Friday, October 23, 2009

#30: The Clue of the Velvet Mask

Quite possibly the most disjointed, ridiculously far-fetched and "one-sidedly dramatic" Nancy Drew I've read yet.

Right at the beginning, Nancy's about to go to a masquerade party, and Carson Drew just happens to mention that there's a gang that shows up at masquerade parties and steal valuables while they're in disguise. My, my...there's a one in a hundred chance of that happening to Nancy, right now, right? Just because she's Nancy doesn't mean...

But it does! At the party, the lights suddenly out and stuff is stolen! Nancy and Ned know a costumed figure climbed up a trellis to a second-story window, but they weren't able to get help. Nancy's only clue is a black velvet hood-mask, with eye holes.

The costumes at the party were all provided by Lightner Entertainment Corp., a party rental/hosting company. The company has been troubled lately, and some people are wondering if someone in the company is involved in shady deals. Meanwhile, an employee of the company, Linda Seeley, is one of the high suspects, but Nancy knows she's guiltless. Of course she does. As Nancy gets more deeply involved, she goes to more parties organized and supplied by Lightner....and more things happen. Mysterious men are following Nancy. Some of them try to get into the house, as always.

Everyone's convinced that Nancy's going to be mugged, so George has a *great* idea--she'll dress as Nancy, and Nancy as her! I guess the idea was, Nancy will be able to sleuth freely, but I just thought, instead of one girl getting mugged, another one will. Great chivalry, George, but kind of stupid. Nancy has to stop sometime.

And of course, George is mugged, drugged, and when the ruse is found out, she is threatened that bad things will happen if Nancy continues to sleuth! Thus, when George is found, instead of saying something right away to alert the police, George has a breakdown and is ordered to take it easy. She tells Nancy to stop sleuthing, but doesn't give a reason.

Baffled, Nancy keeps kidnapped...and George, scared for her friend, gathers her strength and tells them what happened, so they can all use her clues to figure out where Nancy is! And, of course it all comes out right in the end.

Friday, September 18, 2009

#41: Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes

This book is unique in that it mentions Nancy's maternal family. Carson randomly announces that Nancy is to solve a mystery and earn an heirloom if she goes to Scotland to visit her maternal great-grandmother of the "Douglas clan".

Meanwhile, Bess enters an international photography contest--submitting a photograph of Nancy sleuthing (the classic picture of Nancy with magnifying glass comes to mind). The prize is an international trip with a friend. The details are vague. Of course, Bess and George go along to Scotland with Nancy. Ned comes back from South America before they leave, though, and talks all about an upcoming dance and how Nancy should solve the mystery before. It's kind of cute, though, and in this book, . Nancy pays a little more attention to Ned, despite the prospect of a mystery. Anyway, Nancy gets threats not to go to Scotland, but off she goes!
  • Nancy spearheads a spontaneous rescue of some houseboat residents in a storm, but Bess has to bear the brunt of it. She is actually the hero this time!
  • Nancy, Bess, and George stop over at Eloise Drew's (Carson's sister) apartment in New York while waiting for a good time to leave for their plane. Aunt Eloise teaches Nancy to play the bagpipes.
  • There is a long explanation about driving on the left side of the road. We get it.
  • Great-grandmother Douglas lives in the Highlands, which are lonely but beautiful. There are actually some great descriptions.
  • Don't you just love Bess? While the others are listening in amazement to the deeds of Bonnie Prince Charlie (look it up) Bess swoons over his romantic deeds and how cute he looks in a painting.
  • Ned calls Nancy in Scotland. Nancy picks up the phone is all "OMG! NED!" What has become of her? :)
  • Nancy is falsely accused of a crime, but is finally believed because of her amazing detective skills. Because she's amazing Nancy Drew, don't you get it? Of course, a smart criminal could have amazing detective skills, but whatever...
  • Her heirloom is a beautiful topaz-and-diamond brooch.
Now Nancy can go back to America and nab The Phantom of Pine Hill.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trixie Belden #1: Secret of the Mansion

I thought this German edition cover was cute. (Image from

Trixie Belden is thirteen, spunky, headstrong, and cheerful.

When the story opens, it's summer, and her big brothers, Brian and Mart, are counselors at summer camp. As for Trixie, she's at home doing chores. Everything from babysitting her little brother, Bobby, to feeding chickens. Not fun, right? But Mrs. Belden suggests that she do extra house/yardwork to earn money for...a horse!

The adventure doesn't happen until Mr. Frayne, the cranky old neighbor who lives in the book title's mention, falls ill and goes to the hospital. Trixie talks about how anti-social he is and Mrs. Belden reminds her that Mr. Frayne hasn't had an easy life since Mrs. Frayne died from a snakebite. Meanwhile, Trixie tends the tomato garden, which is cool. Well, not literally cool--it's sweaty work, but it's "cool" that Trixie is willing to work. Nancy, as nice as she is, never spent her days like that. At least not daily.

Honey Wheeler and her family move next door up the hill. Honey is Trixie's age, but her life is just the opposite of Trixie's. Honey was very sick as a young child. When she finally got well, her mother basically piled all the motherly duties on Honey's au pair, Miss Trask. Now Honey's a nervous shrinking violet, but a very pleasant shrinking violet. Her parents still don't see her often, but don't worry, there's plenty of money for Honey's upkeep, reinforcing the "rich people are snobs who put money over their kids' happiness" ideology in a lot of YA books.

Honey and Trixie become fast friends, and being able to ride the Wheelers' horses sweetens the deal for Trixie. girls ride the Wheelers' horses. On one such venture, they find a boy their age sleeping in the Fraynes' disrepaired mansion. The adventures begin! This boy, Jim, claims that Mr. Frayne is his great-uncle. His proof, he says, is a family heirloom given to him. There is also a rumor of a family fortune. Jim wants a new home, and some support--away from his evil stepfather.

A lot of crazy events happen, which are a lot of fun. They seem a bit corny now, not as rereadable in my older years as Nancy Drew, but these are enjoyable for the 10-13 group*. The girls ride horses, explore the woods and mansion with Jim, look for the fortune, Trixie saves Bobby (after he's bitten by a copperhead), Honey gets stronger, Jim teaches them about animals. At one point, Trixie tries to be a know-it-all, then feels guilty, in a surprisingly three-dimensional portrayal of her character. Well, wouldn't you know, our gang finds a will. For some reason, though, despite all his fuss and angst, Jim doesn't do anything about it, because he's afraid of his stepdad. So what was all the hunting and searching and dreaming about a life-saving will for, Jim. Eh?

Honey tells Trixie about New York, and how people lock their doors and are too busy to visit all the time. GASP! Trixie is amazed. Giggle. Mr. Frayne dies. Gasp! A man in town is curious about an occasional sighting of Jim. The gang agrees to be more careful. They run around and ride some more. The next day, an inquiry regarding the Frayne heir shows up in the newspaper. Jim, afraid his stepfather will see this inquiry and come for him. Jim stakes out the Frayne mansion, protecting the heirlooms that are proof he's the Franye heir. So? Come out, make your case that you are the heir, Jim! But Evil Stepdad comes, and when walking the grounds, accidentally starts a fire when he drops a cigarette. Trixie, Honey and Jim try to suppress the fire before the fire crew comes. The hysteric stepfather screams about his stepson being burned, but eventually shows his true colors and freaks about the money being burned, right in front of the firefighters. The next day, Jim's gone, leaving a nice letter for Trixie and Honey. He has to leave. Then Mr. Rainsford, the attorney of the Frayne estate, appears. ;:) He makes an exciting announcement, and the girls go to ask Miss Trask if she'll drive them all over the country in Honey's red trailer to find Jim. Methinks there will be a mystery involved with this red trailer.
Trixie vs. Nancy

Nancy, generally through the early books and completely in the revisions, had that level, genteel attitude and perfectionism that was love-or-hate. I liked it. It was escapist, because I wanted to be so cool and collected. Yet I also knew it was bad writing, even for a series (the originals were much better, though). I like Trixie because she has a lot of faults, but she's not mean-spirited. She's "3-D" and fun. She's willing to accept her faults but realizes them too, and she doesn't try to be overperfect. The adults in this book aren't overly critical or preachy, although they are on the chintzy side. The secondary characters aren't sidekicks like Bess or Ned in Nancy Drew. :) However, my impressions of the mystery elements aren't as good. I don't really remember the Trixie Belden books I read (just plots and a few scenes), and in #1, the gang doesn't really try to solve a mystery. They look around a house, try to keep Jim under cover, and discover things randomly. It's kind of disjointed. Overall, I'd give this an 8/10

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

#43: Mystery of the 99 Steps

This used to be my favorite Nancy Drew mystery. It's a fun mystery, but the plot and events are hilariously corny. I think I can summarize it quickly...

Carson Drew's case, involving "Monsieur LeBlanc"'s mysterious financial habits, is almost completely given to Nancy. Nancy is also doing an exchange program with Monique and Marie, two girls from France. Their aunt just happens also to live in River Heights, and she has a mystery for Nancy, too.

Aunt Josette has a weird recurring dream of falling down 99 steps in Paris, where she lived when she was a kid. Aunt Jossette hopes Nan will help her get closure by finding the stairs, and stop the dream.

Nancy and Bess and George go to France--after several attempted break-ins, threats from a mysterious "Monsieur Neuf" (Neuf=#9), who also puts a sign in Nancy's car--"Beware the Green Lion!". According to the story, in the Middle Ages "green lion" was a code for an acid that destroys gold. Also in the Middle Ages, people were trying to turn lead into gold. :P

randomly looking around for 99 steps, Nancy finds it at a random ruined chateau. It turns out that Aunt Josette's childhood au pair was married to Louis Aubert, who tricked Monsieur LeBlanc into thinking coal could be turned into gold. Louis managed to LeBlanc to sell all of his (LeBlanc's) fortunes in order to purchase diamonds--so that when everything "became gold", the price of gold would collapse and they could sell diamonds for millions at a profit. Not only is LeBlanc very, very stupid, so is Aubert. Even though he might trick LeBlanc into giving him tons of money for the "experiment", LeBlanc is pushing Aubert to introduce his "experiment" to the public. LeBlanc's trick is covering gold with charcoal and then firing it off. You'd think it would be a short-lived trick, right? Wouldn't LeBlanc see past it? Nope. This is a very very clumsy mystery.

Moving on! It is revealed that when Josette was little, her au pair (who is found alive and well in France) was in love with Aubert and dated him.. One day, she had to take young Josette to the lab so she could be with Louis, but didn't want Josette to know about the lab. The au pair blindfolded Josette and pretended they were playing blindman's bluff. She started to lead Josette to the steps, but Josette stumbled and fell down the stairs. Josette was unhurt, but was (understandably) really traumatized.

The bad guys are arrested--the au pair is sorry and is innocent--and all is well.
  • Nancy attracts the attentions of Henri, an attractive young man, at a ball. Henri later helps her try to catch a disguised Louis Aubert. Aww, too bad Ned doesn't know. :P
  • During a tour of another historic site, an overweight woman almost causes an accident, making the girls stumble down the stairs. This woman is very rude and annoying. Because overweight people are always crude, selfish people, you know.
  • Nancy saves a little boy who climbs on a statue of Joan of Arc to see a parade. Everyone cheers for her.
  • As mentioned, there's no Ned. No Burt or Dave either.
  • The girls talk about Joan of Arc. "Joan was seventeen when she requested [supplies] to help fight the English invaders," said Nancy. "I bet he laughed at her," George remarked. Then we get a history lesson--complete with dates. Really. These "history lessons" are worked into the girls' conversations, common in the Nancy Drew international mysteries.
Next: Taking a break from Nancy's exploits with a recap of one of my favorite childhood horse stories:
Thoroughbred #1: A Horse Called Wonder

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

#47: The Mysterious Mannequin

Yay! My first blogged international mystery!

We open with Mr. Drew receiving a package. A mysterious package. There is no name or return address on the package, but it was posted from Turkey. It contains a prayer rug. Mr. Drew assumes its probably from Farouk Tahmasp, a former client and tailor shop owner. Mr. Tahmasp was falsely accused of smuggling rugs (not smuggling rugs!! OHNO!). His name was cleared, but he fled to Turkey before he was told of the sentence. Nancy thinks a message could be hidden in the rug because she "heard that years ago in Turkey, messages were hidden in rugs." Of course she did.

While Nancy unravels (no pun intended) the message in the rug, a Turkish man stalks her. One night, he tries to
steal the rug, but Nancy comes down and pulls it away from him. Then he hides a scimitar in the rug (while the Drews and Hannah are away). Nancy rolls out the rug, and gosh darn, she must have unrolled it really violently. The scimitar almost stabs her. This little incident doesn't phase Nancy, though, and the scimitar-free rug is deciphered.

The message says to bring a certain mannequin to Istanbul. The mannequin, one sitting in Farouk's old tailor shop, is gone, though. Nancy remembers it from childhood; she laughs that she once thought it winked at her. Nancy gets clues from a crazy old man who loiters in the tailor shop (under new ownership). "Haw-Haw" shows her the slippers that were once on the mannequin. But..the soles are worn! Nancy surmises that the mannequin must have been dragged across the floor to storage, but a woman in a nearby apartment talks about the mannequin, saying it is strange that it wasn't in the window all the time. Hmm.

Nancy, Bess, and George go about searching for clues from this place to that person, until their adventures take them to the Turkish/Greek district, where they eat at a Greek restaurant and have grape leaves stuffed with meat (YUM). Nancy asks the owner questions about various people connected with the mystery. A man whom is dining nearby gets angry and drives the owner away. The girls get free yogurt and Greek bread as a sort of apology from the owner.

One day, they see the same man who tried to steal the rug showing a letter to a dark-haired, possibly Turkish woman. She cries and runs off. When the girls chase the man, he drops his wallet to distract them, but they keep going. All for naught--the man gets away. There is no ID in the wallet, but there's the letter, saying Farouk's dead. Nancy thinks that the message is fake and deceiving and that it was given to the dark-haired woman for a reason. (ya think?)

Nancy tracks down the young woman. Her name is Aisha Hatun, and Nancy learns that she and the mysterious man, now known as Arik, don't get along. Arik wants to date her; but she doesn't want to date him. She loves Farouk!

Arik was under suspicion at first, but is found to be innocent of the rug stealing/scrimitar crime. He has a doppelganger--his cousin.

Nancy finds discount fares to Turkey and believes that she can find out more in Turkey, and possible find Farouk! He can tell her where the mannequin is and so he can have it shipped to Turkey. What's this? Bess and George get permission to go, along with Ned, Burt and Dave! Guess Emerson has generous semesters. Aisha goes too, hoping to find Farouk.

Adventure abounds. Bess wanders from the gang to buy perfume. Then a boy tricks her, saying her friends are looking for her, but he locks her up. Gullible Bess, after some 47 books, haven't you learned!? The boy is Arik's cousin's brother. Aslanapa, Arik's cousin, delivers an ultimatum: tell about the mannequin, or Bess goes bye-bye! But all by themselves, the crew finds Bess and has Aslanapa arrested!

Nancy, George, Bess, Ned, Dave, and Burt (oy!) goe to the place indicated in the rug, a big ancient cistern. Aslanapa's brother, angry about his brother's arrest, is back. He pushes Nancy into the cistern. The boys save Nancy and have Aslanpa taken away. Nancy insists that she's okay and continues to tour the cistern with the crew. Then a handsome young Turkish man walks in. IT'S...Farouk! There's a big dinner, praise for Nancy, obligatory praise for the others. It's told that Aisha used to be the "mannequin" for some reason. Surprise. Not.

  • Helen Corning/Archer appears. The girls meet her for tennis, and Helen thinks she knows where the mannequin is, but it flunks out, of course.
  • At a restaurant located by a scenic water wheel, a boy falls in the water, Nancy jumps in and saves him. George helps her; however, Nancy gets ALL the praise.
  • I love this part: Nancy is reading aloud from the rug part of the message: "I love..." Ned walks in, saying "Me? That's great!" :D The message continues to read "...her" "Carson, please bring mannequin. I love her."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

#35: The Haunted Showboat


Once again, Nancy Drew gets a vacation tied to a mystery, this time in New Orleans. George and Bess' cousin Donna Mae Haver wants them and to come to New Orleans for her engagement ball. Her parents, "Colonel" and Aunt Stella, want Nancy to solve a mystery connected to the abandoned showboat River Princess, which got stuck in a bayou during a hurricane.

Nancy says that she, Bess and George can drive in her blue convertible to NO. She packs a trunk, taking her mother's shawl and fan to wear to the ball. But a thief steals her locked car, and the suitcase in the trunk! No worries, Carson Drew gives her a yellow convertible. Conveniently, it was going to be a future birthday gift, with the blue car as a trade-in. Lucky Nancy, being in a suspended timeline with no job, no worries, adoring friends, total self-confidence. :)

Nancy, Bess and George "roadtrip" from their home in the midwest to NO. Sounds totally awesome, if you like driving. Life before GPS and Google maps must have been kinda tough, though ;).

After they've been driving a while, they hear a ticking in the yellow car...a bomb! As soon as it is deactivated, Nancy and friends continue on their journey. Then--the rear end of the car starts falling off! A car dealer who knows the
River Heights car dealer lends Nancy a car.The girls finally do what they do best--eat, then find a motel. Bess is delighted. Once on road, they almost fall off a cliff.

At New Orleans, they pass "quaint cabins, formerly used by slaves." Yes, I'm sure the slaves found them as quaint. They pass gorgeous houses and azalea bushes. I live in Texas' azalea country, and dang, they are gorgeous.

When they arrive at the Havers', they meet the Colonel and Aunt Stella, and the giggly but charming Donna Mae, who was going to be married to Charles Bartolome, but then met Oxford grad, Alex Upgrove. She broke off the engagement to date Alex, and shortly became engaged to Alex-the-jerk. Anyway, Nancy, George and Bess go sightseeing with Donna and Alex. The girls also pick up costumes for Donna's engagement ball, which will be on the riverboat, if it can be taken out of the bayou. The girls love New Orleans and the food (I love the food, too). A man who looks like the car thief talks to Alex. Let's see, car theft, car bomb, car falls apart, girls nearly go over cliff, Alex is a suspect? And we aren't even at Ch. 7. The ghostwriters outdid themselves.

Oh, anyway, the mystery is, the Havers have had repairs done on the
Princess, but all work done is always vandalized, and there are mysterious, haunting-like happenings. A rusty calliope plays, a ghost appears, there are mysterious voodoo chants; I bet we can predict how these are produced.

At home, Nancy, George, and Bess have a dance rehearsal with Donna. George falls off the makeshift stage and hurts herself. Donna whines that everything will go wrong if George is out. Nancy, George, and Bess are all disgusted, so they leave and go to the "colored" (the book's words, not mine) maid and butler and ask about a river guide so they can get to the riverboat. Cue Uncle Rufus, a kind, elderly black man. The girls and Uncle head down the river\bayou.

In the swamp, Uncle's boat runs into a barricade of sharp rocks. Uh-oh. Uncle Rufus wades off to get a boat, but Alex comes just in time, in a motorboat. Nancy makes plans with Uncle to go to the riverboat later that afternoon.

Nancy, George, Bess and Uncle finally get to the riverboat. All three go onboard, and they find an ornate hairpin and Charles Bartolome, who invites the girls to his and his mother's home for dinner. When Donna finds out, she goes into hysterics, but then puts on an act of indifference. Nancy suspects she feels guilty about her engagement. Well, duh.
Another Donna-and-Alex sightseeing trip turns into a sleuthing trip for Nancy, but Alex tries to follow her. Nancy finds her blue convertible, now painted black, in a junkyard. It is in a poor neighborhood, so of course, the people are slovenly. When Nancy goes back to Bess, George, and Donna, Donna announces that she's invited Ned, Burt, and Dave for Mardi Gras. She also says they can't refuse. It's implied that Nancy thinks Donna doesn't want Alex or Charles to "make moves" on Nancy, George or Bess.

Alex tries to delay Nancy, Bess and George fromf their dinner engagement, but they manage to get away. Someone throws a rock at Nancy near the Bartolome home, but it misses. They have a nice visit and go to the showboat.; they are then startled to see an elderly man and woman going to the
Princess. The woman seems to be pretending to visit an old-time play, talking to invisible friends and taking imaginary tickets. Charles and Nancy follow the man and woman when they canoe off; the woman goes to her own house.

Charles and Nancy stop the man; he's Henry de la Verne and the woman is Henry's sister Louvina, owner of the hairpin. Louvina misses the old-time fun on the
Princess.Their grandfather owned it (I guess it's out of family ownership now). Louvina loves to pretend that the old shows are still playing and the people still visiting the boat, so Henry lets her keep up her charade. He doesn't want the boat moved because he thinks it would upset Louvina.

Drama, drama! Louvina isn't crazy after all, and she wants the
Princess restored, thanks to Nancy's communication skills. Nancy's suitcase, shawl and fan are recovered. Alex is a fraud, using Donna to get closer to the gold that is found on the boat! Donna realizes her mistake, matures, and Charles and Donna get re-engaged. After Alex tries to run away during the Mardi Gras parade, Ned does his famous football tackle and is Nancy's hero. The end! Everyone's impressed and praises Nancy. The riverboat is restored and in an amazingly short time, because everyone works together! Gag. Nancy's next carefree adventure is in The Secret of the Golden Pavilion.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

#55: Mystery of Crocodile Island

Carson Drew has a friend in trouble (again). Mr. Gonzales has a crocodile farm in Florida, and some of the workers seem to be acting rather shady. Mr. Gonzales needs help NOW, so of course, Mr. Drew enlists Nancy!

Nancy, George, and Bess fly to Florida to stay with the Cosgrove family. Big mistake! A man named Steven meets them at the airport to pick them up in his
car, and suddenly Nancy, Bess and George are captives. Aready.

Nancy picks locks with the nail file and bobby pin she just happens to have. Very McGyver! Nancy, Bess and George run through a swamp eventually get back to civility so they can call the police; the police come to get their story, and Nancy, George and Bess take a cab to the Cosgrove's.

The gang visits Crocodile Island to meet Mr. Gonzales, who thinks his partners might be selling boot-leg crocodiles (WHAA?). When Nancy, Bess, and George try to visit Croc-Isle off-hours with the Cosgrove's son Danny, they are threatened by a man who man makes his point by scraping their boat with his, saying the damage will be worse if they don't get out fast.

After a mysterious nighttime delivery to the island and some threatening phone calls, things are getting scary. A.k.a, normal. Carson's worried, but Nancy convinces him that she can stay. After all, she has a sixteen-year-old boy (Danny) to protect her and her friends! She'll create a plan to keep herself from getting killed, too.

Nancy and Co. find treasure, look for clues, get attacked by mosquitoes, and discover that a suspect is an AWOL Navyman. They overhear a phone conversation; "...need five hundred" Five hundred what? Five hundred high-speed cameras from the US, that's what, smuggled out for secret operations! Freaky. Eventually, Nancy gets captured again, but not alone!

Nancy and Ned, who is visiting with Burt and Dave, get trapped in a submarine. Dave manages to radio for help. Everything is solved! No more sneaky camera operations. Everyone's safe, even the crocs.

  • When Nancy wants to know more about submarines (she and her friends see a periscope in the water) she is able to visit a naval base, as the Cosgroves are, conveniently, friends with a naval captain. Nancy tracks down the AWOL. Really, this is much like The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion: Florida, sneaking around the government, swamp animals threatening them...