Friday, August 12, 2022

Trixie Belden Series 28 - 30

 28) The Hudson River Mystery

Jaws music would create a suitable backdrop for this story. Trixie spots the impossible; a triangular shark fin gliding along the Hudson River near home. She becomes a laughingstock because saltwater fish cannot inhabit their freshwater section of the river, yet she knows what she saw. Trixie picks the brains of two experts, commercial fisherman Pat Bunker and river author Thea Van Loon, who give her contradictory feedback. Meanwhile Brian is in a serious plight. His crucial college entrance work is due soon, yet he can't shake off a feeling of sickness, despair and always feeling shattered. 

* The Bob White station wagon now has three eligible drivers, since Dan has recently acquired his license, like Brian and Jim. 

* Brian hangs out along the river with a girl named Loyola Kevins, who is his Chemistry lab partner at school. They are collecting water samples for an ecological survey which could have potential environmental benefit, depending on the results. Loyola is described as a 'short skinny black girl' who lives with her grandfather. Somehow, she puts me in mind of Hermione Granger. She's the same sort of brilliant, intense student. 

* Mart teaches Bobby to use Spoonerisms; those verbal errors in which initial beginnings of words are swapped around. Bobby is so hooked on them, he can't get lo. (Oops, can't let go.)

* Honey is surprised and sympathetic when the author Thea Van Loon informs the two girls that there is not much money to be made writing books. She 'shakes her head in stunned disbelief.' I find myself rolling my eyes in sympathy with Thea in this instance, when she reflects that little rich girls like Honey are out of touch with the paltry salary authors earn. 

* Oh gosh, the Trixie Belden books are cosy escapist reads generally, but real life intrudes for poor Brian. And the Belden family is not immune from curve balls after all. The drama plays out vividly as I read it. Brian collapsing on the floor during his birthday dinner, the paramedics carrying him out on a gurney, Peter and Helen rushing to hospital after the ambulance, Mart and Trixie barely keeping a lid on their own dread and trying to pacify terrified Bobby at the same time, and Mart dashing to the phone as soon as their mother touches base with an update. Phew, it's a rude awakening to see Brian, our favourite first aid dispenser, needing drastic medical intervention himself.

* I considered not mentioning the cause of Brian's illness. But since it has nothing to do with the main shark mystery, I'll go for it. It's one of the few incidents from the series which stuck in my mind from my teens. He has arsenic poisoning, from crunching loads of Loyola's Waldorf salad, which is packed with apple seeds. I shudder at the thought of crunching all those gritty seeds myself, as Brian must have done to have had such a terrible effect on him. Perhaps she at least pulverised them, yet it doesn't sound likely. Yucky!  (Loyola's Waldorf salad won't make it into my dream Trixie Belden cookbook.)

* I appreciate the dash of black comedy, when Trixie jumps to conclusions and accuses Loyola of trying to poison Brian deliberately, since he's her most brilliant rival for the best college offers. And poor Loyola has to convince Trixie that although she's a serious and focused scholar, she wouldn't stoop to actually trying to kill her competition off.   

* This story takes place in late October, so Brian's birthday, which is said to be a full week before Halloween, can be traced to October 22nd. But since Mystery on Mead's Mountain (number 22 in the series) ended with New Year's Eve, Trixie, Honey and Di should be fifteen by now, and Mart should be sixteen. Yet they're clearly not. This is why the latter books of the series must be taken as anecdotal rather than chronological. The timing is totally messed up at this point. 

* Ah, the nostalgic old library days of the twentieth century. Trixie wants to look up information on sharks, and the librarian tells her to try to encyclopedias first, then the card catalogue. 

* Trixie teases Mart that he's ugly and their mother reminds her that the taunt might come back to bite her, since the pair of them look alike enough to be twins. Touche.  

* Trixie and Mart are roped into helping their mother can loads and loads of tomatoes. It seems Brian is now exempt to focus on his senior studies and Bobby is still too flaky to be much help. Fair enough. Middle kid power.

* I really had to laugh. Trixie is so annoying, intrusive and pesky that she drives the villain to want to kill her and Honey, just to get rid of them, a bit like swatting mosquitoes. Honestly, it's not in the baddie's best interest to dabble in murder. It's just the Trixie Belden effect to the extreme.  

* It seems Mart and Brian don't share a bedroom now (even though they clearly did in Mystery of the Emeralds). Mart has been locking himself away in his room working on a secret craft project which he's keeping from everyone until the big reveal. Presumably that includes Brian. 

* Four of the Bob Whites decide to wear Halloween costumes to their own little clubhouse gathering. Mart and Diana's homemade costumes make Trixie groan, but hers and Honey's are arguably even cornier. 

* I love this observation about the Hudson River on the eve of the storm at the start. 'Trixie stared at it for a long moment, awed by the thought of nature transforming a joy into a threat in such a short time.' Yes, never underestimate the force of nature.

* My quote of the book is this exchange between Trixie and Brian. Trixie: Doesn't she (Loyola) seem kind of inhuman to you? Brian: No, you're the one who's striking me that way!  (Haha, I love it. This bit of dialogue sums up the overall Trixie effect on many people in this book.)

29) The Mystery of the Velvet Gown

Diana gets to play the role of Juliet in the school Shakespeare play, which is a thrill for the Bob Whites, but there is some turmoil going on behind the scenes. Fellow student Jane Morgan, who badly wanted to play Juliet, resolves to make Di sorry for auditioning. Miss Darcy the drama teacher receives word that her father has been kidnapped, and she's also behaving strangely paranoid about some costumes she's borrowed for the production. Meanwhile her handsome fiance, Peter Ashbury, seems to be throwing his weight around. Can Trixie and the others get to the bottom of it all? 

* One thing is clear. After weeks of working on her speaking voice, projection and poise, Di clearly did a good enough job to have earned the part of Juliet. Miss Darcy was obviously impressed enough by her audition to have given it to her. The implicit question is whether or not her physical beauty gave her an edge if it came down to a decision between her and Jane Morgan. If they were equally competent but Diana's beauty was the deciding factor, then I guess Jane has a fair case for being disgruntled. But if Diana's gorgeous appearance wasn't taken into account at all, then poor Di suffers the fate of many pretty girls throughout history. Some people are wrongfully resentful and suspicious of the victories they so rightly earn. Oh dear, they tell me it ain't easy being beautiful. 

* Only Miss Darcy knows the answer to that one for sure, and of course she isn't saying. But Trixie reflects, 'Di is so pretty with her shiny black hair and violet coloured eyes, she'd make a perfect Juliet. She's just got to get the part!' Hey Trixie, surely you know all that has no bearing on whether or not Di can actually play the role. 

* Diana's nerves and low confidence set in instantly, which gives Jane more ammunition. Oh, how easy for anybody to gripe, 'She only got the part because of her looks,' whether it's true or not. 

* As always, the Trixie Belden novels provide some interesting background detail. We learn all about stage directions and stagecraft. 

* There is a school newspaper called The Campus Clarion. Submissions aren't open to Freshman students like Trixie, Honey and Di. Jane Morgan's brother Bill is a photographer for the paper. We've never heard that Brian, Jim or Dan ever submitted anything to the paper, so presumably they didn't. 

* Trixie compares Peter Ashbury to Robert Redford and Paul Newman; two very old heartthrobs who most readers probably wouldn't remember now. Either young Trixie has been roped into watching very ancient movies or she is indeed a product of a former era. 

* Aww, the Bobby and Reddy moments are enough to melt soft-hearted readers like myself. Real life intrudes once again, when Reddy gets knocked over by a car and breaks his leg. But after a few days with the vet, Dr David Samet, he's allowed home, and the reunion scene is a highlight of the book.  

* Brian and Mart go up to their rooms to finish their homework. Not a singular room. Just sayin'.

* Ooh, shame! The narrator refers to Miss Trask as 'the governess.' But we all know very well that Honey hasn't needed a governess for years. Miss Trask's actual current role is estate manager of the Manor House. 

* Here's an interesting bit of trivia. Nowhere throughout the story was the velvet gown described as red. But those of us with the oval design cover probably assume that it is because of the picture. 

* Okay, so the baddie is caught and Trixie gets most of the credit, but how does Di fare in the play? It's a fair question but we never find out. After all her stress and mental angst, the story ends weeks short of the big night. I think sometimes Kathryn Kenny forgets that Trixie isn't the only Bob White whose threads we readers are following.  

* My quote of the book is from Trixie, while the girls are tossing around possible theories and Honey expresses her disbelief that anyone as handsome as Peter Ashbury could possibly be a criminal. Trixie shouts, 'What's in a name? Well, what's in a face, Honey? Good looking people can be involved in crime just as easily as anyone else.' Bravo, Trix! 

30) The Mystery of the Midnight Marauder

An anonymous troublemaker who signs crime scenes as 'The Midnight Marauder' is at large in Sleepyside. Poor Mart is one of the prime suspects, since he was spotted at one of the locations and refuses to reveal why. Not only is Trixie anxious to clear her brother's name, but she's burning with curiosity to find out what he was really up to. Can the Bob Whites unmask the Marauder and also help Mart out of his jam? 

* Just so we're all clear, I looked up the definition of 'marauder' before beginning this book. It is, 'One who roams from place to place making attacks and raids in search of plunder.' That's exactly what the Sleepyside Midnight Marauder does. This menace steals odds and ends from each place, leaves a calling card in black spray paint and sends letters in advance, announcing the next target. The marauder's motivation for telling people beforehand is something the Bob Whites can't figure out. 

* Poor Mart is high on Sergeant Molinson's list of suspects. Not only was he spotted at school the night it was vandalised and robbed, but he's been stressed and preoccupied, and even lost his legendary appetite! He won't divulge why he was on the school grounds at midnight. A couple of middle aged women are fueling the fire with their certainty that the Midnight Marauder must be a teenager, although it seems to be based on prejudice rather than actual insider's knowledge.

* I've decided not to reveal Mart's secret business which is shredding his peace of mind. If you've yet to read this book, it's best to get the total surprise factor along with the other Bob Whites. Suffice to say he suspects the nefarious marauder's nocturnal activity may be indirectly his fault. 

* If the school security system was up to modern standards, I guess Mart's purpose for being there would have been on record for all to see. That's a possible factor that dates this book.    

* Sergeant Molinson is a bit of a duffer in this story. It's outrageous that he should suspect Mart in the first place. I understand professionalism demands that he must follow all leads, yet surely prior knowledge of a person's character should help him avoid wild goose chases. But wait, it gets even worse. Toward the end of the book he suspects Trixie and Honey too, of being Mart's accomplices! Come on man, wake up! 

* Having said that, I don't quite get why Mart refuses to tell Sergeant Molinson what he was really up to the night he was seen at the school. I'm sure Molinson would keep it close to his chest. We know Mart is embarrassed about the fix he's in and assumes some responsibility for the head space of the Marauder, but come on! Mart, would you rather be seen by the police as a floundering student who tried something he couldn't pull off, or as a vandal and thief? 

* Dan and Brian are both with me on this one. At different times they both give their opinions that Mart should just tell Molinson all about it and get him off his back. 

* Peter, Helen and Bobby Belden set off on a day trip, but rough weather and a freak accident holds them up for a few more days. What a crazy story awaits them when they get home!  

* Mart has another problem on his mind too. He enrolled in a Journalism class at school, but Mr Zimmerman the teacher keeps judging his material unfit to publish. I suspect Mart was always due for a rude awakening. Anyone who's tried their hand at professional writing knows that short, simple words are recommended over long, complex ones. That might be tough for our favourite wordsmith to swallow, because I don't think he can help himself. Now he probably thinks he's lousy at his passion. Poor Mart. 

* We get inside info about Crimper's Department Store, Sleepyside's grand old retro shop, and the family who run it. Old Grandpa Crimper is the retired owner who hates to relinquish the reins to his son, and causes his family a great deal of stress by doing whatever he jolly well feels like, includes joyrides in the car, although he's a menace to every other road user. Even though his family don't think he qualifies for residential care, he should arguably still be restrained from possibly causing a fatality. I'd consider him to be a ticking time bomb rather than a lovable, crusty old man.   

* There may be a couple of minor problems with credibility. Reddy follows Mart when he heads off to await the Midnight Marauder at Crimper's, and we're expected to believe that Mart manages to keep this ebullient free spirit silent and still in an enclosed space with him for a couple of hours. Even if Reddy slept for part of the time, it was such a long wait. However the premises were empty for a great deal of that time, so perhaps whines and barks wouldn't matter so much then.   

* Speaking of dogs, it appears Jim has given up on his plan to train his puppy Patch. He had such high hopes of making an obedient hound out of Patch, but it hasn't eventuated. It would seem the live wire Reddy has rubbed off on him too much.         

* Diana admits that she wrote a letter to Miss Lonelyheart, the school Agony Aunt. It comes to light that it was over her sadness about not being invited to the spring dance. I find that unbelievable! Diana has always been a magnet for hopeful wannabe boyfriends, with her beauty and skillful flirting. Perhaps what she really means is that the only guy she wanted to go with hasn't asked her (which is easier to believe, since he was preoccupied with things that must not be mentioned). Since that makes more sense, it's how I'll interpret her comments. 

* Dan goes behind the scenes and invites the school shy girl, Ruthie Kettner, to be his partner. Go Dan! In his unassuming way, he makes moves.

* Now for a quote of the book without giving anything away. It's from Mart. 'It's been just awful these last few weeks. I haven't had any idea what to do.' Just a bit of bait to get readers in the mood for this story.  

Catch up on Books 25 - 27

Next up will be Books 31 - 33

Friday, August 5, 2022

'Dombey and Son' by Charles Dickens

Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens’s story of a powerful man whose callous neglect of his family triggers his professional and personal downfall, showcases the author’s gift for vivid characterization and unfailingly realistic description.


Whew, I aim to read all the Dickens novels, but this Victorian domestic drama about the changing fortunes of the arrogant shipping magnate, Mr Paul Dombey, was almost the end of that goal.

The beginning felt promising. I bonded with two main characters until about the 200 page mark when Dickens rips them both right out of the plot. He sends one away on a fruitless voyage and kills off the other, but by this stage, I'd progressed far enough into the story to persevere, even though I felt shortchanged. (Another reviewer commented something like, 'It's times like this when we see the "dick" in Dickens.' Strong words but fair point.)

He leaves us four other main characters to fill the slow-moving bulk of the middle section, but they're all either too unpleasant or too passive for me transfer the affection I felt for the pair he nixed. 

First, of course, is Mr Paul Dombey Senior, a conceited snob who despises the general public, yet lives to impress them. He's in the position to manipulate others like puppets; employees and family alike. His petty purposes devastate several lives, yet he doesn't care. He treats his daughter like dirt and selects his second wife based on admiration of her haughty carriage, which he trusts will complement his own pomposity. Even his affection for his son is all tied up with how the boy will enable him to enhance his own image. He's rude and dismissive, basically never changes throughout the whole story, and makes decisions with the sole aim to upset people. 

He breaks up other families more than once, bosses his wife around, orders his manager do his dirty work, makes his daughter a general scapegoat, breaks off friendships on a whim and expects devotion for trifles. The list goes on. Seriously, this guy is a bad egg, which makes it incredibly difficult to sympathise with the blows of misfortune he suffers, and to maintain our interest in him over 800 pages.

Second main character is Florence, his loving, young daughter. She's one of Dickens' angelic young women who can do no wrong, but I believe he stretches saintliness to a fault in her case. How Florence can keep doggedly loving a father who treats her with contempt and emotional abuse from the moment of her birth is beyond me. He sends the young man she's fond of off to sea out of pure malice, and Florence knows it full well, yet still pines for his paternal love with such devotion. Dickens writes her character with his usual sentimental hint that we should all strive to be more like Florence, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth because in this case he seems to be recommending that we glorify Stockholm Syndrome. 

Sure, I understand that her hands were tied to a huge extent. It was the Victorian era, which meant Florence was essentially a prisoner in her father's house. It was not her inability to take action I objected to, but rather her unnaturally submissive attitude. 

Third is the haughty and scornful Edith, Dombey's second wife, who knows she's being bought, sulkily chooses to go along with the plan, then pulls off one of the biggest passive-aggressive sulks in literature. I will say this for her though, she has a breaking point and I applaud her for never considering a bad guy to be 'good.' 

The fourth main character is James Carker, Dombey's manager and right-hand man. He manipulates people's lives with the same dispassion as his employer, is an expert at subtle blackmail, and his weakness for young women of a certain appearance is his undoing.

 I often had to force myself to pick up the book, since the fortunes of these four did nothing for my curiosity, especially when they faint and scream in such melodramatic ways (or at least the females do). But I hate to think I've come to the end of a Dickens novel with nothing to recommend it, so I thought I'd try to make a list. It turns out there is plenty after all, since I came up with a dozen. 

1) Baby Paul's icy baptism day, which matches his father's personality.

2) Susan Nipper, a quick-witted spitfire with a great heart who loves her young lady, and doesn't hesitate to give the great man himself a piece of her mind. 

3) Mrs Pipchin's establishment at Brighton, with all of its weird houseplants, and young Paul's morbid fascination with her ogress appearance.

4) The theft of young Florence's clothes by 'Good Mother Brown.'

5) Walter, that cheerful, merry-hearted lad with light-footed, light-hearted approach. 

6) Carker's teeth! This gleaming white set of chompers is mentioned almost every time he appears, giving him a predatory, prowling, evil Cheshire cat vibe. Dickens really succeeded in playing on the creepiness of apparent beauty, for to Carker's Victorian peers with their chipped, missing and rotting teeth, his mouth was a masterpiece. I think those teeth are what will stick longest in my memory.

7) The final straw, when Florence runs off and subsequently makes her own decision regarding who she'll marry. High time too! And of course the fact that she actually has somewhere else to turn when her rotten father pushes her over the edge is enough to make any reader cheer.  

8) Ghoulish Mrs Skewton, Edith's mother, and her quest to stay eternally young, even though every single feature is fake. 

9) Kindly Captain Cuttle and his frenzied Masterchef efforts when Florence unexpectedly shows up on his door; juggling saucepans and frying pans everywhere. 

10) The wonderful, contemporary illustrations by Hablot K. Browne, aka Phiz.  

11) Florence's simple-hearted admirer, young Mr Toots, and his tendency to deliver one-liners that state the obvious, such as greeting Walter, who has survived a horrific shipwreck, with, 'I'm afraid you must have got very wet.' 

12) Finally, the beautiful sibling bond between Florence and young Paul was really heartwarming. 

Okay, so now I've talked myself out of regretting reading this dragging monster of a book, but I'm still baffled by all the 5-star reviews on Goodreads, not to mention Dickens' fellow Victorian author, W. M. Thackeray who reputedly despaired writing against, 'Such power as this.' I don't deny the novel is written with genius, yet I still struggled to get through it, in which case, according to my ranking criteria, I feel I can't quite give it three stars.


Friday, July 29, 2022

'Rose in Bloom' by Louisa May Alcott


 I love this book. Louisa May Alcott has given us a beautiful example of the quintessential Victorian era girl in Rose Campbell, who is kind and fun-loving but can be pushed too far by the unscrupulous or overly-demanding. The circumstances that push Rose's buttons are perfect nineteenth century examples of more up-to-date situations that might similarly nettle us. And through it all she's so sweet and earnest, we can't help getting invested and barracking for her to get the appreciation (and the man!) she deserves.

I didn't have to sit and re-read it entirely within a day and a half, but I felt compelled to keep turning pages. Last read was many years ago, after all. Anyone who has read Eight Cousins might expect Rose's relationships with some of her boy cousins to evolve as they all grow older, and this is especially true of dashing Charlie and nerdy Mac. They both unwittingly help her learn what sort of man a girl should aim to spend the rest of her life with. 

Charlie's chosen occupation is gentleman of leisure. He aims to have fun simply because he can, and sticks to his personal ethic, which is basically, 'Enjoy yourself to the max, because YOLO.' He loves being a society man, hitting the bottle, and basking in the admiration of others. But these things have him so firmly hooked, Charlie never gets around to finishing much else. His major project is to win Cousin Rose and her fortune for himself, and since he's the most compelling Campbell boy, he doesn't expect it'll take too long. 

But Charlie's relationship with Rose is complex, because he's adept at emotional manipulation that goes along the lines of, 'I have nothing of value without your support, so if you criticize my lifestyle I'll lose the plot, and it'll be all your fault.' Has Rose learned enough relationship skills from Uncle Alec over the years to equip her for this sort of subtle blackmail from a charming young man? 

On the other hand, Rose values her relaxed companionship with Mac, who seems to grow brighter and more unconventional each year. But his refreshing originality stops amusing her when it takes the form of falling in love with her too. Mac's approach is entirely different from Charlie's, because he remains mysterious about how he intends to sweep her off her feet. Wondering what he's going to do makes her edgy. Has Rose learned enough from Uncle Alec to help her handle quiet admiration from an intense young man without freaking out?

I hope I'm not making this sound like one of those hackneyed romantic triangles, because it definitely isn't. For a start, Mac would never set out to steal Rose from Charlie. He has far too much integrity for that. Nor would Charlie imagine for one minute that Mac would ever get a look in. You have to read it to see how it all pans out, and there are plot twists enough to make us laugh and cry. And you can bet Alcott really develops the characters of all three! 

There's also an entertaining Archie thread keeping us cheering him on too. Some of the aunts and uncles would have loved their sober and reliable oldest boy to win Rose's heart, but little do they know that Archie has some stubborn and scandalous romantic plans in another direction! His beta romance is a great addition to the novel. 

As always, my heart was touched by the great relationship between Rose and Uncle Alec. Sure, by today's standards he can be overbearing, autocratic and just plain cocky, but Rose trusts him completely and never feels there is anything she can't discuss with him. Their history is long enough that she knows full well he loves her dearly and is totally committed to her. Alec has proven many times that he has Rose's best interests at heart, and not every father-figure is such an anchor for the young women in their lives. Because of this, I call the guy a winner. Nothing she throws at him can shock him, and she knows it. 

If a fraction of Alcott's inspiration for Alec came from her own fanatical dad, Bronson Alcott, then I can't help thinking he must have been a winner too. 

This novel burrows to the heart of some delicate issues, through various conversations of Rose and Alec, that are often swept under the carpet. These talks are always sparked by events of the story, and include how we must adjust our attitudes to do the right thing without expecting thanks or gratitude from the entitled people we may rub shoulders with. Rose even admits feeling jealousy and discouragement, when she considers how gifted and celebrated Mac and Phebe are becoming in the public eye, while anyone could do the quiet, behind-the-scenes things she herself does. Then Uncle Alec delivers a very timely, spur of the moment pep talk on perspective which can't help hitting the sweet spot of any reader who falls short of brilliant. 

The book gives us some memorable contrasts. Alcott delivers us a shocking bombshell which I wish she hadn't, but the boy Rose ends up with explains why he loves her in a very endearing manner. The nineteenth century society is described as a 'giddy vortex which keeps so many young people revolving aimlessly, till they go down or are cast upon the shore, wrecks of what they might have been.' Whoa, and they didn't even have the social media complication. Mac's prescription of, 'Keeping good company, reading good books and loving good things' is still sound advice to keep our head above water. And overall, the hallmarks of a beautiful soul are always evident. 


Friday, July 22, 2022

Trixie Belden Series 25 - 27

25) The Sasquatch Mystery

Sasquatch, Big Foot, Yeti, call him what you will, he's doing some scary stuff. The Bob Whites are camping in St Joe National Park with the Beldens' Idaho cousins. The mythical sasquatch is assumed to be responsible for rock throwing, theft and eerie noises. Then Cousin Cap disappears, supposedly eaten! But there are some strange, trigger happy humans around. Could any of them be behind the terror? And is Cap really gone for good?

* It's nice to see cousin Hallie Belden back in another story, this time with her older brothers Knut and Cap, who were mentioned back in The Mystery of the Uninvited Guest. Back then Hallie gave the impression that Knut was the reliable one, and Cap was a 'birdbrain.' The trio come across as vague counterparts to Brian, Mart and Trixie, but are also different in many ways. Double Belden family dynamics happening here. 

* We learn that Uncle Harold Belden is a mining engineer, and he and his wife are presently off in Switzerland on a mining conference. His three kids are old enough to entertain their New York cousins and their friends on a camping holiday, yet apparently not so old that their guests aren't required to bring along their own grown-up chaperone, Miss Trask. Since I imagine Knut Belden is probably 18, it's a bit of a stretch that they even need her, yet she keeps agreeing to join the young folk on these getaways, which inevitably turn out to be hair raising. Poor Miss Trask never seems to learn. 

* Trixie is sure her father would disapprove of Cap's swinging ponytail. Whoa, Peter Belden must be ultra conventional and dyed-in-the-wool! He's obviously rubbed off on his own sons too, since Brian and Mart both try awkwardly not to notice the ponytail when the cousins first meet up with each other. It seems Cap's a tad too shocking and radical for the conservative banker's boys! High time these cousins got together then, in my opinion.

* No wonder they don't see each other much, though, since Idaho and New York are right across the continent from each other. (Being an Aussie, I have to look these things up.)

* I can't help wondering if it's implicitly suggested that Uncle Harold married a woman with at least a dash of Indigenous American blood. It's just a feeling I get, from descriptions of Hallie's Pocohontas style beauty and Cap's moccasins and fringed jacket. 

* Poor Dan misses out on the holiday again. No surprise there, but since it would have meant contact with Hallie again, it might have been nice if he'd got to go. After all, they developed quite a close bond in The Uninvited Guest, and were even briefly captives together.  

* The cousins get along great on the whole, but unfortunately Cap gives Mart a thorough spraying for bringing a snack into their shared tent, because it could attract bears. It appears Cap's quick temper is legendary, since Trixie is about to but in but Hallie warns her to steer clear of the fracas. 

* Hallie's Idaho hospitality leaves a bit to be desired too, since she frequently pays out her own tent mate, Diana, for being a scaredy cat. I'm sure many readers agree with Hallie, yet considering the bears, skunks and cougars getting up close and personal; pack rats scuttling over Di's face at night, and now park rangers going around warning campers about possible sasquatch peril, I honestly don't find Di overly reactive in this story. In fact she arguably comes across the bravest of them all, since she pushes through fear the others seem too obtuse to even feel.

* Di is very endearing during the incident when she decides to make fudge to lighten a tense campfire vigil. She's actually using a great therapeutic tool to lighten her own anxious mood, whether she knows it or not. Sometimes some hands-on activity is all it takes. (I'm sure having Mart's support boosts her satisfaction level too. A generous gesture plus enlisting help from a cute guy is surely a winning combo. It's a shame the environment let her down a bit.)  

* Diana's impromptu campfire fudge will have to go into my dream series cookbook.

* There is a very thought-provoking environmental theme which comes through especially from the attitude and remarks of Cap Belden, the young woodsman. He says, 'In the time we're here, we'll have changed the whole growth schedule of all the plants we're walking on.' It's good and timely to keep that sort of consideration in mind.  

* As usual, Trixie Belden books are quite educational. We get a crash course on gold panning from young Knut Belden, who obviously knows what he's talking about. 

* I'm not sure I completely buy the dramatic incident when Miss Trask and Diana witness Cap's disappearance, in the presence of the 'sasquatch.' Even though Miss Trask says she tripped over and lost her focus, the whole 'now you see him, now you don't' quality doesn't quite ring true. But hey, I'm willing to go along with it for the sake of the story.  

* Poor Trixie's inferiority complex is stirred up again, as she compares herself to the handsome, dark featured line of Beldens which includes her dad, Uncle Harold, Brian, Knut and Hallie, and considers herself lacking. Even though Moms is pretty, Trixie is not mad about the blonde, freckled Johnson genes she's inherited from that side. We are told, 'It was hard to think of herself as pretty, when each time she faced Mart, she saw herself.' Haha, that's clearly just a matter of personal taste. Ask Jim or Diana.   

* The sasquatch puts me in mind of the trolls from the Harry Potter series. It's built like small shed, carries its own appalling stench wherever it steps and doesn't come across as super bright. Are we meant to buy into its true existence though? Kathryn Kenny invites us to believe it if it gives us a thrill of mystery! Even though a couple of the sasquatch sightings are debunked, the picture on the front cover of my oval edition seems to be presented on face value, if we wish to accept it.   

* The quote of the book is from Trixie. 'The sasquatch in my imagination is a lot awfuller than the real one has been.' What a great generalisation for all sorts of scenarios life may bring our way.  

26) The Mystery of the Headless Horseman

Washington Irving's legend of the Headless Horseman happened not all that far from Sleepyside. It appears the creepy phantom has migrated closer to home. Trixie and Honey spot him twice in the dead of night! Meanwhile, there's friction between Trixie and Di. Harrison the butler is acting strangely, and Trixie suspects him of theft. Nice Mr Jonathan Crandall, the former curator of the Sleepyside Art Museum, died recently under suspicion for stealing a prize Ming vase. Trixie wishes to clear his name, even if it means implicating Harrison and shaming the Lynch family. But how does the creepy headless rider fit into all this?

* Whoops, Bob White family staff have a habit of disappearing lately. Two book ago it was Regan who went AWOL from the Manor House. This time, Harrison the butler has done a bunk from the Lynch estate. The Bob Whites probably wouldn't care that much, except that he was meant to have held the fort for the Charity Bazaar on the Lynch lawns, in the absence of Mr and Mrs Lynch. Now that he's gone, it looks like it's all off. 

* Luckily, not only is Harrison tracked down but Miss Trask steps up too. 

* Sadly, the Bob Whites' Charity Bazaar is upstaged by the sudden arrival of a circus. Personally, I'd choose their bazaar over the 'lions, tigers and elephants' on the big roadside advert. These days, not only have traditional performing animals fallen out of favour at circuses, for their own sake, but there is generally much more lead-up to the starting day. 

* To put it into a modern context, if this story was set during the twenty-twenties, Di would be blocking Trixie from all of her social media accounts. She's fed-up with Trixie's nosiness, and it's all because Trixie suspects that Harrison might be a crook. My initial reaction is, 'Huh, why the touchy protectiveness?' Surely there's no love lost between Harrison and Diana. In fact at one time, Di was eager to get rid of him because his prim and pompous presence mortifies her simple, unassuming values. So why is she taking Trixie's suspicion personally, as if Harrison is one of her nearest and dearest relatives? 

* Down the track, I start to get where Di is coming from. Her loyalty to Harrison turns out to be extended loyalty to her own beloved Dad. Exposure of Harrison would mean loss of face for Mr Lynch, who trusts him implicitly. So it is a family matter after all. Fair enough, I guess.  

* Mr Lynch is a serious art collector. He owns a priceless little jade statue named Tien Ling which he's lent to the Sleepyside Art Museum as an exhibit. 

* Harrison's first name is never divulged. Okay, my guess is John. It would surely be something short, traditional, and totally straightforward. He's just the same as Stephens from The Remains of the Day; as proud and stately off the job as on, and even when he's seen riding a yellow pushbike. Sometimes we almost get flashes of humour from him. But not quite.    

* There's a chapter entitled, 'Bob White Breakup?' The dreadful possibility of disbanding is all because of this rift between Trixie and Di. It translates to simmering discord within the Belden family too. Trixie doesn't want Mart to tell Di anything that might implicate Harrison because of this awkward tension, yet he's all, 'Hey, why should I keep any secrets from my girl?' (Not in those words of course, but that's the gist of it.)

* There are some great Reddy moments in this book. Mart acquires a dog training book and bets Trixie that he'll be able to train Reddy within a week. Naturally, Trixie is quick to take advantage of his tremendous optimism. And Reddy is such a good natured scatterbrain. How's this? 'For a moment, Reddy looked sorrowful, then remembering how much he loved them all, he sat back on his haunches and grinned.' Awww! And how about this? 'Reddy's tail, with its interesting accumulation of forest souvenirs, waved in triumph as he padded along beside them.' Such sparse sentences, yet he's right there in front of us.

* It's refreshing to get a cat character in this book too. It's fluffy, black Henry the Eighth, who belongs to Mrs Crandall. What a purring legend, who even has some impact on this story. 

* Trixie refers to a Bob White adventure that was never published. As she and Honey descend into Sleepyside Hollow and see Mrs Crandall's house, she remarks, 'Don't you remember we were here once before, tracking down the lead on another mystery.' It seems Brian's jalopy broke down and Mrs Crandall let them use her phone. But that never takes place in any of the twenty-five books which proceed this one. I know, because I'm reading them all back to back. So don't scratch your heads trying to remember. That can't have been much of a mystery. 

* Mr Jonathan Crandall was a keen gardener whose hobby was grafting different buds onto single fruit trees. He'd also enjoyed inventing cryptic riddles for his loved ones to solve. He was so good at it, that's part of the problem. The Bob Whites suspect a precious treasure might be hidden for safety with his wife's birthday present. But his clues have proven far too enigmatic and mystifying for discovery. 

* Trixie's nose seems to be out of joint because Di is showing some initiative. When she mentions Di's unprecedented pushiness to Jim, he gently points out that it might simply seem that way because Trixie is used to running every show herself. She's miffed, to say the least, that he'd dare to insinuate any such thing. 

* This exchange is good enough to be the quote of the book. Trixie: But I'm not bossy! Jim: Oh, sometimes you are. Just a little bit, maybe. But then, I guess someone's got to be the boss. Trixie: I thought we were all bosses. Jim: (wisely decides to change the subject). But she doesn't let him forget it. 

* It also tickles my funny bone when Trixie reproaches him with, 'Jim, don't you ever notice anything?' I think the answer is that other than her cute curls and freckles, no, not much.  

27) The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon

Ahoy, me hearties. The Bob Whites are spending a weekend at Miss Trask's family home; an old pirate's inn run by her brother Frank. There is an old mystery concerning a disappearing ancestor, some spooky sightings of a glowing ghost ship and a sudden calamity when Frank Trask himself goes missing. If he doesn't return in time, the whole Inn will be lost. Can Trixie and the Bob Whites help track him down?  

* Hooray, the stars align for once in a blue moon, and we have all seven Bob Whites off on a holiday together at the same time. It's a quick weekend getaway. Maybe that's why Dan can spare the time.

* Since another weekend plan falls through, Mr Wheeler suggests that all the teenagers gatecrash Miss Trask's personal retreat to her own family home, at Pirate's Inn. The Bob Whites feel a bit awkward, until she convinces them that it's not only fine with her, but there's also an old mystery to solve. Then they're all on board (excuse the pun). 

* It seems Miss Trask had a rascally pirate ancestor named Captain Trask, who famously vanished over lunch, the instant a group of soldiers trooped in and surrounded his table to arrest him. The mystery has never been solved. 

* We're never actually told what ailed Miss Trask's and Frank's sister. Just that she's been a longtime patient at hospital and the bills are gargantuan. 

* This mystery turns out to include another ghost story, or more precisely, the ghost of a ship. Whenever the Sea Fox, (Captain Trask's old galleon), is sighted in real time, it signifies that something bad is about to happen to a current member of the Trask family. And of course, Trixie and Honey see it on their first night there. I can't help thinking of all the spots of danger Miss Trask has been in over the past year, in her chaperone duties with the Bob Whites. Perhaps that ship has been flashing on and off like a Christmas light.  

* Trixie is a passionate fan of a series of mystery novels about a beautiful teenage detective named Lucy Radcliffe. Whenever Mart makes fun of them, she predictably blows her top! Trixie reacts as if criticism of her beloved Lucy books is akin to slinging mud at herself. Sort of understandable maybe, since she's a teenage detective girl herself.

* She tries to fling comeback insults about his favourite sci-fi novels by Cosmo McNaught, but Mart is too cool to take the bait. It's funny that these two should get into such heated disagreements about books of all things. Sometimes Trixie is almost reduced to tears. I rarely come across such intense literary arguments in any family but mine, haha.

* Hmm, time for a few psychological observations. Once again it strikes me that Trixie often directs thoughtless digs at Mart for no reason at all, then flies off the handle when he retaliates. But because she always makes more of a kerfuffle about hurt feelings, he's put in the 'bad guy' position more often, and forced to apologise. Trixie rarely apologises to Mart for anything, even though she says some equally cutting things to him. Personally, I suspect it's just because he conceals his emotions more, as boys of the era were taught to do. She is a bit of a diva, and it works to her advantage. 

* Trixie and Mart's ongoing sniping at each other is clearly intended as a counterpart to Marge and Frank Trask's thorny relationship, which has been prickling them for thirty or forty years. In more recent years, Frank has irritated his sensible sister by making a series of crazy investments. This time, he seems to have transformed their ancestral home into a pirate theme park which just verges on being tacky, but not quite. (Although some readers may argue that he does indeed cross the line.) 

* I like their fellow guest Mr Appleton, a polite, unassuming little man who goes around with a lifelike dummy as his travelling companion. Does the presence of Clarence the manikin make Mr Marvin Appleton just the slightest bit weird and suspicious? Or is it each to his own?  

* I also like the gloomy, fearsome looking waiter named Weasel Willis, who turns out to have a chronic case of butter fingers. But he's great at using reverse psychology to sell the best dishes on the menu. There's also an archetypal proud French chef named Gaston Gabriel, who doesn't ever bother using false modesty for convention's sake. 'I am without doubt one of the world's best chefs.' That's a confident statement to make. 

* The Bob Whites sure are shortsighted during this book when it comes to making food orders. Even though many things on the menu sound terrific, all seven end up making the same order more than once. Come on guys, branch out a bit, and then you'll have the fun of tasting someone else's dish. (Not to mention it'll be especially mind-blowing if Gaston truly is one of the world's best chefs.)

* Mart and Brian share a room in the inn, and Jim and Dan share another. I'd have thought the two bros might welcome a chance away from each other and opt for a Jim/Brian and Mart/Dan pairing, but nope. This might play out in the plot when the Belden boys discover something mysterious in their room.

* It's always good when Di gets a chance to share her knowledge. She explains all about how collateral works to Trixie, who claims to be clueless. However, Trixie herself put this very same principle into operation back in The Mystery off Glen Road when she bargained with Mr Lytell to hold onto her diamond ring in return for not selling Brian's jalopy. Has she really forgotten so soon?

* The bad guy is extremely gullible. I'd like to say a bit more about how they fooled him, but I'd better not flirt with spoilers. 

* The very obvious quote of the book comes from Trixie. 'My almost twin and I are alike in so many ways. Maybe that's why we're always arguing.' Is she really getting this revelation just now? The moral is reinforced when Trixie goes on to wonder whether Miss Trask also learned the lesson that 'a brother was often a pretty nice person to have around.'  

Catch up on Series 22 - 24  

And join me next time for Series 28 - 30 



Friday, July 15, 2022

'The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep' by H. G. Parry

The ultimate book-lover's fantasy, featuring a young scholar with the power to bring literary characters into the world, for fans of The Magicians, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and The Invisible Library.

For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can't quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob -- a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life -- hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life's duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world... and for once, it isn't Charley's doing.

There's someone else who shares his powers. It's up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them, before these characters tear apart the fabric of reality.


Wow, what a treat for fans of Victorian classic literature. This fun novel is set in New Zealand. 

Dr. Charley Sutherland is a 26-year-old English lecturer who finds it increasingly difficult to control his gift. All his life he's had an uncanny knack of getting so invested in novels that he causes fictional characters to materialise in the real world. Once released, some of them are determined to stay at large. Uriah Heep understandably refuses to return to the pages of David Copperfield, since he thinks every circumstance there is pitted against him in favour of the eponymous character; a privileged little sycophant in his 'umble opinion. 

When Uriah makes a run for it, Charley is forced to call on the one person who has grown up helping with emergencies of this nature, his older brother Robert. But poor Rob is now a busy lawyer with a mortgage and fiance, and he just wants to lead a normal life. 

It soon becomes clear to the brothers that other characters are quietly infiltrating the city of Wellington who are not of Charley's making. Another 'summoner' is bringing to life some of the classics' most infamous desperadoes to help take over the world. Charley and Rob must take drastic action to prevent this dastardly plot, but they feel so clueless and vulnerable compared to the anonymous mastermind who seems to have pilfered Charley's PhD thesis, 'Dickens' Criminal Underworld.' 

The author H.G. Parry calls her novel 'a love letter to literary analysis.' She has the likes of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, the White Witch and Heathcliff delivering their famous lines in perfect context for her story. 

I expected it to be a bit spoofy based on the blurb, but the novel is so cleverly plotted, with its own twists in the spirit of the classics, it's easy to suspend disbelief while reading. What I didn't expect was to find the presence of all these well known characters together in a completely different work to be as powerfully moving as it is.

The blanket statement that fictional characters aren't real irritates me. Surely when strong, living beings exist in our collective imaginations, they've earned the right to be considered real on a different level to us. They are the brainchildren of their specific authors, but adopted by hundreds and thousands of readers willing to turn the pages and immerse ourselves in their worlds. I've spent enough time captivated by the personalities of fictional folk to make them 'real' to me. Parry is working from a similar premise which I love and appreciate. 

She speaks through her own fictional detective girl, Millie Radcliffe-Dix. When Rob Sutherland tells Millie, 'No offence, but none of you are real. You're the accidental products of too much emotional investment in fiction,' she neatly responds, 'As opposed to what? The accidental products of a biological act?' Then later Charley declares, 'There's no law against a person being made of ideas, intuitions, interpretations and language.' Heck yeah, they are some of the best people I know.

According to this literary world of the Sutherland brothers, normal people may sometimes create accidental manifestations of fictional characters without even realising, when we are totally invested in their stories. If that's the case, I wouldn't be surprised to have materialised my fair share over the years then. 

There is also an interesting theme about sibling dynamics and the bond between the two brothers. It turns out the dark forces want Rob on his powerful brother's side all along, because they can see that like many older siblings, he has a way of diminishing Charley's self-concept unconsciously. From their evil objective perspective, Rob makes Charley vulnerable. Being a youngest sibling myself, that struck a chord with me too. Rob is great, but Charley is such an endearing blend of brilliance and humility. 

I highly recommended this for any bookworm, and  it's a must-read for anyone who like me, has read heaps of Victorian fiction. After slogging our way through those tomes, we owe ourselves this as our reward. And when you get stuck into it, you'll even be wowed by several appearances from Dickens himself, under the most unpredictable circumstances. Whether he's the 'real' Charles Dickens or a typical construct from the average 21st century reader is for us to decide.


Friday, July 8, 2022

'Eight Cousins' by Louisa May Alcott

When Rose Campbell, a shy orphan, arrives at "The Aunt Hill" to live with her six aunts and seven boisterous male cousins, she is quite overwhelmed. How could such a delicate young lady, used to the quiet hallways of a girls' boarding school, exist in such a spirited home? It is the arrival of Uncle Alec that changes everything. Much to the horror of her aunts, Rose's forward-thinking uncle insists that the child get out of the parlor and into the sunshine. And with a little courage and lots of adventures with her mischievous but loving cousins, Rose begins to bloom.


This book and its sequel are one of my favourite feel-good duologies. I feel confident enough to promise anyone who loves the Little Women series that you'll get equally invested in the Campbell family. Alcott has a way of making sure we do.

Rose is a lonely orphan who's thrown on the mercy of her father's extended family after his death. There are six overwhelming aunts who all long for custody of her. They agree it would be lovely to be in charge of a girl since they've only managed to produce seven boys between them. But Rose's dad intended for Dr Alec Campbell, the bachelor uncle, to take the reins. And Alec resolves to transform tired, sickly young Rose into a blooming and energetic 13-year-old. He challenges his sisters-in-law to watch him do it over the space of a year, and then dare to dispute the question that he should be the rightful guardian. 

There's some awkward history there, since the two brothers were both in love with the same woman; Rose's mother. Doing right by his niece will be Alec's way of making up for his part in the rift. 

At the same time, Rose is nervous at the prospect of hanging out with her seven male cousins, since she's had nothing to do with boys and finds them intimidating and full-on. Getting to know and love them all is initially easier said than done. There's capable Archie, the eldest and chief; Charlie, the cool, trendy, good-looker; nerdy Mac the bookworm; try-hard young Steve who always has his finger on the fashion pulse; Geordie and Will the 'brats' and little Jamie, the baby of the connection. We no doubt all know 21st century counterparts of each of them.

I'm probably not alone in calling Mac my favourite of the boys. It's surely a split between him and Charlie for most readers, although there's something very likable about dependable Archie too. But as well as being a geek, Mac's an unrefined teenage boy. When he suffers a severe and prolonged trial with his eyesight, Rose glimpses the vulnerability and sensitivity he hides beneath his crude facade, and warms to the cousin she initially finds least attractive. It's quite a delicate touch from Alcott, who tends to lay on moral observations with a shovel. 

Speaking of which, Rose blows up at a couple of the others for smoking. When Charlie argues with her for panning such a harmless, trendy hobby, all Rose has to fall back on is that it's, 'A very bad habit because it wastes money and does you no good.' The fact that it's also a toxic and life-threatening habit hadn't come to light in the 1880s. Even clued-up Dr Alec hadn't latched onto that yet. 

Alec is so smug and opinionated at times, he crosses the line from being a jolly uncle to a know-it-all prat and back again. I'm sure on many occasions, elegant Aunt Clara feels like smacking his face, for she is one of his favourite targets to deflate in public, and then crow over. Interestingly though, some of his attitudes that may sound like common-sense to us were quite radical for his nineteenth century friends and family. 'Nature knows how to mould a woman better than any corset maker!' Or, 'A happy soul in a healthy body makes the best sort of beauty for man or woman.' He believes schools shouldn't try to cram several branches of knowledge into students' heads rather than just the two or three that would most suit each individual. Bravo, the world hasn't really caught up with that one yet, Alec. And he thinks young women who are bent on making themselves into fashion plates compromise their own health with their full-on beauty regimes.  

Eight Cousins ends with the anticipation of interesting developments in the next book. The adults clearly hope for Rose to marry one of the boys, since that was what first cousins did back then to keep big money in the family. Some dynamics will really have to shift to bring this about. Rose's maid-cum-best friend, Phebe with the golden voice, will no doubt be drawn into some romance too, although the Campbell aunts and uncles won't like that so much! They like Phebe as a loyal employee, but no nameless menials for their boys, thank you very much! 

Stay tuned and I'll soon discuss Rose in Bloom


Friday, July 1, 2022

Trixie Belden Series 22 - 24

22) The Mystery on Mead's Mountain

It's time to get into an Alpine mood. The Bob Whites are offered the chance to stay at a breathtaking mountain lodge and learn cross country skiing. Mr Wheeler is thinking of buying the resort and asks the gang for feedback of their impressions. Nobody anticipates the hostile activity of a disgruntled ghost beginning as soon as they arrive. Is there really a human agency behind the nasty attempts to scare them away? And why? What's really going on around here?

* Hooray, it's high time the Bob Whites travel to a new and exciting location. The last six books have been set around home in Sleepyside. I'm well and truly ready for a different setting. But I'm so sad that once again, Dan is unable to go along. Especially when he's right there with them for the first chapter, eagerly asking questions about Mead's Mountain. He can't hide his misery at having to miss out yet again, and that makes us Dan fans upset too. Come on all you Kathryn Kennys, give our boy a break.  

* The Bob Whites discover the down side of owning a car. The overheads are darned expensive. 

* The legend of Thomas Mead's destructive, cantankerous ghost is such a fun premise. He was one of those infamous characters remembered solely for being a cranky old grump to the extent that he was executed for it. (Come to think of it, he sounds a bit like Mr Lytell back in Sleepyside.) Apparently Mead refuses to rest, but is still intent in driving visitors off his precious snowy slopes, even though he's no longer there to enjoy them.  Not that it sounds like he was ever the type of guy who ever actually enjoyed anything, as such, while he was alive.  

* I assumed the Bob Whites were going to be something like Secret Shoppers, only as guests at a ski resort. But it was no secret. Everyone knows upfront this group of teens is the 'investigation team' sent by Matthew Wheeler. In retrospect, things would have been far easier and more hassle free if they'd been able to do their job incognito. And there would have been a whole lot less hostility from people who took umbrage at the fact that they were teenagers. But then, I guess, there would have been no mystery.   

* Honey loses her jolly antique heirloom watch again! It seems she hasn't learned her lesson from The Black Jacket Mystery. Remember when it disappeared while she was wearing it out riding in the game preserve, and Trixie jumped to the conclusion that Dan stole it? Same scenario, different setting. This time it could be anywhere on the ski slopes, and Eric, the lodge's young ski instructor, is Trixie's new scapegoat. For heaven's sake Honey, please lock that watch in a safe!

* Oh wow, a heated swimming pool out by the snow! Yes please!

* The sense of place is superb, as usual. I love this passage when they reach a cliff summit. 'Down in front of them was the chair lift, a mere thread connecting them with the miniature lodge below. They could see the Tan Van, looking more like a toy, and the swimming pool resembling the jeweled setting in a ring. Beyond the lodge was the village of Groverville, pavement ribbons extending from it.' Well done, Kathryn Kenny. With that one paragraph, we're right on the spot without the killer climb.  

* Diana is mustering some sort of enthusiasm for her academic future at last. It's Art. She's the one who instantly recognises the celebrated Carl Stevenson's print in the resort's foyer. And it turns out Art is one of her school subjects, with that friendly Mr Crider from Mystery of Old Telegraph Road as her teacher. Yay, you go, Di.   

* After witnessing some beautiful grazing deer, Di expresses her sorrow at having eaten the roast venison at the Wheelers' before their trip. I tell you, Matt Wheeler has set up Watership Down in his backyard!

* The incident when Mart gets caught in the avalanche is one of those moments of the series that made a long-term impression on me. Sure, we know they'll find him, but how dramatic is savage Mother Nature! And back in my teens, I didn't even fully understand the full risks of suffocation, hypothermia and broken bones. 

* Is it just me, or is Miss Trask a bit breezy and remiss at times? Mart gets spun off his feet in a Mack truck load of sliding snow, is buried for a good 20 or 30 minutes, dug out by a stroke of mere luck, and she doesn't take it upon herself to inform Peter and Helen Belden what happened. Sure he's safe now and there's nothing they can do anyway, but as a parent, it doesn't sit right with me that she doesn't insist on telling them the very same night. Wouldn't you agree, if he was your 15-year-old son? 

* The Bob Whites get to dine at The Purple Turnip, an eclectic vegetarian restaurant. Wow, what goes around comes around. Back in the seventies when this book was written, it was a very popular type of alternative restaurant. And its same vibe would appeal to the hipsters of our new young generation too. There's something about the makeshift tables, mismatched cutlery and vego food that is very contemporary yet again. 

* The picture on my oval cover edition is startling. During the scene it depicts, Jim mentions the guy's 'grotesque' red and green ski mask. I can't help thinking a garish mask is an unwise choice for a crook who turns out to be doing something underhanded that he wants to keep hidden. He should have gone for something neutral and camouflaging.     

 * Brian gets a chance to use his on-the-spot first aid skills not once but twice in this story. First casualty is his brother, of course, after that shocking avalanche. That one's highly emotion charged for Brian. And second is a crusty old man skiing out of control and colliding with a tree. (Better not say too much about him.) Woot woot, go Brian! He makes a vast generalization about sunburn though, commenting that he and Di tan nicely, yet all the blondes and redheads frizzle in the glare of sun off the snow. Nope, not always the case. I'm a brunette who burns like a lobster if not careful.  

* Jim's muscle man moves become necessary in this story too. He's definitely the guy for those fan girls who admire shows of brute strength. I don't think we ever see Dan or the Belden boys put on the spot in this manner even once. I wonder what would happen if they were.

* Hmm, it seems the Bob Whites themselves are crime suspects on another amateur investigator's list, at least for a little while. That's one for the books. They don't think they're remotely suspicious.

* (Aww, how about this exchange.) Di: He certainly is very good looking (talking about Eric). Mart: You would think so. Maybe I should grow wild curls myself. They seem to drive the ladies mad. Di: Don't you dare. We like you just the way you are. You're a real individual, Mart. Mart: Goodbye wild curls - Hello Di! (These two are so cute, but I wish she'd gone ahead and cajoled him to do it. Since he has the potential to grow a careless, tousled mop, it seems such a waste not to, simply out of pride. Ask any guy with thinning hair.)

* I think my quote of the book goes to Carl Stevenson. 'I always found that art understood me a lot better than people did.' I'm always drawn to hermit characters, and he's no exception. They strike me as wise and enlightened, with something elusive that compensates for human society. 

* Okay, this book finishes on New Year's Eve, presumably one exact year after the ending of Mystery in Arizona. The girls were still thirteen then, and now they're fourteen. I scrapped my timeline as far back as Mystery on the Mississippi, yet it's still glaringly evident to any reader who keeps track of dates that this is only a matter of four complete months before Trixie will turn 15 on May 1st. We all know the KK authors don't intend to take her to her next birthday, yet we've only just tipped the halfway point. More precisely, there are 17 books yet to come. That's a lot to squeeze into four months. But bring it on.

23) The Mystery of the Queen's Necklace 

Woo hoo, the Bob Whites go international, or at least four of them do. Trixie and Mart accept an invitation to spend ten days in England along with Honey, Jim and Miss Trask, to research the origin of a stunning necklace Honey has inherited. But not only does the gang feel unwelcome in England, but they become the target of pickpockets. What's more, Miss Trask seems a little too friendly with a smooth talking Scotsman who behaves rather suspiciously. The trip turns into a quest to desperately retain the heirloom necklace, let alone learn about it.  

* Trixie insists on starting this story with a 'Council of War.' She's drawing from the sassy attitude she showed all through Mystery at Bob White Caves and pressuring her parents to cave in to her demands. The Beldens think it's a bit lavish for the Wheelers to give their kids a paid-for international trip. However, I'm with Trixie on this one. Who would willingly let a trip to England slip out of their grasp? But this brief showdown makes me sad that Peter and Helen never get to take a holiday with the Bob Whites themselves throughout the whole series, unlike the Wheelers and Lynches. The all-year-round toil of a small farm must take its toll. Anyway, they agree at last, and Trixie and Mart are off to England! Woo hoo!   

* Oh no, Brian can't go! He has too much work to do at home to spare for 10 days in England. Seriously, we're used to Dan and even Di missing out, but what sort of adventure will it be without Brian? Let's hope nobody needs first aid. 

* Wow, breaking news! Mart is letting his hair grow out for no apparent reason. After all, Diana told him not to do it in Mead's Mountain. But perhaps hearing her consistently go gaga over curly-haired guys has got to him at last. Or maybe he's just growing up and dropping his middle kid statement. It's pure conjecture since he offers no reason for the change. And he still hates being mistaken for Trixie's twin. 

* Talking about hair, Trixie reflects how intimidating Mrs Wheeler can be, since she never appears with one out of place. I think we all know why. She never needs to lift a finger to do a scrap of work. 

* Honey lives everyone's ultimate fantasy. Imagine a wealthy relative you've never heard of passing away and leaving you a priceless treasure in their will. It could only happen to a rich chick like Miss Madeleine Wheeler. The artifact itself is very cool though. It's a necklace dating back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I, but rather than actually being worn by the monarch herself, it's an imitation used by Shakespeare's players as costume jewellery. And Honey can actually trace her genealogy back to Shakespeare's family, through her mother's line.   

* Sadly, the Bob Whites find their general reception in England is not particularly warm. Jim calls it a distinct 'Yankee-Go-Home' feeling. (On a quick personal note, this shocks me since I found quite the opposite vibe as a visiting Aussie.) Anyway, Jim puts it down to lingering resentment after World War Two, when the Brits were still on strict rations and felt the Americans rubbed their faces in it by flashing their dough. Really? Another conjecture is that they find American tourists loud and disruptive. 

* Plainly, it's only Trixie who consistently causes offence. The other three don't get people's backs up. Jim is naturally gallant and gentlemanly, Honey is her usual polite and tactful self, and even Mart seems to have mastered the knack of pausing to reflect how he may come across. But our impatient, impulsive girl detective is a hopeless case. I do feel sorry for her in this book though. She's like an ebullient puppy dog who keeps getting chastised and snubbed. If she had a tail it would be between her legs. It's refreshing to see her like this. 

* Just for the record, her accidental faux pas in getting them all evicted from their first Bed & Breakfast at Stratford could easily have been overlooked in my opinion. It's sad that the wry and droll Brits come across so oversensitive.  

* There are still a couple of lessons Honey should have learned, but apparently hasn't. First is about bestowing trust too readily. And second is not to be careless with her ridiculously expensive jewels. For heavens sake, after losing that antique watch of hers twice, they should all know by now not to let Honey carry the heirloom necklace around in her handbag. Somebody please buy Jim a man bag and let him be the person in charge of it! Especially since they know there are pickpockets around the place.   

* The Bob Whites pass 221B Baker Street while they're in London, and Mart tells the girls, 'that's the famous Victorian flat Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are supposed to have rented. Only they didn't, of course, because they're really just fictitious characters.' Hmm, this is where things start getting a bit surreal. Hey Mart, if we're really splitting hairs, what does that make you and your sister and the Wheelers? Since they all seem as real to me as flesh and blood friends, especially while re-reading this series, I won't turn it back on him.  

* Och, they have another delicate problem on their hands. It seems Miss Trask's head is being turned by the bluff Scotsman Mr McDuff, who latches onto them after saving Honey from a spot of bother at Piccadilly Circus. Apart from feeling awkward with the flirty, careless, sometimes touchy behaviour she assumes (and who can blame them!), the Bob Whites struggle with the possibility of losing their beloved chaperone to Scotland. Perhaps they should have been encouraging Mr Lytell's suit all along, haha.     

* Deja-vu from Mystery of the Blinking Eye. In that story, pickpockets were trailing the Bob Whites in New York. Now they're doing the same thing in London and beyond. Same scenario, different artifact. (And different pickpockets, of course.)  

* Now, this just puzzles me. Mart says, 'Surprisingly enough, the stereotyped ideas we have about people of other nations are more often false than true. You know, like I thought the English would have terrible food.' Now, whatever made him think that? He mentions his expectation more than once, and even writes to Di how surprised he is that everything is so delicious. Is this a general misconception that Americans have about British food? And if so, why?  

* You bet they cram some great places into their itinerary, including Madame Tussaud's, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Honey gets a bit squeamish over all the talk about beheadings, but she's come to the wrong place to dodge it. (Honey is a bit of a wuss in this book.) Later they attend live Shakespearean theatre at Stratford twice.  

 * The girls and guys occasionally split up, and I'd prefer to go along with Jim and Mart but of course we readers get dragged along with Trixie and Honey. While the girls do souvenir shopping in Oxford Street, the boys take a cruise up the Thames to the Greenwich Meridian. And in Stratford, the boys tour Shakespeare's house while the girls opt for strolling in the park. If only this particular book had a 'choose your own adventure' component written into it, I know which pair I'd be trailing. 

* Anti-quote of the book comes from Trixie. 'Well I guess there wouldn't be any London if our country hadn't entered the war.' Whoa, wash your mouth out, arrogant miss. I'm glad Miss Trask demurs about that point. 

* Quote of the book comes from Mart, when Trixie strains too far over a cord barrier at Warwick Castle and knocks a suit of mail clattering to the floor. He says, 'Trixie strikes another blow for international relations.' Bahaha. 

24) The Mystery at Saratoga

We get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the racehorse industry, with its hidden corruption. Part of Regan's past comes to light. When a thoroughbred horse breeder named Mr Worthington comes to visit the Wheelers, Regan gets wind of it and takes off, leaving a cryptic note for Dan. A bit of research reveals that he was implicated in a horse doping scandal as a teenager. Trixie and Honey aren't sure whether Regan disappeared to clear his name or avoid justice, but either way they are determined to track him down. 

* Whoops, one of the things the Bob Whites have dreaded has finally happened. Regan has disappeared, for no apparent reason. It's some mysterious catalyst known only to himself. Trixie's reasons for wanting him to always stick around are not entirely unselfish. Mr Wheeler has hinted that he may sell all the horses if Regan ever gives notice, because he's an employee in a million. What's more, Regan is always willing to babysit Bobby any time. Yet nevertheless, she and the other Bob Whites genuinely value him as the great friend and treasure that he is. 

* Regan leaves Dan a note telling him that he has to take care of unfinished business for an undisclosed length of time. Even Trixie notices that he signs it, 'Your Uncle' instead of 'Love.' It seems Regan and Dan are both adept at dodging talk about their pasts. Although there's genuine commitment on both sides, this uncle and nephew definitely keep each other at arm's length. I'd like to see them grow closer, but wonder if it's possible or likely.  

* Of course, the age gap between them is far less than most uncles and nephews, making things more complex. Figuring that Regan is 24 in this story, and Dan is about 16, it's really only a matter of eight years or so, which makes Regan more of a floundering older brother figure, in my opinion. I guess it's a big ask to expect Regan to supply the secure and grounded adult influence which Dan needs from his only living family member. It's easy to forget just how young Regan really is.

* (Okay, I just had a terribly corny thought. Although Regan may be a 'stable' influence in the horsey sense, he's not necessarily a 'stable' influence in the sense of reliability. If you're groaning, do forgive me.)  

* Trixie blows up at Dan, when he wonders if the ugly rumour about Regan is true. She says, 'He showed a lot more faith in you, and hardly knew you at all.' Although Dan nods and apologises at that point, I beg to disagree. At the time of Dan's arrival in Sleepyside, Regan barely showed any trust in him at all, and basically disowned him, leaving him with Mr Maypenny from the outset. (I discussed this more in my review of The Black Jacket Mystery.)

* Poor Trixie is going through a phase of being gloomy about her looks (although we know she's considered very pretty by many). How about this logic. She pulls a face at her own reflection, then tells Honey, 'See, no wonder how funny I look ordinarily, it's nice to know that I can look even funnier if I really try.' It's extremely sad really, that she deems Honey (and of course Diana, when she's around) closer to society's ideal of beauty than herself, then beats herself up over it. 

* A sneaky, cloak and dagger vibe pervades the racecourse, which the two girls discover is merely part of the industry. Owners and trainers do their best to keep a horse's vital statistics as close to their chests as possible, which takes some trickery and subterfuge, considering everything is ostensibly done in broad daylight. But it's all in a day's work. 

* Mr Worthington is the gregarious owner of Worthington Farms, the prestigious thoroughbred outfit where Regan worked from the age of 16 to 17. Carl Stinson is the taciturn but highly relied-upon head trainer who is foul at Regan, because he believes his most promising young employee did the dirty on him, accepted a bribe and doped the prize horse in the stables. 

* Oh, and although horse-lovers no doubt know this, as Trixie and Honey already did, it was news to me. 'Thoroughbred' is actually a specific breed of horse. Many novices mistake it for 'purebred'. I was one of those naive readers. 

* Ooh la la, Regan's past included budding romance, young as he was. Carl Stinson's daughter Joan, also a teenager at the time, had a major crush on the young redhead. This author (Laura French, I believe) left it way open for other Kathryn Kennys to continue developing Regan's relationship with Joan. Nobody ever does though. I doubt her name is ever mentioned again.  

* The scene when Trixie and Honey eventually find Regan is heartwarming. It shows the fond, easy rapport they all share with him, and is also the one and only scene in which Regan ever falls off a horse with shock. 

* Even though part of Regan's personal history has come to light, it turns out to be just a small chunk of his working life as a teenager. Nothing at all is divulged about his dysfunctional family background, including his relationship with his sister and whatever happened to their parents. Why was a sixteen-year-old lad out by himself, looking for jobs with horses anyway? 

* Hmm, we had Carl Stevenson in Mead's Mountain and now Carl Stinson two books later. Hopefully that's enough Carls for a while, lest we get them mixed up. 

* Yay, although Jim, Brian and Mart aren't in this story for the most part (since they're working as camp counselors), I love their role toward the end.

* Quote of the book comes from Trixie. 'We'll think. Our brothers aren't the only Bob Whites who have mastered that skill, in spite of what they try to tell us.'

Catch up with Series 19 - 21

Next up will be Series 25 - 27