Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Information

Goodreads: Queen of the Tiles
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Najwa Bakri left the competitive Scrabble tournament scene one year ago, when her best friend Tina Low died at the Scrabble table. Now, she’s back, attempting work through her grief and her panic attacks at the same venue where Trina died. But then Trina’s Instagram account starts posting again. Could it be that Trina’s death was actually murder?

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Review

Queen of the Tiles lured me in–as I have no doubt it will many a word lover–with the intriguing premise of a mystery set in the world of competitive Scrabble. However, while I enjoyed learning more about Scrabble tournaments, and the people who compete in them, I admit to finding the mystery itself lackluster. The plot is slow to start, the sleuthing sort of haphazard, and the drama almost nonexistent. I never really felt that Najwa or her friends were in danger–there was simply no suspense. Read Queen of the Tiles if you really love Scrabble, but maybe pass if you have high standards for thrillers.

Queen of the Tiles is probably more accurately described as a novel about grief, and not really a thriller. The mystery surrounding Trina Low, previous reigning champion of the Scrabble tournament scene, is more or less a set up for the main character, Najwa, to explore her feelings about a friendship where she constantly took backseat to Trina’s wants and desires. The book is Najwa’s journey to accepting what everyone else already seems to know–Trina was not a nice person. As such, it is admittedly difficult to really care about the mystery, since no one (aside from Najwa) really seems to mourn Trina’s loss (shocking and horrible as that may be). Also, the mystery is simply not that mysterious.

No one really finds Trina’s death suspicious until when, one year later, at the same Scrabble tournament venue where she died, Trina’s Instagram starts posting again. The posts are all scrambled letters, clues to decipher. Only Najwa and Trina’s former boyfriend Mark seem to care about the clues, though. Everyone else is content to feel a bit of unease or brush it off as a really bad prank. Because of this, there is no ambience of mystery, no feeling of suspense that bad things could happen. The plot just slowly meanders on to its, frankly, anticlimactic finale.

Queen of the Tiles has an intriguing premise, but fails to deliver. While I was drawn in by the promise of a high-stakes Scrabble tournament and a thrilling mystery, the drama is fairly low-key. Read this only if you really love Scrabble.

3 Stars

Reading Through Nancy Drew: The Secret in the Old Lace (Book #59)

Secret in the Old Lace

Information

Goodreads: The Secret in the Old Lace
Series: Nancy Drew #59
Age Category: Children’s
Source:
Library
Published: 1980

Summary

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.

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Review

Spoilers ahead!

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.

2 star review

Reading Through Nancy Drew: The Flying Saucer Mystery (Book 58)

The Flying Saucer Mystery

Information

GoodreadsThe Flying Saucer Mystery
Series: Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #58
Age Category: Children’s
Source: Library
Published: 1985/2005

Summary

Teenage sleuth Nancy Drew receives word that some people have seen a UFO in the woods. She heads out with Bess, George, Ned, Burt, and Dave to investigate. Along the way, she also agrees to search for a treasure hidden long ago in the forest.

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Review

Spoilers ahead!

I have always loved the original 56 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and 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 title on this one made me doubt that it would…and wow. What a mistake I made in reading it. It is probably the worst Nancy Drew I have ever read (so far).

I cannot express how truly awful The Flying Saucer Mystery is. Nancy and her five friends head to the woods to investigate UFO sightings (even though this seems out of Nancy’s line of work). However, they spend almost the entirety of the book riding around the woods, looking for their lost horses, sometimes getting bitten by snakes or just seeing snakes–all to keep up interest while Nancy does literally nothing to investigate the UFO. She does see the saucer fly overhead and land not far away fairly early on, but, because the group keeps losing their horses and their supplies, she cannot head over to take a look.

While wandering about semi-aimlessly, the group meets a naturalist who lives in a cabin and who believes that his father hid a treasure in the woods an unspecified number of years ago. Nancy agrees to look for it. She has nothing to go on. She just plans to search the entire woods. No one sees anything ludicrous about this.

Meanwhile, Nancy sees the flying saucer touch down in a swamp. She and Ned go to investigate, and suddenly they’re inside the saucer! They’re in new, spacey clothes; they can communicate telepathically; and they can fly with their new mechanized wings! This goes on for two whole chapters. A weird sci-fi interlude where one knows this must be a hallucination induced by swamp gas, but…maybe not? Maybe there are actually aliens in Nancy Drew’s world now. Everything about this book has been so terrible, it might actually be possible.

Afterwards, Nancy and Ned randomly decide they must be radioactive from being near the UFO, so they contact a bunch of scientists and government agencies who all hurry out to the woods to run tests and check on Nancy and Ned’s health. Why Nancy and Ned are apparently a national priority is the true mystery here. I highly doubt that a bunch of scientists and officials really care if some couple in the woods thinks they’re radioactive for some reason.

Nancy and her friends also periodically encounter a Native American man who cannot speak English. Initially, they treat him like a child, showing him shiny jewelry to keep him from potentially attacking (No, I don’t understand this, either) and later playing charades to communicate with him, but calling it “sign language.” This man is the only character who seems to know what is going on in the woods and how to survive there, so he deserves a lot more respect than he gets from the group of teenagers who keep losing their horses and their cooking supplies every couple pages.

Oh, and while Bess is always described as “plump” in the early books, with George poking fun at her love of desserts, the fat shaming reaches entirely new levels here. George actually compares Bess to a whale, and Bess’s weight must be mentioned at least four times in a negative way.

Nancy never does bother to solve the mystery of the UFO, but instead is approached by a group of people at the end who give her answers. Or some of them. Actually, most of what they can admit to saying is not very informative. Nancy does not solve this mystery. It is not a satisfying conclusion. It’s awkward.

The only joy from this book comes from the illustrations, and seeing Nancy and her friends rocking those sweaters as they enter the 1980s.

Read this book only if you are very interested in Nancy Drew going on a trippy adventure in space.

1 star

Reading Through Nancy Drew: The Triple Hoax (Book 57)

The Triple Hoax

Information

GoodreadsThe Triple Hoax
Series: Nancy Drew #57
Age Category: Children’s
Source: Library
Published: 1979

Summary

Nancy, Bess, and George travel to New York at the invitation of Nancy’s Aunt Eloise, whose friend has been swindled out of a large amount of money. Nancy suspects that the con man responsible is associated with a group of magicians who take temporarily take people’s valuable during their show. As she closes in on the group, they lead her on an international chase.

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Review

Spoilers ahead!

I have loved the original 56 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories since I was a child, but I 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 short answer: The Triple Hoax does not.

The weirdest thing about The Triple Hoax is that it places an unusual emphasis on Nancy’s status as an amateur detective–which breaks the suspension of disbelieve one normally needs to have to accept this literary trope. Instead of simply stating that Nancy is an amateur sleuth, the book makes a really big deal about it. First, George runs out of money (for the first time ever??), but tells her dad she cannot get paid for her detective work because that would make her a professional and ineligible to work with Nancy and Bess. Next, Nancy gets stopped by the Mexican authorities for practicing without a license–until she explains she is strictly amateur class and never, ever accepts payment for her sleuthing.

Um… since are amateur sleuths actually regulated by anybody? I thought we all were just supposed to assume that the authorities conveniently overlooked all Nancy’s snooping, and breaking and entering, because she’s Nancy Drew. Not…because she’s actually allowed to do this under the Amateur Sleuth Status she’s claimed by…just saying she’s an amateur sleuth? Who regulates this? I’m so confused! And, if George is broke and needs money, why don’t the three all just become professionals and get paid? What’s stopping them? Nancy’s belief that accepting money from people is tacky?

Aside from that, the plot itself is one of the more unbelievable ones. Nancy gets called to New York City to investigate a swindle, then ends up connecting it to a a group of magicians who take people’s property onstage (before returning it all). She chases the group to Mexico and then to Los Angeles. A child is kidnapped along the way because, evidently, one can never stuff too many crimes into a Nancy Drew book. Watching Nancy trail criminals she just cannot seem to catch is never particularly fun, and it usually makes Nancy look more incompetent than not, so I would not call this one of the stronger installments in the series.

Reading The Triple Hoax was an interesting foray into a Nancy Drew title I had not heard of previously. However, I would say that the interest does stem mainly from the historical/literary significance of the title, and not from the plot or the writing. Only read this one if you really want to be a completionist.

2 star review

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 51-56)

Reading Through Nancy Drew Books 51-56

About a year ago, I started my quest to read all 56 original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. This post is the final installment in which I read and review the classic yellow spine books. It’s been a whirlwind journey, and it is sad to let Nancy go. I wonder what new reading adventures I’ll have!

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Book 51

A strange helicopter lands on Nancy’s lawn, containing a note from Ned, who has been kidnapped– “Beware the Cyclops.”  This sets Nancy off on an adventure to discover Ned’s whereabouts, while also uncovering clues surrounding a mysterious glowing eye.  If this were not enough excitement, Nancy also experiences some jealousy when her father takes on a new assistant, who seems both determined to steal Nancy’s case and maybe Carson’s heart, too!  The mystery is fairly solid, even if, as usual, there is far too much happening for a slim 180-page novel.  One of the stronger installments in the last books in the series, even if some of the science verges more on magic.

Ned Note: Ned is apparently kidnapped because he has invented…the laser?  Also, he’s an engineering student now.  Previously I thought he was in political science, and also something like archaeology.  No wonder he never seems to graduate.

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Book 52: The Secret of the Forgotten City

In this installment, Nancy and her friends join an archaeological dig and, along the way, attempt to find the missing gold tablets that were stolen from a local woman. A student believes that the tablets could help prove her theory that an underground river once flowed at the site of the dig. The villain reveals himself early on, so there is really nothing for Nancy to do but look around the desert for the tables and, mostly, enjoy herself at the dig site. As usual, Nancy and her friends are somehow experts at everything, and everyone trusts them to not only conduct a dig but also glue together artifacts and re-assemble skeletons without any professional input or assistance.

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Book 53: The Sky Phantom

The Sky Phantom Book Cover

The Sky Phantom combines Nancy’s adventures as a pilot with the ranch adventures of some of her earlier books. She stays at a ranch with Bess and George, but takes lessons at a nearby flight school. Along the way, she becomes entangled in a mystery involving a missing pilot, a stolen horse, and a strange magnetic cloud. The mystery proved more intriguing than others in the series because, for a long time, it is not quite clear what exactly the mystery is. Just that strange things are happening. And, as usual, a dash of romance is added, though things get alarmingly serious between Bess and a cowboy…. One of the stronger installments in these later books.

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Book 54: The Strange Message in the Parchment

The Strange Message in the Parchment Book Cover

In this bizarre case, Nancy visits a sheep farm to uncover the mystery behind a parchment bearing four illustrations that an unknown caller has said could right a great wrong. Along the way, she becomes involved in a potential kidnapping case. And she suddenly gets involved in what appears to be a scheme to organize a fake union. Nancy makes a lot of wild assumptions based on slim evidence to solve this case, and it is not very satisfying to watch her solve it. The most interesting part is probably the thinly-veiled anti-union sentiment displayed by the author, as well as the author’s unsolicited opinion that everyone in America ought to speak English.

Ned Note: Ned does nothing of note.

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Book 55: Mystery of Crocodile Island

Mystery of Crocodile Island Book Cover

This story starts out strong, with Nancy, Bess, and George receiving multiple threats, getting kidnapped, and finding themselves repeatedly foiled by the villains. What the villains are doing on Crocodile Island is a complete mystery, which adds to the interest. Nancy has no way onto the island, and the workers on the island are forbidden from leaving. She subsequently spends a lot of time boating and learning about the local wildlife. Unfortunately, the plot falters at the end, when Nancy and her friends arrive at Crocodile Island just in time to find the police rounding everyone up. In other words, she does not really solve the case. It’s a letdown.

As a side note, I really love how the cover shows a random man holding a baby crocodile in his fist. Because, why not?

Ned Note: Ned shows up in the last ten pages or so. I’m not sure why he bothered.

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Book 56: The Thirteenth Pearl

The Thirteenth Pearl Book Cover

In this book, Nancy disguises herself as a Japanese girl as part of her attempt to investigate a multinational organization suspected of stealing jewels. She also gets involved with a pearl cult at the end. And, yet, this is not the worst Nancy Drew mystery. In fact, this final installment brings together some of the more familiar elements of the series, even ending with Nancy and Ned knocked unconscious and imprisoned in an empty building–a trope that appeared in nearly every one of the earlier books, but that has since been missing. I wish I could say that this book somehow feels special, as the last of the original 56, but it is just business as usual for Nancy Drew!

Ned Note: Ned depressingly ends this book with a hope that Nancy will find another case to solve, as if she did not just solve 56 mysteries in the same year. The previous books all name drop the next, upcoming title, so this is the real sign that it is, indeed, the end. (For now.)

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Read the Rest of this Series

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 41-50)

Reading Through Nancy Drew Books 41-50

I have loved Nancy Drew for years, but will rereading the original 56 yellow spine books hold up to my memories? Join me as I find out! Read part one, part two, part three, and part four.

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Book 41: The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes

Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes Book Cover

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.

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Book 42: The Phantom of Pine Hill

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.

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Book 43: The Mystery of the 99 Steps

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.

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Book 44: The Clue in the Crossword Cipher

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.

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Book 45: The Spider Sapphire Mystery

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.

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Book 46: The Invisible Intruder

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).

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Book 47: The Mysterious Mannequin

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?

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Book 48: The Crooked Banister

Crooked Bannister

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.

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Book 49: The Secret of Mirror Bay

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.

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Book 50: The Double Jinx Mystery

Double Jinx

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.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep a Secret

Information

Goodreads: Two Can Keep a Secret
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source:
Library
Published: 2019

Summary

Ellery’s never been to her mother’s hometown of Echo Ridge. Her aunt disappeared there when she was only seventeen. And, five years ago, a homecoming queen was murdered. But now Ellery and her twin brother Ezra are going to stay with their grandmother in Echo Ridge, while their mother goes to rehab. Ellery wants to know the truth of what happened to those two other girls. But she did not expect to find herself a new target when a vandal starts promising a sequel to the murders.

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Review

Two Can Keep a Secret feels a little bit different from McManus’ other books–and from other mystery stories. While these types of books often feature teenage protagonists who jump in and solve cold cases no one else could solve, this story follows two teens who just happen to be caught up in a decades-old mystery. They are not very good at finding clues. As a result, it is unlikely readers will be able to determine the culprit, either, since they never are presented with all the puzzle pieces. Still, Two Can Keep a Secret makes a decent thriller. Readers will be eager to learn the truth of Echo Ridge and satisfied when they do.

At first, I admit I was unsure if I enjoyed reading the type of mystery book where all the evidence is only revealed at the end. I like trying to figure out whodunnit, and it always feels a bit unfair when I realize that I never had a sporting chance. However, I also have to admit that this type of story is more realistic than many YA mysteries. It turns out that, here, the teen sleuths are not savants who are more capable than all the detectives who have been working the case for years. They are teens who are in over their heads, and who endanger themselves when they disobey rules put in place to keep them safe. That makes sense.

So the real enjoyment of the story comes from watching it unfold. At first, the story seems to be going the typical route: many people look guilty, but it is fairly obvious that the secrets they hold are not really related to the main mystery. As character after character is ruled out, however, the suspense grows. Who could it be when all the usual suspects have been cleared?

Two Can Keep a Secret is not the most memorable or shocking YA mystery. It is a solid one, however. Fans of Karen M. McManus’ work in particular will not want to miss out.

3 Stars

Reading Through Nancy Drew (Books 31-40)

Reading Through Nancy Drew Books 31 to 40

I have loved Nancy Drew for years, but will rereading the original 56 yellow spine books* hold up to my memories? Join me as I find out! Read part one here, read part two here, and read part three here.

*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 Ranch and The Mystery of the Ivory Charm if you are interested in reviews for the unrevised versions.

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Book 31: The Ringmaster’s Secret

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.

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Book 32: The Scarlet Slipper Mystery

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.

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Book 33: The Witch Tree Symbol

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.

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Book 34: The Hidden Window

The Hidden Window Mystery

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.

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Book 35: The Haunted Showboat

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.

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Book 36: The Secret of the Golden Pavilion

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.

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Book 37: The Clue in the Old Stagecoach

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.

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Book 38: The Mystery of the Fire Dragon

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?!

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Book 39: The Clue of the Dancing Puppet

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.

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Book 40: The Moonstone Castle Mystery

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.

The Silver Blonde by Elizabeth Ross

The Silver Blonde Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: The Silver Blonde
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Eighteen-year-old Clara Berg is a vault girl, running reels at Silver Pacific Studios in post-WWII Los Angeles. Then she finds a body in the vaults. It appears to Babe Bannon, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors. Clara finds herself drawn to the mystery, tracking down leads and trying to discover the culprit. But her investigation could jeopardize her life, as well.

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Review

The Silver Blonde is an atmospheric historical fiction, inspired by film noir. Fans of classic Hollywood will not only adore all the references to old film, but also immerse themselves in Clara’s world, from the details about film storage to the magic of movie making. A twisty mystery will keep readers turning pages, but it may just be the setting that captures their imaginations.

The story follows eighteen-year-old Clara Berg, an immigrant from Germany who is now a vault girl at Silver Pacific Studios in Los Angeles. Her dream is to become a film editor, though rising through the ranks is not easy for women. Then the discovery of a body threatens to upend her world. The victim appears to be Hollywood star Babe Bannon, killed by a personal enemy, but Clara’s investigations lead her to a deeper mystery that goes back to before WWII. What she uncovers could have repercussions that rock the entire studio. History intertwines with fiction to create a story that feels entirely different from everything else on the YA market.

The setting is truly the star of this book. Clara as a character is rather bland, as is her intended love interest. Even a hint of her struggles being accepted in a post-WWII America, or a glimpse at the sexism she experiences at work, do not give her character arc much trajectory. Clara is sort of a passionless stand-in for the reader, who gets to experience Hollywood through the eyes of the Everywoman, the person who works behind the scenes to make the stars look good. What Clara sees feels like magic.

Readers looking for a memorable historical fiction will delight in The Silver Blonde. The setting–after WWII rather during–is unique, and captures a fascinating time in American history, when the people were trying to move on from a shared trauma, but also finding that the past continued to haunt them. It is always a pleasure to find a YA that feels different from the rest–and The Silver Blonde certainly has its own alluring voice.

4 stars

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.