all in it together.  You know, even on a good day, these fools couldn't hit their ass with both hands.

Ned: What?

George: Forget it, Ned.  it's Chinatown.


Nancy:  Well, we did it!  We brought down the gang.

Ned:  And found a treasure!

George:  And I just kneed this guy in the balls.

Gang leader:  OW!

Bess:  And I just found this ham!

Nancy: [smiling]  Looks like it's time to celebrate. GANGLAND STYLE!


Sinister music plays as we pan over River Heights.  Nancy and her friends are stepping off a small airplane when Carson Drew approaches, hat in hand.

Carson: [tears in his eyes]  Nancy...

Nancy:  What is it, Dad?

Carson:  It's the collapsible ladder company.  With all the bad press, and the gang, I'm afraid [chokes out sob].

Nancy: no!  Don't tell me...

Carson:  The patent didn't go through.



Alright, I potentially had a bit too much fun with that.  But, for some odd reason, that ladder was really memorable.

This one was good, but I admit not as great as I remember.  As mentioned earlier, a good 70-80 pages go by without Nancy and friends heading to Hawaii and I did get a bit antsy.  Once our sleuths get to Hawaii, the story really does pick up but I'd say the story tops out at 3 1/2 out of 5 mags.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Book #35: The Haunted Showboat

Nancy vs. car thieves, bombs, pissy Mortimer Bartesque-esque fops, and...the horrors of the Bayou!

The Haunted Showboat has two very important distinctions: One, it is the first book in the original series that isn't revised (the remainder of the "yellow" series--up to 56 or 64 sepending on who you ask--does not have revisions) and also, it's likely the best mystery.

I know I've already made such claims with Tolling Bell and will make such claims again with my first-read Nancy Drew and fave The Secret of Shady Glen. least so far I have to say this is my favorite actual mystery.  I won't be able to give it a full score, despite my love of the story, because reviewing these books while medium-woke keeps me from doing so, and the book is LADEN with predictable racisms surrounding New Orleans and Voudon culture. Like SO many stereotypes that my face was just frozen in that Chrissy Teigen cringe GIF for whole scenes.

Our mystery starts off quickly with Bess teasing a trip to New Orleans for her cousin Donna Mae's wedding and a possible mystery aboard a showboat.  I really do love when the mystery is kind of handed to Nancy as the thin plot devices that have led her into others are getting a bit hard to believe.  The girls decide to head off to Louisiana on a road trip in Nancy's little convertible, but before they can...NANCY'S CAR IS STOLEN!!!

Alright, that didn't need to be in all caps, but there you have it.  For all of five minutes the girls think their trip is ruined, but then Carson Drew shows up like a really, really rich knight in shining armor (the armor is so shiny because he's so rich) and presents a brand new convertible.  because he was thinking of getting her one anyway.

Wow.  It's really a wonder Nancy Drew didn't turn out a stupid, spoiled princess with all the cars her father buys her.  I'm pretty sure this is her fifth new car.  Anyhoo, they head out on the road in the brand new car but are plagued throughout the entire road trip by the car thief, who Bess originally spots when she recognizes an ink stain in the back seat of Nancy's stolen car.  Every time the girls set off again, something goes wrong with the car.  The rear housing falls out, and the girls find a bomb strapped under the car.

I'm sorry, but what kind of thief steals a car and then uses the STOLEN CAR to continue terrorizing the victim of his crime?  Well, the kind of thief that only stole the car in the first place to keep Nancy from going to New Orleans, but we'll get back to that later.  Even with that, though, it's pretty moronic for the guy to use Nancy's vehicle to stalk her.  Lamesauce.  (The thief is lamesauce, not this mystery so far, which is amazeballs).

After several more incidents in this cat-and-mouse game (at one point, the thief somehow leads them up an icy path where a telephone pole is downed and sparks are flying everywhere.  Then, I'm pretty sure he causes a blizzard, which leads me to the only safe (and conservative) conclusion: the car thief is Saruman.

So, the girls end up taking the path to Moria--er, I mean the longer path and finally arrive in New Orleans. When they get to Bess and George's cousin's estate, however, they find that their formerly sweet and laid back cuz is now a high-maintenance bratzilla (that's right, I just created a word.  If the genuises over at Burritozilla can do it so can I).  They get the whole story behind Donna Mae's wedding: apparently she had been engaged to a super-nice local boy named Charles Bartlome but ditched him unceremoniously when the aforementioned fop, Alex Upgrove came along.  Alex Upgrove, though Oxford educated, is apparently not as attractive and thrice as annoying as Charles Bartlome and nobody knows what in the hell Donna Mae is thinking.  Nevertheless, her parents are throwing an elaborate wedding party aboard a showboat where the bride and groom dress up like a prince and princess.  The only problem?  A serious of strange noises, mysterious calliope music and ghostly sightings...

Is this starting to sound like a reality show to anyone?  My Big Fat Bayou Wedding?  Runaway Bratzilla?  The Real Belles of New Orleans?  Pimp my Showboat?  Wait, I've got one more in me... World's Deadliest Showboat Hauntings?

Nancy, as always, agrees to take the case, but is foiled at almost every turn by Donna Mae, who wants everything focused on her, and Alex Upgrove, whose nosiness about the mystery is starting to make the girls suspect that he might be involved in the alleged "haunting." That's right, folks.  All hauntings are now in sarcastic quotation marks.  My faith has been shattered.

Finally, Nancy is able to slip away and find time to check out the showboat, aided by Donna Mae's ex Charles Bartlome.  He's been working to restore the boat for Donna Mae's parents (a glutton for punishment, apparently) and offers up two of his best friends to accompany the girls to the haunted boat.  Nancy accepts their platonic invitation, as she's used to there being three friendly, non-sexually aggressive men to escort them whenever Ned and co. aren't around.  Donna Mae, of course, blows her figurative top as she's already pissed off by Alex Upgrove's strange obsession with Nancy and the mystery.  She calls Ned, Burt and Dave at Emerson, making it seem like Nancy and the girls are involved in sleazy New Orleans affairs (it is home to pirates, drunks and whores; tacky over-priced souvenir stores, if you believe the musical).

Completely unruffled, Nancy is pleased when the boys show up, diffusing any possible hurt feelings or tension, which somehow makes Donna Mae even madder.  Wow.  Does this girl belong in Sweet Valley or what?  In any event, the arrival of Ned finally makes Alex back off a bit from his needling, obsequious behavior towards Nancy.  The men are all relieved that their girls haven't strayed, but that relief doesn't last long, as they are recruited to play the part of jesters and clowns in Donna Mae and Alex's ludicrous wedding performance.  Nancy, Bess and George all laugh at them mercilessly.

Meanwhile, Nancy solves at least half of the bayou mystery.  The ghostly figures seen on board were apparently an elderly man, Mr. de la Verne who has been taking his ill twin sister to the boat to relive old times.  It's a sweet storyline, and one that leads us to the ultimate reveal when the girls look through Mr. de la Verne's old Oxford yearbooks (do they have yearbooks in college?) and discover that the man posing as upper-class Alex Upgrove is a fake!  Just as they glean this bit of information, the girls see a face at the window--It's faux Alex! (Fauxlix?)  The girls soon get the rest of the story--Fauxlix and Nancy's car thief stalker are in cahoots and have been "haunting" the boat by playing music and making strange noises to detract from their own search for a long-lost treasure.

BRIEF ASIDE: Do you think all the treasures have been found at this point in time?  Probably.  It makes me sad to think of all these criminals stooping to boring-old armed robbery because there are no more vague leads to long-lost treasures.

Anyway, the action ties up with Nancy, Ned and the gang tracking down Fauxlix trying to escape with the treasure using the famous New Orleans Mardis Gras parade as a cover (why he didn't just blow out of town I don't fully understand but whatever).

They tell Donna Mae the truth about her good-for-nothing fiancee and she quickly pales, realizing she gave up a great man (Charles Bartlome) for nothing and has also been a spoiled, ridiculous douchebag.  Undeservedly, she starts seeing Charles again and they soon announce their re-engagement.  Bess and George are happy to have their cousin back and not the insufferable chore of a girl we've been dealing with for the entire book, but I kind of wish she would end up alone.  Am I becoming less of a romantic?

Well, my newfound apathy regarding happy endings for complete a-holes aside, this was really a great mystery.  Note I said mystery. I can't praise the book as whole because of the really cringe-worthy representation.  And while William Shatner might scoff at this, I cannot in good faith review these books without pointing out the elements that could legitimately would kids. If I can't say that these things are wrong, what the hell am I doing reviewing these children's books?  Other than having a ball swearing about them, that is?

This one would ABSOLUTELY get 5/5 mags but I take away a full mag and a half for racism, add a bonus half mag for it being hands down the best actual mystery in the bunch, and thus it is 4 out of 5 mags.

Less-than-quaint racisms: Um, yikes.  Lots.
Head injuries: 0 (14 total)
New Cars: like a million...probably 5

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book # 34: The Hidden Window Mystery (Original Edition)

This thriller starts with an intriguing and original mystery.  A blundering local postman, who has been working the neighborhood "forever" is accused by a nasty neighbor of losing or perhaps stealing an important (and perhaps mysterious letter).

Where do I start with this innovative plot?  A postman accused!  A mysterious letter!  It's....wait.  Wait just a minute.

It's the exact beginning plot of Nancy's Mysterious Letter.  And what the hell happened to Ira Dixon?  I know he was set to retire, but this Mr. Ritter has allegedly been there "forever."  What the hell?
Well, fear not, chums.  This isn't the only mystery.  In fact, there seem to be about one gazillion packed into 200 pages.

Mystery #1: The Strange Case of the Derivative Storyline

First, the postman is accused of stealing a hundred dollar bill that was supposedly mailed to Mrs. Dondo, a gossipy new neighbor who claims her brother, Alonzo Rugby (VILLAIN!), sent her the cash in the mail. Who sends cash in the mail?  First mistake.  Also, Mrs. Dondo is what Eric Cartman would refer to as a "Super King Kamehameha Beeyotch."  She proceeds to run around the neighborhood spreading rumors about Nancy (for a while insinuating she took the money) and generally assassinating the character of poor Ira Dix--er, Mr. Ritter.

Look out, Mrs. Dondo.  Nancy Drew does not take kindly to those who mess with local postmen, apparently.

Mystery #2: The Hidden Window Mystery

In what seems to be a total diversion from this initial crisis, Nancy reads about an English man's plea to find an old stained glass window featuring a knight with a peacock symbol.  A thin lead causes Nancy to arrange a trip to Charlottesville, VA to meet with an artist who specializes in stained glass windows.  In a remarkable (yet I will not remark on it) coincidence, Nancy's cousin Susan Carr lives there with her husband.  The girls arrange to stay with the Carrs and head off.

In an idiotic move, the villains (who Nancy doesn't even know about at this point) send our girl detective a fake telegram from Cousin Sue saying that they are not welcome any more and should not travel to Charlottesville.  Of course, this only piques Nancy's interest, and she, Bess and George arrange for a hotel with their endless supply of travel money.

Mystery #3: The Mystery of the Masked Man

The girls have only just arrived in Charlottesville when they hear a news report on the radio that announces a bad car accident.  The report lists none other than Susan Carr as a victim of the accident!  The news report then goes on to describe Cousin Sue's vehicle, make and model and announce which hospital she was taken to.  Good going, news.  I would SO want you on the case if I was in a car accident that was clearly not accidental.  Why don't you let us in on some good local knife sales and give us the room number too?  Morons.  Anyway, Nancy and co. dash to the local hospital, where they discover that Susan was run off the road by a man in a mask.  When the girls question her about the strangely brusque telegram, Susan says she has no idea what they are talking about.

Way to jump the gun, villains.

Mystery #4: The Screaming Peacocks of Cumberland Manor

When Susan and the girls head back to the Carr estate, Susan's husband Cliff announces that he has yet another mystery for the girls to solve.  I must point out that even George rolls her eyes at this point and says: "Not another one!"  I feel that, George.  But buckle up.  There are more mysteries ahead.

Anyhoo, this neighborhood case involves some mysterious circumstances surrounding Cumberland Manor, which an older man named Mr. Honsho bought a few years back.  Since the man moved in, he has refused to open the grounds of his estate for the famed annual garden show.  In fact, he put a high wall around the property and doesn't want to chat with any of his neighbors.  Not to mention the fact that strange screeching noises come from the house every night.

Okay, first of all (I've said it before and I'll say it again)...first world problems.  He won't open his house for a garden show?  Boo-frikkin'-hoo.  The Carrs seem nice, but they're starting to sound a lot like the 1%.  Also, this Mr. Honsho sounds like my kind of guy.  Likes his privacy?  Check. Refuses to engage in inane chatting?  Check.  Strange noises coming from the house at night?  Well, check but don't get too excited.  I just have a really loud laugh and the nighttime is when I watch Brooklyn 99.

Despite the ridiculousness that is this "mystery," Nancy accepts.  When she and the girls try to visit, they are turned away by a young cowboy-looking groundskeeper (A cowboy?  In Charlottesville?).  They wander down the road a bit farther and see a beautiful but creepy looking estate bordering the Cumberland property called "Ivy Hall."  Could it be another mystery?  Confusingly, yes.

Back to Mystery #2: The Hidden Window Mystery

Nancy tracks down the stained glass window artist, Mr. Bradshaw and worms her way into taking lessons from him so that she can scope out his studio.  Unsurprisingly, Nancy is a natural at stained glass window making.  And why not?  She certainly picked up Pennsylvania Dutch pretty fast.

Nancy sees from a magazine clipping that Mr. Bradshaw has also read about the reward and search for the hidden window--could he be the one trying to keep her off the case?

Eh, I don't know, guys.  He doesn't have a very interesting name.  And he's not described as wiry, shrewd, dark or piercing.  Something doesn't add up...

Oh, wait, his assistant is Alonzo Rugby, the "dark," "small eyed" and strangely named brother of King Kamehameha Beeyotch Mrs. Dondo.  Suddenly it all makes sense. You know, these books make me wonder how much the police are taking tips in racial profiling from Nancy Drew...  Anyhoo. For a while, Nancy is able to pick up clues and ward off Rugby, but eventually Mr. Bradshaw accuses her of snooping (justifiably) and she is asked to leave the studio.

This apparently causes a problem for the Carrs, who are now losing dinner party guests as the Bradshaws have shunned them.  More first-world problems.

Mystery #5: The Clue in Ivy Hall

A friend of the Carr's, Sheila Patterson (and her daughter Annette) corner Nancy at the Carr's dinner party.  They have another mystery for the girls to solve.  At this point, I become concerned that George's eyes will roll right out of her head.  Mrs. Patterson, an actress, recently purchased the creepy-looking Ivy Hall but is now afraid that it is...HAUNTED!

Sheila just doesn't know what to do!  If she sells the estate, she may not get a good price and might not even be able to (gulp) keep her servants.  Oh no!

Another thing--not only have the Pattersons been hearing strange noises from their house, but they have also heard the odd shrieking.  One night, Sheila saw a peacock wandering around the Ivy Hall grounds and is certain that it's a bad omen (apparently there is an actual theater superstition about peacock feathers and disasters on the set).

After several stakeouts of Ivy Hall and an ingenious scheme to smoke out the ne'er-do-well, Nancy figured out that Luke, the cowboy-looking groundskeeper from Cumberland Manor is behind the "haunting."  A poor ranch hand, Luke read about the hidden window in the same magazine and thought that it might be in Ivy Hall due to the estate's rich history.  At first, the creepy sounds he made were accidental--just banging around in the attic and walls--but then he realized that if the ladies thought the house was haunted he could have free reign to look around.  In the end, Luke made some mistakes but isn't our real bad guy.  Annette, Sheila's daughter even pities him enough to let him take her out on a date.  Bess warns her that "pity is akin to love" and that she'd better watch out.  Truer words have never been spoken, Bess.

Of course, Luke was right about the location of the hidden window...

Mysteries #1-5 Conclusion

In a fairly quick wrap-up, Nancy and the gang locate the hidden window just in time to expose Alonzo Rugby, who, along with his King Kamehameha Beeyotch of a sister Mrs. Dondo, was already trying to sell a cheap copy of the stained-glass masterpiece to its seeker.  Nancy exposes him, reveals the real hidden window and saves the day...

...and I have whiplash from the sheer volume of mysteries.  I really did like parts of this (especially the Ivy Hall plotline) but I felt the whole story was just too diffuse.

Mags: 3 out of 5
Number of times I hate rich people: [tugs collar nervously]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book #33: The Witch Tree Symbol (Revised Edition)

Is Nancy Drew really a witch?

The answer, of course, is no.  She's clearly an android, as evidenced by my earlier posts.  But apparently the entire Amish community is convinced that Nancy's detective skills are actually some kind of witchcraft.

Let me back up.  While the tale itself gets more exciting, we start off with the thinnest of premises and the world's most boring mystery.  A new neighbor of the Drews', Mrs. Tenney, asks Nancy to accompany her to her late aunt's house to retrieve some of the better antiques as part of her inheritance.  When they get there, however, all the best antiques are gone!

duh, Duh, DUUUHHHH!

What follows is a scene in which Nancy is, as per usual, far too polite, so I will edit it for your reading pleasure:

MRS. TENNEY: (weeping) All the valuable antiques are gone!  Some shady antique dealer told me they were worth a fortune and now they're gone!  Gooooooooooonnee!  Heer-heer-heer!

NANCY: Well, it sounds like that aforementioned shady antique dealer may have had something to do with it.

MRS. TENNEY:  No, no!  It's my chubby cousin, Alpha Zinn!  He and I don't get along at all!

NANCY: Um, you guys having a personality difference and his chubbiness aren't exactly strong evidence that he's responsible.  Although his name definitely makes him seem a little guilty.

[noise heard upstairs]

MRS. TENNEY:  What was that?!  (faints dead away).

NANCY: (rolls eyes and smacks Mrs. Tenney across the face)  Wake up, woman, wake up!

MRS. TENNEY: (weeping again) Take me hooooommme, heer-heer-heer!

NANCY: (slaps woman again) Bitch, please!  I'll take your boring-ass mystery if you promise to shut up. how that scene should have gone.  And it's my recap, so I'm saying that's how it went down.  Nancy, Bess and George head out to Amish Country to track down Alpha Zinn (apparently he's Amish) and perhaps locate the shady antiques dealer, Roger Hoelt.  On their way, they come across a young Amish girl named Manda Kreutz, who has run away from home because her traditional father won't let her read or learn things.  Yikes.  Sounds like someone needs a good Rumspringa (Rumspringa, woo-hoo!  Show a little knee, listen to music composed after 1643, RUMSPRINGA!).  Or she might need a good social worker.

In any event, Nancy attempts to patch things up between Manda and her family, who are very welcoming, even though they are definitely taken aback by Nancy's amateur sleuthing and George being...well, George.  Bess, unsurprisingly, fits right in as she's a solid girl who can put away a seven-course meal.  The Kreutz's point out that in Amish Country they "like a little flesh on their maidens."  Go, Bess.

Unfortunately, the villains start in on Nancy right away, spreading rumors that she is a witch.  The Kreutzes give the girls the boot (but good!) and they are forced to go into town.

At this point, I must point out that Nancy can somehow speak Pennsylvania Dutch.  But not Centrovian? I call bullshit.

 Anyhoo, they find a family in town, The Glicks, that aren't nearly as superstitious (apparently, there are the House Amish and Church Amish and the latter lives a slightly more modern lifestyle while keeping the self-sustaining belief system).  The Glick family is one of the only things keeping this story from being too much like Ivory Charm, Old Album, etc.  While it does paint the Pennsylvania Dutch in a fairly static light, there are enough characters that break the mold and it doesn't really strike me as offensive.  But, then again, I'm not Amish so what the hell do I know?  The Glicks take in boarders because the father had been partially disabled by a farming accident and was now what Mrs. Glick calls "a Schumacher"

Ugh, like Joel Shumacher?  Shoot a little higher, Papa Glick.

Oh,'s probably shoemaker. 

The story progresses fairly slowly, but there are still a lot of points in its favor.  While the antiques mystery is pretty boring, and the wonderfully-named-yet-not-villainous Alpha Zinn is cleared quickly, the "Nancy is a witch" subplot makes up for it.  When Ned, Burt and Dave come out to visit (seemingly on their way to yet another camp counselor job), the local youths see Nancy and Ned get into an accident and claim that Nancy must be a witch because they saw her "fly" out of a carriage.  Instead of railing on them for being idiots, as I would have done, Ned calmly tells them the facts, and many of the townspeople start to change their tune.  Ever loyal are their host family, the Glicks.  Even when the young Glick children are told by friends that Nancy is a witch, they soon see reason when their mother explains the danger of "magical thinking" and encourages them to see what is right in front of them.

I must point out as well that Ned furthers his excessive hint-dropping about marriage when he asks Nancy if they could get a closed-top buggy (only for married couples) when they visited Amish Country in the not-too-distant future.  Nancy, of course, totally ignores him.

The villains in this story are also far more organized and effective than usual.  There are only two villains, Mr. and Mrs. Hoelt (because the family that steals together stays together), but they are truly unrelenting when it comes from keeping Nancy from discovering them.  They hire Manda Kreutz, the runaway, but keep her so close to home that Nancy is never able to find her.  They spread rumors around town that Nancy is a witch to ensure that she will not be able to easily question people or get help.  They plant some of the stolen merchandise in her car so that she comes off like a thief, a witch, AND a liar.  They then steal her car, making it impossible for her to get around.  I had to admit, I was impressed by how efficiently Roger Hoelt was able to prevent Nancy from solving the mystery.  If she and the girls hadn't spotted a tree with the titular "witch tree" hex symbol, and found the old Hoelt farm and Manda, they might have gotten away scot free.

However, as per usual, Nancy prevails.  She reunites Manda and her family (yay!) and gets back all the stolen antiques (meh).  I really did like this one save for a few things: the ending was far too abrupt given the buildup, the mystery itself didn't have particularly high stakes (Mrs. Tenney is an annoying old hag, and no one cares if she gets "all the best of her aunt's antiques" back.  First world problems, man), and the action dragged in parts.

I give this one a 4/5 mags.

Head Injuries: 1 (14 total)