Nancy enters a magazine contest to tell the ending of a real-life mystery that took place long ago in Belgium. Then her story idea is stolen by someone else! She then sets off to visit Belgium to investigate a separate case–a friend of the Marvins has found an antique in her new house, and wants to find the owner. It turns out that Nancy’s stolen story and the Belgium mystery are intertwined.
I have always loved the original 56 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, but have not really connected to any of the later books. However, when I saw that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (according to Wikipedia) was still involved with some of the books after the switch from publisher Grosset & Dunlap to Simon & Schuster, I thought I should read keep reading after book 56, to see if some of these books would have comparative quality to the earlier ones. The Secret in the Old Lace somehow does not feel like one of the original Nancy Drew books, even though it has one of the same ghostwriters.
The one aspect of the book that does feel consistent with earlier mysteries is the writer’s interest in describing the places and history of another country. In The Secret in the Old Lace, Nancy, Bess, and George travel to Brussels where they, of course, must visit the local museums, eat the local cuisine, and learn about the history of lace–all to educate the reader. Sleuthing occurs, too, but often the writer seems as if she were wishing she could write a travelogue instead of a mystery.
The rest of the story just does not feel like a Nancy Drew book. It has a strange opening, with Nancy entering a short story in a magazine contest–only to find that her story was stolen and plagiarized by another contestant. The author valiantly tries to connect all the shenanigans that ensue from this to the mystery in Belgium. It does not work. It feels like there is half a book about Nancy chasing men around River Heights because she is upset about her contest entry, and half a book about Nancy solving a historical mystery in Belgium.
Really, there is too much happening in this story for it to be any good. The pacing goes at a breakneck speed, with investigating a basement, digging for treasure, chasing a lace thief, rescuing Bess, touring Belgium, and more. So much happens that none of it feels dangerous at all because each incident is over within two pages.
I found myself really missing the formula of the earlier books. Much of that formula was outrageous, but not as ridiculous as this plot. Usually, toward the end of the book, Nancy is knocked out and kidnapped, while her friends frantically search for her, and she works on her escape. In this book, Nancy just happens to run into an American cowboy in Belgium, who happens to be the exact person she is looking for, and then they just happen to find hidden treasure together, sort of by accident. My disappointment was vast.
Nancy Drew feels like she is losing her way in The Secret in the Old Lace. The formula has changed, and not for the better. I don’t see myself ever rereading this one.
In this book, readers learn for the first time that Nancy has a wealthy great-grandmother living on an estate in the Scottish Highlands–and she needs Nancy to find a missing family heirloom. Along the way, Nancy encounters a group of sheep thieves. The two mysteries are desperately linked together by the author, along with the usual near death experiences: car run off the road, explosive in mailbox, etc. As usual, the ghostwriter seems more interested in writing a travelogue than an actual mystery. Not one of the strongest in the series.
Ned Note: Wow, Ned does something useful! While Nancy travels to Scotland, he stays in River Heights to track down clues by using handwriting analysis. An obviously very scientific and accurate process that would never lead him astray.
Book 42: The Phantom of Pine Hill
Nancy, Bess, and George arrive at Emerson College to attend a week of festivities with their “special friends” Ned, Dave, and Burt. They then find themselves in the middle of a mystery involving a phantom who seemingly walks through walls and locked doors to rifle through the contents of a library located in a local mansion. Nancy Drew mysteries typically shine when the girl sleuth must investigate haunted houses. However, a river pageant including the depiction of a Native American war band is dated, to say the least. And then Nancy and her friends go to dig up the site of a former Native American village. They find a skeleton, which they donate to the local museum, and they are lauded by an archaeologist who meant to get around to the site, but who apparently thinks random young women with shovels are just as qualified as he is to do a dig. The strongest point of this book is when Bess, instead of cowering, saves the day.
Ned Note: That Native American character on the cover? That’s actually Ned. I think you know everything you need to know about this book.
Book 43: The Mystery of the 99 Steps
Nancy heads to France, along with Bess and George, to uncover the significance of woman’s dream about falling down a flight of 99 steps. Her case intertwines with one of her father’s–a French banker is selling large amounts of securities and no one can figure out why. As usual, Nancy and her friends spend a lot of the book visiting tourist sites and eating at local restaurants, so the ghostwriter can make readers feel educated about another culture. The mystery itself is a bit unusual, but still somehow the story is not very memorable. Except for the part where George gets hooked around the neck by a cane, dragged into a locked museum, and then left on a king’s antique bed. Weird.
Book 44: The Clue in the Crossword Cipher
In this mystery, Nancy, Bess, and George are invited by beautiful Carla Ponce to return with her to her home in Peru and work on the mystery surrounding a family heirloom–a wooden plaque bearing a carving of a monkey and some words worn away by time. Usually, Nancy Drew books are culturally insensitive to anyone who is not white (and upper class, or at least genteelly impoverished), so this book came as a shock. Nancy learns about the Inca Empire and most of it comes across as generally positive and like the author at least tried to be somewhat accurate for once. Nancy even learns about the harm caused by Spanish conquistadors. There is, as usual, a mystery to be solved in here, as well, but most of the book is an excuse for Nancy to travel. And there’s that ridiculous scene where a door falls off Nancy’s airplane and she almost plummets to her death.
Book 45: The Spider Sapphire Mystery
Initially hired to clear one of her father’s clients from accusations that he stole a famous sapphire embedded with a spider, Nancy goes on an African safari with Emerson College. While abroad, she also works on a missing person case. A lot of action occurs: a baboon steals someone’s wig, Nancy’s luggage gets acid on it, all of Nancy’s clothes are thrown into a fireplace, and more. But none of this could cover up the fact that the mystery is not very interesting.
Ned Note: It was interesting seeing Ned kidnapped in this book instead of Nancy. Strangely, however, this will happen immediately again in the next book.
Book 46: The Invisible Intruder
Nancy, Bess, George, and their three “special friends” are invited by Helen Corning Archer (who has disappeared from this series ever since the books were still numbered in the single digits, I believe) to go on a tour of haunted locations in the vicinity of River Heights. Since Nancy never ages, Helen is still conveniently just recently married and now she and her new husband are gathering a group together to take on five supernatural mysteries at once. Conveniently, the ghostly mysteries are all being perpetrated by the same villains, so the bulk of the book is simply Nancy chasing the crooks from location to location in an effort to catch them. Why Bess and another (unnecessary) character called Rita have to be convinced every time that the ghost is really a human is beyond me. Also beyond me is why the villains in a Nancy Drew book always have several, unrelated rackets going on. This time, it’s scaring people away so they can buy real estate cheap, but also stealing shell collections. This is not the best Nancy Drew mystery, but it’s also not the worst.
Ned Note: Ned conveniently provides the muscle in this book, as always. But he also gets a turn being kidnapped (usually it’s Nancy).
Book 47: The Mysterious Mannequin
A rug arrives at the Drew residence, and hidden in the border are clues that lead Nancy on an international mystery. Her father’s client, a young Turkish man, disappeared a few years ago, and the rug seems to contain instructions to finding him. This mystery is pretty straight-forward, with Nancy wandering around town to visit shops and ask people if they know the suspects she’s after. It’s probably most notable for having Nancy jump into the water to save someone from drowning, as she eats lunch at an outdoor restaurant–for the second time in this series. Apparently people just love falling off cliffs when Nancy is trying to eat.
Ned Note: Ned provides the humor in this book when he is asked to hold a baby and does not know what to do. It’s not actually that funny, but maybe it was supposed to be funny in the 70s?
Book 48: The Crooked Banister
Nancy Drew experiments with turning from the mystery genre to sci-fi in this weird installment featuring a crooked house filled with poisoned paintings and guarded by a dangerous robot. None of it makes sense, but this book does seem like the primary inspiration for many of the Nancy Drew video games, which heavily rely on the conceit of an eccentric inventor leaving a household full of secret passages and strange puzzles for Nancy to solve. Unfortunately, however, this story fails to impress. Nancy should stick to investigating haunted houses, and forget the robots.
Book 49: The Secret of Mirror Bay
These later books were going downhill in quality fast, but The Secret of Mirror Bay recaptures some of the magic of the earlier stories. Nancy, Bess, and George join Aunt Eloise for a vacation in Cooperstown, New York, but end up involved in two mysteries–that of a woman seen walking on the lake, and that of a “green man” who scares away tourists who try to climb the mountain. Nancy and her friends have a lot of fun not only trying to solve the mysteries, but also swimming, sailing, and visiting the local museums. There is a humorous moment, though, when one of the boys introduces his uncle as, “B.S., MA, Ph.D.” Most people will assume all those degrees if you just say, “Ph.D!”
Ned Note: Poor Yo, a local boy in Cooperstown, New York, keeps trying to entertain the tourists with ghost stories from the area. But Ned feels the need to break in every time to finish the story and show Yo he’s not all that smart because, he, Ned, already knows the endings thanks to his super impressive psychology course at Emerson College. Just let the guy tell a fun story, Ned! You don’t have to prove you’re better than he is! What a low point for Ned.
Book 50: The Double Jinx Mystery
Well, this installment is not the strongest in the Nancy Drew series, but it could be worse. Nancy finds a stuffed bird on her lawn, indicating that she has been jinxed. The threat seems to be related to a high rise development project that wants to displace a humble farmer and his exotic birds. Nancy and her friends band together to help the little guy stand up to corporate greed. Lots of people exclaim over random “jinxes” and other superstitions I have never heard of. Somehow ballet dances get involved, so Nancy can once again prove she could go professional, if she wanted. It’s really a bit of a yawn.
Ned Note: Ned gets sick and Hannah nurses him back to health. And that is the most interesting thing Ned does.
Goodreads: Cherry Ames: Army Nurse Series: Cherry Ames #3 Age Category: Middle Grade Source: Library Published: 1944
Having graduated from nursing school, Cherry decides to become an Army nurse and is now Lieutenant Ames. But, before she is sent to the front lines, she has pass basic training in Panama City. Along the way, she encounters a man with a mysterious disease. Could Dr. Joe’s new serum save him?
Well! Cherry has finally done it! She’s passed her three years of nursing school and, after two books full of her musing on the need for more girls to become Army nurses, she has decided to become one herself. This feels like it should be the climax of the series after all those calls to arms in the previous installments and yet–all Cherry does is go through basic training and then get mixed up in a possible malaria case. Book three is a bit of letdown after all the impassioned speeches. Still, readers who enjoy Cherry will find much of the same formula here, as well as possibly more excitement in book four, when she gets to go to the front.
Cherry Ames: Army Nurse was first published in 1944, so much of its interest lies in the way the book is basically used as wartime propaganda. In the last book, Cherry and her entire class all decided to answer the call for more Army nurses, so now they are in basic training. The book seems to depict the types of training fairly realistically, describing how the nurses have to drill like soldiers and pass obstacle courses by crawling through mud under barbed wire and climbing nets. That is in addition to their learning how to manage a ward full of patients while being understaffed (Remember, girls–you’re needed! Sign up for nursing school now!). But, despite all that, Cherry Ames: Army Nurse depicts Army life as fun. The nurses get the excitement of traveling to new places, glamorous new uniforms, and tons of attention from the men. The book really wants its readers to start training as nurses. As the characters keep telling each other, if you enter the Cadet Nurse Corps, you get free tuition, clothing, room and board–even an allowance!!
Patriotic speeches aside, the book shines mostly while depicting Cherry’s time in basic training. The rest of the story is comprised of a confusing plot line wherein she discovers a man suffering from a mysterious disease, and has to identify what it is, and where he contracted it–except some people are mad she found the man and that she broke Army protocol to do it. It seems sort of irrelevant and tacked on, but the books like to add a bit of “mystery” to each of the nursing stories.
Cherry Ames: Army Nurse is sort of a fun flashback to the 1940s, but for me its interest lies mainly in its historical aspects. I found the storyline a little weak, and do not currently feel inclined to keep reading the series.
Now a senior nurse, Cherry has to focus on earning her black graduation bow. But she still has fun in the wards–like the time someone lets a rabbit loose in the children’s section! Plus, she has a new potential beau, a doctor known throughout the hospital as a cyclone. But then her attention is drawn to the mystery surrounding Dr. Joe’s new treatment, a penicillin that could help the war effort. No one is supposed know what he’s working on in his lab, but, soon, rumors spread throughout the hospital, and the penicillin formula could be in danger.
The Cherry Ames books are a classic example of a “girls series”–books featuring young women who taken on more independent roles as teenage sleuths or perhaps career women. Cherry Ames is a nurse and her series trumpets the nobility of nursing as a calling, to inspire readers to sign up to help the war effort. (This book was first published in 1944.) But the Cherry Ames books have a vivid, realistic feeling that make them still relevant today. Cherry is no Nancy Drew, static and perfect. Rather, she is a young woman who sometimes makes mistakes, but who tries hard and ultimately finds her way. Readers who love classic stories will find much to delight them in Cherry Ames.
Cherry Ames: Senior Nurse admittedly loses a bit of the charm from the first book, since Cherry is in her third year of school now and she feels much more assured in her career. Though she may look forward to graduating, and though she may be wavering between serving as an Army nurse or on the home front, she really has no fear that she will not graduate at all. Much of the drama, then, comes from interpersonal conflicts. She has “adopted” a probationary nurse who does not seem to want her mentorship, and she has a whirlwind flirtation with a a fiery-tempered doctor, who expresses his interest by ordering Cherry around: “I’m going to take you to the dance” and so forth. (Yeah, this romance is dated, to say the least.) The stakes are just so much lower.
Cherry’s story still has a human interest appeal, however, because Cherry herself feels so human. Even as a senior, she still likes a good practical joke, and she will bend the rules sometimes to have a little fun or to try to cheer up a patient. She also struggles with her own passionate temper, sometimes judging someone too hastily or flaring up at slight provocations. Though the book presents nursing as a higher calling, Cherry is no saint. And, in that, she is relatable.
Of course, since this book was originally published in the 1940s, some aspects of the book are dated. While Cherry’s job as a nurse seems to make her more sympathetic than other protagonists to people who are not white middle-class women, the book does show its biases in the way it depicts some of the patients Cherry encounters. While Cherry still gives them the best of care, the author does imply that some backgrounds will make a person less cleanly, agreeable, or socially acceptable than others. Readers should be aware going into the book that it does not live up to contemporary values, but, indeed, centers white middle-class women and their stories.
The Cherry Ames books can be approached a variety of ways by readers. They may appeal to readers who like old-fashioned stories that are focused on character development and “wholesome” fun like going to dances or going out for a soda. But they are also a fascinating glimpse into the concerns of the past–not only concerns about the ongoing war efforts, but also concerns about gender and professionalization.
Eighteen-year-old Cherry Ames dreams of serving others as a nurse. She sets off to nursing school to begin her training, but fears she will never pass her probationary period as the strict Dr. Wylie always seems intent on criticizing her.
The Cherry Ames books are often recommended for fans of Nancy Drew. Although the series started in the 1940s, and also features an eighteen-year-old protagonist, the books arguably do not have much in common with Nancy Drew, other than a general feeling of old-timey wholesomeness. Cherry is a career woman, dedicated to becoming an efficient nurse so she can help with the war effort. Though her books include an element of mystery, she is a not a sleuth. Furthermore, Cherry is more fully realized character, one is who is able to make mistakes and who must then face the consequences. In short, Cherry Ames is her own character with her own unique books–but those books are worth reading! Dip into the Cherry Ames series to find stories of a strong young woman making her way in the world, overcoming mistakes in order to triumph.
Cherry Ames’ historical situation is admittedly one of the most appealing, and interesting, aspects of the books. First published in 1934, Cherry Ames: Student Nurse is deeply intent on depicting nursing as a noble–and patriotic–calling. Helen Wells liberally peppers her book with statements on the impact of nurses on patients’ lives–but prevents it from becoming too unrealistically sentimental by balancing the vocational awe with some insight on the practicalities of the profession, as well. Still, it seems clear that the book is a recruitment tool; the characters make sure to inform readers that nursing is a growing field and that they will still be needed even after the war ends.
This bit of historical interest aside, the books still translate well into the modern day. Cherry Ames feels relatable, even if she does refer to aspects of American life that have faded into the past. At heart, she is a young woman just setting out on her own into the world. She has to leave her supportive family behind in order to enter an intense period of training, and she worries she will not pass her probation. She also feels like a real person–one who sometimes melts under pressure or risks getting into trouble by indulging in relatively harmless pranks. Her sense of idealism, mixed with a bit of self-doubt, is something that young people pursuing new careers will likely recognize in themselves.
And this book, at least, notably deviates from the Nancy Drew books in that it is not quite so much a product of its time. While Cherry Ames is still a middle-class white girl with a privileged background, she does not rely on that privilege as much as Nancy. Nor does she look down on others who do not share her privileges. When a classmate is discovered to have come from an impoverished household with abusive and neglectful parents, the book celebrates the girl’s strength and acknowledges that she can change her future. In the Nancy Drew books, people from lower-income households are typically either the villains or objects of Nancy’s pity and financial charity.
The Cherry Ames books are a delightful look into the past, at a time when nursing as a profession was encouraged for young women to help the war effort. Cherry responds to the call, and proves herself a capable, efficient young woman who makes a difference in the life of others. The books never directly state that Cherry is strong, or that she is a role model, or that she could inspire other young women to pursue a career. But she is, and she does. And her books are a treasure.
*I’m rereading the revised editions for this series, because they are more accessible and what most contemporary readers are familiar with, but you can check out my comparison reviews for The Secret of Shadow Ranchand The Mystery of the Ivory Charmif you are interested in reviews for the unrevised versions.
Book 31: The Ringmaster’s Secret
Nancy receives a bracelet, once the possession of a famous aerialist, from her Aunt Eloise, leading her to go undercover in a traveling circus. There, she finds Lolita, the adopted daughter of the ringmaster–but Lolita’s mother, the previous owner of the bracelet, is rumored to still be alive. Although Nancy has solved a circus mystery before, she gets more involved in this one, actually joining as a trick rider. The plot is fast paced and exciting, and stood out to me mainly for its increased violence–Nancy is strangled with a whip, a man is beaten and left for dead, and Nancy narrowly avoids an acid attack. The solution to the mystery is obvious, but at least the book provides plenty of thrills along the way.
Book 32: The Scarlet Slipper Mystery
Well, I have never not understood a Nancy Drew book–but I certainly did not understand this one. Nancy meets a brother and sister who are running (they think) from the enemies of the Centrovian underground, of which their parents were a part. Their case is mixed up with that of another Centrovian man, who seems to suspect the Fontaines of being smugglers, as well as with the case of a group of actual jewel smugglers. Some of the bad guys may or may not be associated with Centrovia, or maybe they just see a chance to make money from the Centrovian occupiers, and a few of them may have been double crossing both sides. I don’t actually know. I was lost. Too many characters and too many crimes.
Ned Note: Ned pretends Nancy is his wife in order to trick a bad guy–and Nancy gets mad! Apparently there actually are limits to the lies one can tell in order to solve a case–and Ned just crossed one.
Book 33: The Witch Tree Symbol
A stolen furniture case leads Nancy to Pennsylvania Amish country, where she is convinced an ex-convict is posing as Amish to hide his loot. Since Nancy knows the culprit from the start, there is not much mystery here, just a convoluted path to her locating the man before he can sell the furniture and get away. The book seems primarily interested in talking about Amish culture in a sort of superficial way–Nancy attends a dance and a quilting party, witnesses a barn raising, and eats an incredible amount of food. Mostly I was curious as to how a new Amish man could show up in town, and have no one know where he lives–not even a general direction. No one finds it odd that he does not attend any church services or go to market or speak to any of his neighbors? No, they are too busy being convinced that Nancy is a witch for…some reason. The story is not great, but the book could be part of an interesting scholarly project on Americans’ fascination with the Amish, and their depictions in literature.
Ned Note: Poor Ned. This is the third time that he’s indirectly suggested marriage to Nancy and had her pretend not to understand.
Book 34: The Hidden Window
Wow! Where do I even start? This is one of the few volumes I do not remember reading as a child, and…there’s a lot. Nancy heads to Charlottesville, Virginia, in an attempt to find a missing stained glass window for an English nobleman. Her case gets tangled up with her new neighbor–a nasty woman who first accuses the postman and then Nancy of stealing made-up mail–as well as with the mystery of why a new homeowner who will not let people view his grounds during Garden Week (because this is a super pressing issue, obviously) and with the mystery of a semi-hysterical actress who believes her new house is haunted. While, we’re at it, someone steals the girls’ lingerie because one can never have too many crimes in a mystery novel, apparently. Nancy does a lot of sightseeing so readers can feel like they learned something about the Founding Fathers. The slave quarters on the place where Nancy is staying are treated as a historical curiosity. Shrieking peacocks terrorize the neighborhood. I’m not entirely sure what I just read, but it was a whirlwind.
Book 35: The Haunted Showboat
It’s starting to feel a lot like ghostwriter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams really loved the Old South. This book has a somewhat uninteresting mystery featuring a showboat that Bess’s cousin wants to have towed up the bayou so it can be restored and the theatre used to put on a production for his daughter’s engagement announcement. However, the showboat is allegedly haunted and no one will go near it. Most of the action is incidental to this, though. And the racist stereotypes are so terrible it’s amazing that I’ve seen so few reviewers mention them.
Ned Note: Ned flies down on a whim to celebrate Mardi Gras with Nancy. Why not? I guess his family has endless cash, too.
Book 36: The Secret of the Golden Pavilion
Nancy Drew capitalizes on Hawaii’s admission as a state to the U.S. by setting the girl sleuth’s latest case there. The author loses no time in having Nancy tell Hannah (and, apparently, the readers) that she ought to take this opportunity to learn more about the newest state. Numerous descriptions are given of food, dance, costume, and folklore. Nancy travels around a few of the islands, visiting volcanoes, skin diving, and learning about the local wildlife. Also, there’s a mystery buried somewhere in the middle of this travel book. It’s not a very interesting one.
Ned Note: Because it has students from Emerson on it, Ned’s plane makes the news for experiencing some difficultly while conveniently on its way to Hawaii, where Nancy’s latest case is set. No one explains why what appears to be some easily fixed mechanical trouble gets picked up by the news and reported on relentlessly. Is Ned really that great at football? Is he national news? I’m so confused.
Book 37: The Clue in the Old Stagecoach
This is another one of those mysteries where Nancy knows the villains from the start, but spends most of her time attempting to follow them around and catch them in the act. Also, she’s on vacation with Bess and George, so they play an awful lot of tennis, and end up by auditioning for a water ballet (as one does while on vacation). The mystery is so weak that the writer desperately tries to keep reader interest with increasingly unbelievable scenarios, like having a loose circus bear threaten to attack Nancy and her friends while they are driving to a farm. The rest of the page length is created by dropping a lot of knowledge about old-timey stage coaches, evidently to educate the reader. This is decidedly not one of the strongest installments in the series.
Ned Note: Nancy dates another boy, Rick, while on vacation. Rick conveniently leaves before Ned arrives. No one tells Ned about Rick.
Book 38: The Mystery of the Fire Dragon
I don’t even know what to think about this book. Nancy’s Aunt Eloise calls her to New York City to solve the disappearance of her Chinese neighbor, Chi Che Soong. Nancy mentions that she always carries her birth certificate around because it’s good to be prepared. George dresses up as Chi Che in an effort to find her kidnappers. The group all travels to Hong Kong in the end, where Ned Nickerson conveniently happens to be attending college. Lots of firecrackers go off. And, as usual, Nancy and George keep teasing Bess for eating too much–even though Bess only ever seems to eat exactly what Nancy and George are also eating! (Sometimes she has a second piece of dessert, but who wouldn’t?) Did anything in this book make sense? Not really.
Ned Note: Is this the first time ever Ned has travelled somewhere without Burt and Dave?!
Book 39: The Clue of the Dancing Puppet
This is classic Nancy Drew! Nancy arrives at an old estate turned theatre to uncover the mystery of a dancing puppet that appears at night on the lawn. Along the way, she encounters an overly dramatic leading actress, a Shakespeare enthusiast who will not stop quoting the Bard, and an array of dastardly villains. She gets to explore dusty attics, search for secret passageways, and break out her magnifying glass–all while trying to save the production from disaster. This book is high point among these later installments–aside from the constant insistence that Bess can only appear in the play if she loses weight. I’m starting to think that maybe some of the earlier revised books may have taken out a lot of the fat shaming, since it seems to be increasing in the later books.
Ned Note: Ned takes a last minute flight to watch Nancy perform in a play. He flies back again, with Dave and Burt, on the same day. I often wonder how much his summer camp counselor job pays.
Book 40: The Moonstone Castle Mystery
Nancy receives a moonstone in the mail from an unnamed individual–right before traveling to stay at a location that used to be known as Moonstone Valley! She starts work on a missing persons case, but soon finds herself entangled in the mystery of an abandoned castle, that just might be the meeting place for a gang of crooks. A creepy castle, a swim across a moat, another stolen car, and yet another boat crash make this one feel like classic Nancy Drew.
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.
Book 21: The 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.
Book 22: The 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?
Book 23: The Mystery of the Tolling Bell
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!
Book 24: The Clue in the Old Album
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.
Book 25: The Ghost of Blackwood Hall
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.
Book 26: The Clue of the Leaning Chimney
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.
Book 27: The 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.
Book 28: The Clue of the Black Keys
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.
Book 29: Mystery at the Ski Jump
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.
Book 30: The Clue of the Velvet Mask
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.
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.
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.
One day, a girl appears at the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. She cannot remember who she is, but the king wants her dead. Brother Edick wants to help the girl, but the head of his Order does not. So the girl sets out with a goat and an orphan boy to try to find her way in the world. She only hopes that she will be shown the way back home.
The Beatryce Prophecy is, I suspect, one of those books beloved by adults, but perhaps not as much by children. The book takes on an almost fable-like feel, one created by the flatness of the characters and the generous repetition of ideas, phrases, and thoughts. The moral? That Words Are Important, of course. For some readers, any story about the power of stories is an automatic gem. For my part, however, I found the story veering a little too close to self-indulgent. I can see this one being a contender for many awards, but more because I think adults will find it Important and not so much because children will be lining up to read it.
My feelings towards The Beatryce Prophecy are, I must admit, very ambivalent. While the plot is not particularly original, the characters are winning, and I think many a reader will fall in love with Jack Dorey, Brother Edick, and, of course, Answelica the goat. The titular character, Beatryce, is beloved in turn by all the characters, but it must be admitted that she exhibits the least personality (which is saying something in a book where pretty much no one has a personality). Readers are supposed to take it for granted that she is special because she can read, and that she is intelligent because her mother and her tutor say so. Why Beatryce should be treated like an angel because someone taught her to read is beyond me–she just happened to be rich and lucky. And Beatryce, in fact, does not make any intelligent decisions during the course of the book. But because love prevails and other people love her, it doesn’t much matter–they keep saving her from herself.
The slow pacing and the repetition of words, phrases, and thoughts also weigh the story down. Listening to a long ramble about the demon goat Answelica at the opening almost made me put the book down. Fortunately, however, the book is short, so I figured I could try to power through. This did prove a little more difficult than I had imagined, since nothing much happens in the book–the bulk of it really does come from the repetition. Three phrases are often needed just to describe something like the sky or someone’s thoughts that they are afraid. While this is soothing at time, I do think repetition is often most effective in smaller doses.
Finally, the ending of the story proves confusing–if one thinks about it too closely. The trouble comes from revelations about Beatryce’s mother that make her one of the most rounded characters of the book, though she barely appears except in flashbacks and through other people’s memories of her. However, readers do learn that her husband died years ago, that she allegedly thinks her children might one day take the throne (maybe the reason she saw that they were all educated), that she is proud of her family’s bloodline, and that she (again allegedly) is classist and would not be amenable to marrying someone of common birth.
All this makes Beatryce’s mother intriguing and fleshed out. But. In a story where everyone else is flat and pretty much divided into Good and Not So Good–what does that make her? The story wants to make her Good. But she’s too complex for this type of tale. Her pride and her apparent ambition (in a story where ambition for the throne is coded very negatively) suggest that she should be on the Not So Good Side. So why does the book try so hard to make her seem wonderful? Just because she is Beatryce’s mother? It’s a knotty problem and one that the book closes with unresolved.
I do think that there are readers out there who will love The Beatryce Prophecy. The types of readers who love romantic tales of old, who enjoy knights and ladies, who dream of going on medieval adventures. I also realize that these types of readers are probably less abundant than the ones repeatedly bringing humorous books like Dog Man and Wimpy Kid to the top of the bestseller lists all the time. But I do think it’s worth pondering whether this book has more kid appeal, or more adult appeal. To me, it seems like a book that will be most beloved of adult readers who already love everything Kate DiCamillo writes.
Goodreads: The Princess Rules Series: None Source: Library Published: 1988, 1991, 1992 (collected in one volume 2020)
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…
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.