Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 21-30)

Reading Through Nancy Drew Books 21-30

I have loved Nancy Drew for years, but will rereading the entire series of the yellow hardback books hold up to my memories? Join me as I find out! Read part one here and read part two here.

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Book 21: The Secret in the Old Attic

Secret in the Old Attic

Well, Nancy sure does love to search through attics. Another story about an apparently haunted house that has hidden rooms, allowing thieves to sneak in undetected? The series is only 21 books in, yet this feels like at least the third time this particular premise has been used, making The Secret in the Old Attic remarkably forgettable. And that’s even with the weird sub-plot involving a stolen silk formula, created with the use of black widows.

Ned Note: I have no idea why Ned was missing in this book until he conveniently burst into someone else’s home sometime after midnight, just in time to save her from certain death, because he wanted to “see Nancy.” After midnight. Without calling.

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Book 22: The Clue in the Crumbling Wall

Clue in the Crumbling Wall

Book 22 tries to make up for the unoriginality of its predecessor by apparently cramming in every mystery-like idea the author could think of. In this story, Nancy must find a famous dancer who disappeared ten years ago, or the dancer will lose the estate she inherited. The estate is, of course, a replica of an English castle that just happens to be down the way from where Nancy lives (along with all those other abandoned estates right where she lives…). It has towers, ruined gardens, a cloister, and something hidden somewhere in the walls! Nancy also gets to do a lot of travel by boat, so she can (as usual) experience things like near death when struck by passing boats. This story certainly seems to have more action and violence than many of the other books. I could not decide if it was exciting or just over-stimulating.

Ned Note: I loved how Ned was missing from the story because he was in South America for a school assignment. It’s always so inconvenient when your homework forces you to travel out of the country, isn’t it?

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Book 23: The Mystery of the Tolling Bell

Mystery of the Tolling Bell Book Cover

I was starting to wonder if the Nancy Drew books were deteriorating in quality or if I was just feeling grumpy. But finally the pace picks up! This story has an exciting beginning with Carson Drew being kidnapped and Nancy almost drowning while investigating a local legend about a ghost who sounds a bell before sending rushing water out from a cave. The premise feels more original than many of the others, and the case is a bit more complicated, with various villains engaged in different crimes. I’ll keep on reading after this one!

Ned Note: Ned finally reappears! He does useful stuff! He saves Nancy’s life while the police office he brings with him does nothing!

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Book 24: The Clue in the Old Album

Clue in the Old Album Book Cover

Book 24 is one of the stories that has not aged particularly well. Nancy tries to track down a gypsy violinist, who is the missing father of a young girl she has met. However, though Nancy keeps telling everyone that, “Most gypsies are good people,” the depictions given of many does not make it seem like the author really believes that. The mystery is also not that engaging. I would give this one a pass.

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Book 25: The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

Ghost of Blackwood Hall Book Cover

The premise for book 25 is so wild and incredibly unbelievable, that it’s actually really good? The mystery begins with Nancy trying to trace jewel thieves who have tricked a woman by pretending to be the voice of her dead husband. Soon, this mystery leads Nancy to another one, involving a number of working-class girls who have been duped/hypnotized into leaving their wages in the woods to support a fake orphanage. Several villains operating from various locations (including New Orleans) give Nancy an excuse to travel, while also making this mystery seem a bit more complicated than some of the others.

Ned Note: As usual, Ned is missing until the last possible moment, when he arrives just in time to save the day. Well, better late than never, Ned.

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Book 26: The Clue of the Leaning Chimney

Clue of the Leaning Chimney Book Cover

Book 26 provides a solid mystery when Nancy investigates the theft of a rare Chinese vase, as well as the disappearance of a Chinese man and his daughter five years ago, when they visited the United States. Nancy’s detective work is thrilling, but sadly, though the book tries to depict Chinese culture as beautiful, there are moments when the author’s word choices come across as racist. It does at least provide multiple admirable Chinese characters, who are knowledgeable collectors or skilled artists.

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Book 27: The Secret of the Wooden Lady

Secret of the Wooden Lady

Nancy helps her father with a case involving the missing deed to a ship his captain friend wishes to buy and, in the process, discovers a tie with the thief who broke into Bess Marvin’s house. A mystery about a long-lost ship, pirate treasure, and star-crossed love should be exciting. However, most of the book is just Nancy futilely trying to capture trespassers on the ship, while repeatedly being captured or knocked out. Why no one sets a guard on the ship is beyond me. Definitely not one of my favorites.

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Book 28: The Clue of the Black Keys

Clue of the Black Keys Book Cover

A professor goes missing at an archaeological dig, and one of his colleagues turns to Nancy Drew for help. This is another one of the books that has not aged well. The lore about ancient civilizations in Mexico appears to have been made up, and the series has been getting too weird in recent books with things like dolls that contain poison and, now, a legend about a silver frog that contains a substance that apparently will destroy the world. It’s too sensational.

Ned Note: Ned spends most of the book being jealous that Nancy is solving a mystery for a handsome young professor. Oh, Ned.

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Book 29: Mystery at the Ski Jump

Mystery at the Ski Jump Book Cover

I don’t know. I just was not feeling this one. Nancy discovers a ring of thieves who are stealing mink furs to sell, trading fake stock, and stealing and selling random items. She also gets involved with a handsome young man who is seeking to reclaim the inheritance stolen from him by his uncle. Nancy does a lot of traveling to try to track the gang of thieves. The biggest highlights are the revelations that Nancy apparently can ice skate like a professional and she’s a good enough skier that she recently won a novice competition. I am not sure when she finds time to practice all these skills.

Ned Note: Ned’s big moment comes when he stops Nancy from trying to pick up a trap in the snow. He also executes a ski jump better than Nancy’s. Ned is never better at Nancy at anything (no one is), so, while I wanted to appreciate his skill and intelligence, I was mostly just confused.

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Book 30: The Clue of the Velvet Mask

Clue of the Velvet Mask Book Cover

A group of thieves known as the Velvet Gang breaks into fancy River Heights parties and steals silver and jewels while the guests dance away. There is plenty of excitement in this one, and the trail Nancy takes to solve the mystery is convoluted enough to keep up reader interest. The main villain is incredibly obvious, however, so it is sort of baffling that Nancy does not suspect him more. This book is one of the stronger installments in these middle volumes, however.

Melisande by E. Nesbit

Melisande Book Cover


Goodreads: Melisande
Series: None
Age Category: Children’s
Source: Library
Published: 1901


At her christening, the princess Melisande is cursed by an evil fairy to be bald forever. Still, Melisande grows up good and loving. Then she is offered a wish and, to please her mother the queen, Melisande wishes for golden hair that grows an inch a day and twice as fast when cut! Now Melisande has a new problem.

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In Melisande, E. Nesbit presents a fairy that still feels fresh and modern. Cursed at her christening by an evil fairy, the princess Melisande later wishes for hair that grows an inch a day and twice as fast when cut. Thus starts a mathematical problem that soon stymies the whole kingdom. How can they keep Melisande comfortable when she has so much hair? And what in the world are they going to do with all that hair once they cut it? Readers will delight in this story that cautions them to be careful of what they wish for.

What I loved about Melisande (aside from the mathematical angle) is that, though it relies on some familiar fairy tropes, it also feels free to play with them. At the start, readers learn that the king and queen specifically do not hold a christening party so no one can be accidentally overlooked, and thus offended. What happens is they offend everyone. This is the start of their dilemma when an insulted fairy curses the baby with baldness.

But the story does more than showcase Nesbit’s familiarity with fairy tales, and her sense of humor in alluding to them. It also presents Melisande as active and admirable. From the start, Melisande is admirable because she is kind, not because she is beautiful or because she is rich. She only wishes for golden hair because her mother desires it. And, once she experiences the fallout from that wish, she still thinks of others, using her hair to help the kingdom and her other mishaps to prevent violence and war. All this is while the Prince Florizel is trying to think of a way to stop her hair from growing so he can win her hand in marriage. She is not just waiting around for him. Melisande is keeping busy.

Lovers of fairy tales will delight in Melisande. It keeps some of the familiar parts of old tales, such as the true love between the prince and the princess, while adding aspects that keep the story feeling contemporary. How Florizel solves the riddle of Melisande’s hair will keep readers guessing. But it might well be Melisande who wins readers hearts over with her kindness.

4 stars

Picture Book Review Reviews: Touch the Brightest Star; It’s So Quiet; Click, Clack, Good Night

Today I’m reviewing three picture books about night and going to bed!

Touch the Brightest Star by Christie Matheson


A companion to the popular and acclaimed Tap the Magic Tree! In this interactive bedtime story, touch, tap, blink, whisper, and more to make magic happen in the nighttime sky, from sunset to sunrise.

What happens while you’re sleeping? With lush, beautiful watercolors and cut-paper collage, Christie Matheson reveals the magic of the nighttime sky, using the same kinds of toddler-perfect interactive elements as her acclaimed Tap the Magic Tree. Wave good-bye to the sun, gently press the firefly, make a wish on a star, rub the owls on their heads, and . . . shhhh. No two readings of this book will be the same. That along with the gentle, soothing rhythm, makes Touch the Brightest Star a bedtime winner—no matter how many times you and your child read it.


I love Tap the Magic Tree, and Matheson taps into the same book magic in this story about the stars and animals that come out at night. I think the progression of the book is clearer in Tap the Magic Tree, as it follows the seasons, but Touch the Brightest Star does try to go from evening to deep night to morning, which is fun. The interactive elements are fun, and the art is lovely, of course.

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It’s So Quiet: A Not-Quite-Going-to-Bed Book by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tony Fucile (Illustrations)


A silly, noisy bedtime book that will have readers squealing, croaking, and laughing along before settling down for a quiet night’s sleep!

It’s time for bed, but one little mouse just can’t get to sleep—it’s TOO QUIET! However, the night is actually full of sounds, from the croak of the bullfrog to the howl of a coyote on a distant hill. As the rhythmic symphony of nighttime noises build in this rollicking read-aloud, the mouse starts to wonder whether he wouldn’t like a little MORE quiet.


It’s So Quiet is a charming book that highlights the sounds of night. Little Mouse starts thinking that the night is too quiet and he cannot possibly go to bed, until his mother tells him to listen. Readers get to ponder all the noises of the night, from nocturnal animals to the sounds one’s house makes to the sounds that other people make. This sounds relaxing, but the book repeats the sounds so the reader reads them louder and louder, making the book more exciting than one might actually think. Because of that, it probably won’t actually put young readers to bed, but it will probably amuse them!

The illustrations are cute, and I particularly liked looking at the factual expressions on Little Mouse.

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Click, Clack, Good Night by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (Illustrations)


From Caldecott Honor–winning and New York Times bestselling duo Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin comes a hilarious tale about Duck who can’t, just can’t, fall asleep.

It’s bedtime on the farm. The cows, sheep, and chickens are all tucked in and snoozing away. Except for…Duck. So Farmer Brown sings him a song…reads him a book…turns on the white noise machine…and even debates the day’s top stories. But Duck just won’t tuck!

Can Farmer Brown stay awake long enough to see Duck off to dreamland, or is a good night’s sleep just a dream?


This reminded me a bit of It’s So Quiet, as Duck ends up hearing a lot of distracting night sounds when he tries to go to bed, but I ultimately didn’t enjoy it as much. It’s not as fun as a read-aloud and not as fun as Click, Clack, Moon either. It functions pretty solidly as a book about a character trying to get to sleep and encountering some obstacles until he finds just the trick, but it’s not a standout book by any means, and I think it’s primary appeal is that it features the same animals as the very popular Click, Clack, Moo.


The Sprite and the Gardener by Rii Abergo, Joe Whitt

The Sprite and the Gardener


Goodreads: The Sprite and the Gardener
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Long, long ago, sprites were the caretakers of gardens. Every flower was grown by their hand. But when humans appeared and began growing their own gardens, the sprites’ magical talents soon became a thing of the past. When Wisteria, an ambitious, kind-hearted sprite, starts to ask questions about the way things used to be, she’ll begin to unearth her long-lost talent of gardening. But her newly honed skills might not be the welcome surprise she intends them to be. 

The Sprite and the Gardener, the debut graphic novel by Joe Whitt and Rii Abrego, is bursting with whimsical art and vibrant characters. Join our neighborhood of sprites in this beautiful, gentle fantasy where both gardens and friendships begin to blossom.

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The Sprite and the Gardener is a whimsical, feel-good story perfect for readers looking for something to bring them a little cheer. The book follows a sprite named Wisteria who longs to return to the days before humans, when sprites were needed to make things grow. She gets her chance when she discovers a garden carefully tended by a human with the best of intentions–but still the garden is failing. With a bit of magic, Wisteria makes the garden bloom again, and is soon wondering if sprites and humans could not work side by side. The tale is simple and sweet, but sure to make one smile.

The Sprite and the Gardener is a slow-paced book along the lines of the Tea Dragon series or a Miyazaki film. The stakes are very low–will the garden bloom or not–and there is no real drama or any real sadness. Wisteria simply sees flowers she can help, and sets off to do so. Readers know already that she will succeed, but the point of the story is the journey, not the destination.

The color palette is the one aspect of the book that did not really appeal to me. The book uses a limited set of colors and they tend to be muted, earthy tones, with a lot of orange, pink, yellow and brown–and maybe a bit of purple and green. I prefer bold, vibrant colors, or at least a rainbow of pastels, so was disappointed by the lost opportunity to depict a lush garden in every color imaginable. Still, I imagine others will not mind the coloring as much, or might even enjoy it–and it is a small critique for an otherwise enjoyable volume.

The Sprite and the Gardener will appeal to those looking for a short, sweet read that will lift their spirits. It feels rewarding to see Wisteria and her friends go to work and create something beautiful. It might even inspire readers to do the same.

3 Stars

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 11-20)

Reading Through Nancy Drew

I have loved Nancy Drew for years, but will rereading the entire series of the yellow spine books hold up to my memories? Join me as I find out! Read part one here.

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Book 11: The Clue of the Broken Locket

The Clue of the Broken Locket

The eleventh installment of the series contains all the elements that make a classic Nancy Drew read. Upon driving to Maryland to help one of her father’s clients, Nancy discovers a mystery involving a missing treasure, a phantom ship, and a possible kidnapping. While attempting to solve the case, Nancy inevitably finds herself in danger of being imprisoned, kidnapped, and murdered herself. Plenty of action combined with a spooky mystery and a search for secret passageways shows the Nancy Drew series at the height of its powers.

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Book 12: The Message in the Hollow Oak

Message in the Hollow Oak

Book twelve mixes things up a little as Nancy attempts to track down a legendary message said to have been hidden in a hollow oak in the eighteenth century. Along the way, she gets tangled up with a confidence man determined to find the hollow oak himself. Nancy’s presence at an archaeological dig adds a little more historical interest to the story, though the book could do more to interrogate the ethical implications of digging up a burial ground, aside from one character’s objections about the disrespect to the dead it implies. The concept of tracking down a centuries-old treasure makes this book unique in the series so far, but it is arguably not very interesting to watch Nancy and her friends merely look for unusual trees and then walk around in the woods for a bit. The Message in the Hollow Oak has a good premise, but it fails to deliver on it as much as it might have.

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Book 13: The Mystery of the Ivory Charm

The Mystery of the Ivory Charm

This is one of the books where the rewrites meant to remove racism do not entirely succeed. Nancy and the other characters treat India as an exotic country full of many marvels, but also linger over details of the caste system, child marriage, and more that make the nation seem not entirely civilized. Many of the Indian characters in the book are very superstitious, which does not reflect well on them in a mystery where the protagonists are all about evidence and facts. The actual mystery is a rather convoluted one involving the kidnapping of a baby, theft of Indian treasures, blackmail, and more. The story is not as streamlined as many of the others, and it can feel a bit like a chore to get through.

Read my comparison review of the 1936 version versus the 1974 revised edition.

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Book 14: The Whispering Statue

The Whispering Statue

This adventure sees Nancy don a disguise in a fun attempt to solve two different mysteries while working undercover in a bookshop/art dealership. Her simultaneous stay at a yacht club adds some spice to the story, as she enters a sailing competition and Bess flirts with the handsome boat attendant. A break-in, kidnapping, sailing accident, near boat collision, and more lend extra excitement to a series that always tries to cram in as much drama as possible. The Whispering Statue has its odd moments (such as Nancy making sales off-the-clock for a business owner who seems to have skipped town), but its sense of narrative drama makes it an exemplar of why generations of children have been engrossed by the series.

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Book 15: The Haunted Bridge

The Haunted Bridge

Nancy’s stay at a resort with a gold club adds some interest to what is otherwise a bit of a lackluster mystery. Her father is on the trail of a ring of international jewel thieves, and Nancy manages to catch them almost entirely by accident when she stumbles upon a small chest belonging to a mysterious woman. The question of whether Nancy can win the amateur golf tournament somehow becomes more pressing than the question of whether she will crack the case.

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Book 16: The Clue of the Tapping Heels

Clue of the Tapping Heels

Nancy tries to solve a mystery where a woman is hearing ghostly tapping noises in her home, and her prize Persian cats are being stolen. Normally, I really love the stories where someone’s house is supposedly “haunted,” but for some reason this installment of the series feels a little lackluster. The big excitement is when Nancy, Bess, and George go to a cat show. And Nancy is targeted in a series of violent incidents that seem over-the-top for some guy just trying to steal some stuff out of a house. The book ends when all the culprits conveniently confess to everything. Definitely not one of my favorites.

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Book 17: The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk

Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trun k

Nancy Drew and her friends are aboard a ship sailing from the Netherlands back to New York City when they become involved in a mystery surrounding an international group of smugglers. The setting makes the story fun as the girls swim, play Ping-Pong, and flirt with cute boys, but it seems like the series is already running out of new catastrophes to strike. Nancy almost gets hit by a meteor in this book! Aside from the meteor, however, the story is pretty interesting, as Nancy must outwit a gang of thieves using sophisticated disguises.

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Book 18: The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion

Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion

I thought maybe the Nancy Drew series had jumped the shark in the previous installment, when Nancy and her friends are almost hit by a meteor. Book 18, however, is even more ludicrous, so much so that I might have thought I was watching the 1960s Batman show instead of reading Nancy Drew. Steaming pools of water to cast hapless victims into? Exploding oranges meant to take down a rocket ship? It’s hard to take this story seriously.

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Book 19: The Quest of the Missing Map

Quest of the Missing Map

I cannot decide if having Nancy sail to an uncharted island for actual buried treasure is exciting or just really corny. The real problem, however, is that Nancy acquires clues in this mystery far too easily for it to feel rewarding when she finally outwits the bad guys. The main draw is that this book feels perfect for an adaptation into one of the Nancy Drew PC games, with its hidden passages and contraptions left by an eccentric inventor.

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Book 20: The Clue in the Jewel Box

The Clue in the Jewel Box

This is another Nancy Drew story that verges on the fantastic, as it seems based on the story of the missing Anastasia. Nancy meets an elderly woman who turns out to be a former queen, who has fled from her country after the late revolution, and who is now looking for her lost grandson. There are enough twists and turns, however, to keep things lively as Nancy deals with pickpockets and an imposter. The series is picking up again after a decided lull.

Little Kid, Big City!: London by Beth Beckman and Holley Maher


Goodreads: Little Kid, Big City!: London
Series: Little Kid, Big City!
Source: Quirk Books for Review
Published: June 15, 2020

Official Summary

Curious kids will find plenty of sights, smells, and tastes to explore in this illustrated, choose-your-own-adventure travel guide series. Next stop: London!

If a kid were given the opportunity to lead a tour through London, where would they go? Would they hop on the Tube to visit Buckingham Palace, watch a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, or pass the time with Big Ben? By following prompts at the end of each page in Little Kid, Big City, the options are endless!

In this series, an illustrated travel guide collides with an interactive format, allowing children to imagine, create, and explore their own routes through the greatest cities on the planet. With gorgeous illustrations, lovable characters, and dozens of different forks in the road, Little Kid, Big City is a new way for kids to take part in their travels and invent their own adventures.

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Little Kid, Big City!: London is exactly in the same vein as Little Kid, Big City!: New York, which I loved and reviewed previously. The book is set up as a kind of choose-your-own adventure. Each page describes a tourist attraction or thing to eat or do in the city, and then there’s a choice at the bottom asking what you want to try next.

The beauty is that book works both as a fun read – the interactive element makes you feel as if you’re travelling, even if you’re just sitting at home – but it’s also functional as an actual travel guide if you truly want to plan a trip. It has tongs of suggestions of popular things to do, and the back of the book has extra material and information to really round out your plans. And while, obviously, the book is about kid-friendly attractions, it has great suggestions for everyone.

I had fun with the New York book because I’ve been there several times, and even while I’ve done many of the things recommended, I haven’t done all of them. I’ve never been to London at all, however, so this was a really fun book to pretend I was on a trip because, you know, the pandemic; I haven’t been anywhere overly exciting in a while!

Both books are fun and informative, and the illustrations are really welcoming and light-hearted. I trust any new books in the series will be just the same.

Note: Some reviewers on Goodreads have pointed out some factual errors. Again, I haven’t been to London, so these aren’t necessarily things I would notice, but it’s worth looking into, particularly if you actually do start planning a trip based on the book. (I did notice myself that Stonehenge is not in London and probably should not be included in the book.)


Why Anne of Green Gables Speaks to Contemporary Readers (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)


Why do you think Anne of Green Gables still speaks to contemporary readers?

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Although L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is set in the late 1800s on Prince Edward Island, I believe it speaks to readers today, readers from around the world and all walks of life, because many of the themes and Anne’s life experiences are, at their core, universal. While readers may never be an orphan or live on a farm or attend a one-room school or do half the things Anne does, her childhood struggles to make sense of world, fit in with others, and navigate relationships with others are things that readers can continue to understand and empathize with.

I’ve always thought Montgomery as a writer has a keen understanding of how it feels to be a child, and that understanding is what helps her characters come alive. One of the earlier scenes in Anne of Green Gables, for instance, involves Mrs. Rachel Lynde looking at Anne and calling her, straight to her face, homely. Mrs. Lynde hits on a particularly touchy point when she mentions Anne’s red hair, which Anne has never liked (and who can’t relate to having something about one’s appearance that one wishes to change?), but the heart of the matter — which Anne points out — is that these are cruel things Mrs. Lynde would never have said to another adult. Adults are worthy of respect; one might comment on a lady’s ugliness behind closed doors, but would never walk up to and tell her point blank that she isn’t pretty. Because Anne is a child, however, Mrs. Lynde, and initially Marilla, think they can say and do what they like to her; she’s not human enough to deserve the kindness and tact that adults do. THESE are the kinds of scenes that I think continue to speak to readers today, as readers can reflect on the times they were treated as less than simply because they were child and not adults.

Montgomery also skillfully conveys “little” issues that loom large to children. For instance, Anne has always hankered after the “puffed sleeves” that are in fashion in her day, but Marilla insists in dressing her in plain, sensible clothes. Anne is fairly good-natured about this and mostly limits herself to wistfully wishing for a more fashionable dress, but the feeling of wanting trendier clothing that one’s family can’t afford or one’s parents simply will not buy is relatable. (And Montgomery takes the theme even farther in Emily of New Moon, when Emily’s aunts force her to wear out-of-date and overly formal clothing to school, which makes her stand out and get mocked, prompting her to attempt to switch out the garments for something else on the way to school. I don’t know about other people, but I have vivid memories of being forced to wear ridiculous clothing by my parents because they thought it was the correct thing for the occasion, when it certainly was NOT. I can never read this scene without having flashbacks to some of the horrid, ridicule-inviting things I was forced to wear.)

These are the moments I think speak to readers today, Anne’s experience as a child and how that’s filled with innocence and wonder and possibility but also mistakes and punishments and bullying and disdain from some adults. I always say the book isn’t really about anything; it’s just about Anne’s life. But that’s what makes it inviting and timeless, what lets us see the little moments of our own lives in the little moments of Anne’s.


The Princess Rules by Philippa Gregory

The Princess Rules by Philippa Gregory


Goodreads: The Princess Rules
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1988, 1991, 1992 (collected in one volume 2020)

Official Summary

Princess Florizella may live in a classic fairy-tale world, but she’s no ordinary princess…

These three stories were originally published under the titles Princess Florizella, Princess Florizella and the Wolves and Princess Florizella and the Giant.

They were originally dedicated to her daughter but have been reimagined in this edition which she has dedicated to her grandchildren.

“Princess Florizella was friends with some of the princesses who had studied the Princess Rules, and behaved just as the Rules said they should. Florizella thought their hair was lovely: so golden and so very long. And their clothes were nice: so richly embroidered. And their shoes were delightful: so tiny and handmade in silk. But their days bored her to death…”

Instead, Princess Florizella rides her horse, Jellybean, all over the kingdom, having adventures of her own…

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Philippa Gregory presents three feminist princess stories in this new volume collecting three previously published works: Princess Florizella, Princess Florizella and the Wolves, and Princess Florizella and the Giant. Each story is unconnected, but follows the adventures of Princess Florizella, who happily breaks all the Princess Rules to make friends, have adventures, and even save the kingdom. Fans of works such as The Paper Bag Princess or The Princess in Black will find another unquenchable heroine in Princess Florizella.

Princess Florizella introduces the titular heroine, who refreshingly decides to do what she enjoys, rather than following the dictates of society. While all her princess friends spend their days primping, napping, and barely eating, Florizella speaks her mind, rides on her horse Jellybean, and eats whatever she wants. When her parents ask her to go to a ball where a prince will choose his bride, Florizella goes, not to contend for his hand, but to have fun with her friends. There might be a message in about having others appreciate you for being yourself, but, really, I think the story is just meant to be in good fun, and to give some ironic digs to classic fairy tales.

Princess Florizella and the Wolves is arguably the weakest of the three stories. In this one, Florizella finds some wild wolf cubs and decides to raise them in secret in her room. The resulting chaos leads her parents to believe that she is under a curse and needs to be rescued by a prince. Florizella again defies gender roles and refuses to be rescued, but it is a little hard to root for her in this story because, well, she has a pack of wild wolves under her bed and that is just not going to work out for anyone. Maybe some children will find it funny, though.

Princess Florizella and the Giant expands the world a little as Florizella sets out to rescue a town from a giant. The giant, of course, turns out to be rather misunderstood and just in need of friendship. Again, one could read some sort of moral into this about not judging others by appearances and always trying to be kind, but the stories are so silly that attempting to make them into a life lesson just feels wrong. If parents really want these stories to teach something, however, they at least get to point at Florizella as a confident girl who does not feel the need to do anything just because everyone else is.

Altogether, this is a pretty fun collection that is a great choice for readers transitioning into chapter books. The stories are witty and Florizella’s feminist flair will appeal to modern readers who enjoy fantasy and fairy tale worlds, but who want their heroines fierce.

4 stars

The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage by Carolyn Keene

The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage


Goodreads: The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage
Series: Dana Girls #2
Source: Library
Published: 1934


Louise and Jean Dana discover their English teacher’s car on the side of the road–Miss Tisdale has been abducted! Her mother does not want Mr. Tisdale to know, so she won’t contact the police. It’s up to the Dana girls to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

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Published in the 1930s, the Dana Girls books were meant to capitalize on the success of serialized mysteries like Nancy Drew and, indeed, the same pseudonym was used for the series, though it has not managed to last through the decades. But the Dana Girls mysteries have their charms. They rely on the same, comforting formula as the Nancy Drew stories, while having the added interest of featuring two sisters solving cases while enrolled at a boarding school. The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage feels very much like stepping back in time to a wonderful moment where teens can take on adult responsibilities like detective work, while still enjoying the perks of school life. Anyone who loves Nancy Drew will want to check out the Dana Girls books.

Part of what makes this series so interesting is the fact that readers get two protagonists, as well as a boarding school setting for the series. Louise and Dana are one year apart, but they are nearly inseparable, which makes for a charming depiction of loving sisterhood, even as the two repeatedly rush headlong into danger. The series would admittedly be stronger, however, if it tried to differentiate the two girls a little more, aside from their hair color. They work, live, and study together to the point where they seem practically to be functioning as one person. While Louise seems to be a little more sensible than Jean, they work in tandem for the most part, taking turns discovering and solving clues and, in general, one girl could easily be replaced by the other and readers would probably barely notice. Hopefully, this weak characterization will be addressed as the series progresses.

Even so, the books are delightful and the boarding school setting adds to that. While Nancy Drew barely seems to have a home life, the Dana girls are firmly placed at Starrhurst Academy, and they must figure out how to balance their detective work with their studies–as well as with the rules of the school. Fortunately, for them, youth, good looks, money, and a pleasant disposition are usually enough for them to be able to bend the rules with only the occasional finger shaking from the headmistress, apparently so she can pretend she’s trying to be fair. More drama comes from the girls’ standing rivalry with mean girl Lettie Briggs, who enjoys playing mean pranks on them, just to liven up the plot between clues. This tactic of adding everyday drama is also a hallmark of the Nancy Drew stories, where every chapter must have some sort of dramatic incident, mystery-related or not, to keep readers engaged.

Overall, the Dana Girls books are pretty much what one would expect from a Nancy Drew story. Readers get rich, popular teen protagonists who like solving dangerous mysteries the officials cannot seem to crack, as well as the formulaic writing that makes the mystery easy to solve, but somehow still rewarding to read. Readers who enjoy Nancy Drew and are looking for something similar will find it in the Dana Girls books, which were written around the same time by the same syndicate. It’s hard to get closer to a new Nancy Drew than that!

4 stars

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 1-10)

Book One: The Secret of the Old Clock

It’s hard not to love the mystery that started it all. In The Secret of the Old Clock, readers are introduced to Nancy, an attractive, rich, and popular eighteen-year-old who enjoys helping her lawyer father with his cases. A chance encounter leads her to suspect that a rich bachelor left a second will to his fortune, and she begins tracking down his relatives to uncover more clues. This story establishes many of the later traits of the series, such as Nancy’s curiosity and resolve, her involvement with Carson Drew’s legal work, and her ability to ingratiate herself into the lives of random strangers so she can solve mysteries for them.

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Book Two: The Hidden Staircase

Who doesn’t love a classic haunted house mystery? In her second case, Nancy answers a friend’s plea to discover the truth behind the ghost frightening her relatives. At the same time, Nancy begins to investigate a railroad case her father is working on, and the threats he is receiving as a result. This is a fun mystery that includes all the staples such as hidden passages, disguises, and good old-fashioned sleuthing.

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Book Three: The Bungalow Mystery

Nancy’s third mystery gets a little wilder than the previous installments. This time, Nancy suspects that the guardians of a girl she met while on vacation are not what they seem. As usual, her mystery ends up being connected with a case her father is working on, though the odds of such a connection are slim indeed. Readers will need a healthy helping of credulity to enjoy this story, but that is true of most of Nancy’s mysteries.

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Book Four: The Mystery at Lilac Inn

This is arguably one of the weaker installments of the series. The motivations of the villain are a little unbelievable, as is her bizarre method of revenge. A series of coincidences ends up connecting two disparate cases Nancy is working on, and she ends up solving the mystery largely by stumbling into the villains instead of by actively sleuthing. The plot is also a bit redundant, recycling elements from previous books such as a capsized boat, a storm, and a haunted building.

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Book Five: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

Shadow Ranch is one of the most popular Nancy Drew books, and for good reason. This story takes Nancy out West, where the author delights in creating a deeply atmospheric setting full of old cave dwellings, square dancing, and horseback riding. The accuracy of this depiction may be suspect, but it is fun, and the setting is furthermore tied to a romantic story involving the doomed love between an outlaw and a sheriff’s daughter, which gives the story a sense of historical depth. This installment is also notable for introducing Nancy’s best friends George and Bess and for name dropping Ned, though Nancy will not actually meet him until book seven. All this, combined with a fast-paced plot and hint of romance with Dave the cowboy, makes Shadow Ranch one of the best Nancy Drew mysteries.

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Book Six: The Secret of Red Gate Farm

The Secret of Red Gate Farm throws a new, tantalizing mystery Nancy’s way as she tries to figure out why a mysterious saleswoman was so reluctant to sell Bess a bottle of perfume, as well as whether or not the “nature cult” on Red Gate Farm is truly what it seems. As usual, Nancy manages to solve the case when no one else can simply because she is incredibly lucky. The bottle of perfume, the man she meets on the train, the strange job advertisement her friend answers, and the cult–they all happen to be related! But, though the plot is unbelievable, it is still entertaining. I enjoyed something new since three of the last five books included haunted properties.

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Book Seven: The Clue in the Diary

Book seven is most notable for the introduction of Ned Nickerson, soon to be Nancy’s steady boyfriend (for the next few decades!). It is fun to see the usually composed Nancy start to blush and get nervous around Ned, who quickly proves himself a valuable asset to the sleuthing team. Nancy deserves someone who is interested in and supportive of her work, and she gets that in Ned, who gamely runs errands for Nancy and is always willing to lend a hand. There’s also a mystery involving two missing persons, a suspected arson, and mail theft, but, it is not one of the stronger plot lines in the series.

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Book Eight: Nancy’s Mysterious Letter

Book eight is not known for being one of the stronger installments of the series, but I admit I heartily enjoyed this mystery. Nancy mistakenly receives a letter addressed to another Nancy Drew, who has inherited a fortune in England. Now, Nancy must find the other woman before she is swindled out of her money. The story is essentially a comedy of errors, with Nancy tracking down two individuals, and always arriving at their former location just as they have left. There may be little mystery here, since Nancy knows exactly whom she seeks. But I enjoyed the chase nonetheless.

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Book Nine: The Sign of the Twisted Candles

Book nine is certainly one of the stronger mysteries of the series. Nancy arrives at an inn to investigate rumors that the old man who lives there is being kept as a prisoner in the tower by the innkeepers. In the process, she discovers an ancient feud that also threatens to estrange her from Bess and George. A gripping plot, combined with richly-drawn characters, secret compartments, and plenty of danger makes this a thrilling story.

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Book Ten: Password to Larkspur Lane

Password to Larkspur Lane continues a strong streak for the series. An injured messenger pigeon leads Nancy to two related mysteries, one involving a strange wheel of fire at her friend’s grandparents’ house and one involving a missing woman. Nancy does some solid sleuthing, piecing together some fairly tenuous clues to arrive at the truth, before attempting a daring rescue escape, complete with disguises, angry guard dogs, and airplanes. The series needs more stories like this!