A Man With An Agenda

I'm an indie bookseller in Vermont, sometime public servant, and voracious reader. I love antiques, cats, D&D, and vintage Ken. Though my job requires me to dabble across the board genre-wise, my heart belongs to the Victorians and epic fantasy.


I write something about every book I read, but only publish reviews close to the release date of the book. If you see something on my shelves and there's no review, feel free to ask me about it!

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross

The Lost Shtetl - Max Gross

The book begins with the tale of an unhappy marriage in the isolated shtetl of Kreskol. Gross lovingly depicts the tiny community with all its faults and blessings. Readers will know the "reveal" is coming. In all respects Kreskol is an ordinary 19th century community, but in reality it has simply been cut off from the modern world and bypassed by the horrors and (perhaps dubious) wonders of the 20th century.


Three individuals, the unhappy Lindauers escaping their unhappy marriage and the judgement of the village respectively, and the worthy, but unloved, Yankel is sent after them, or at least to find a magistrate to deal with the unprecedented crisis. They discover a very different world from the one they've known, but filled with many of the same dangers. Modern civilization is a thin veneer over what the Jews of Kreskol have been taught to expect from gentiles.


Modern Poland, and the world, does not know what to do with such a community. The novel in discussing how Kreskol was spared for a hundred years talks of the deprivations of war, racism, and progress that swept up their peers in the years before and after the Holocaust. The Holocaust itself is a terror of such great magnitude, how can it be explained to one who had never heard of it before? How can Kreskol survive when faced with the pressures and temptations of the modern world?


Gross has created a wonderful novel here that reminds us of the past, but also forces us to think about the lies we ourselves can prefer over the truth.

Farewell, my wood-paneled lovely

It should go without saying, but it feels weird to walk away without some acknowledgment. If only as a benchmark for when I come back after the site rises gloriously under new management and I can plug in all my new reviews....sigh.


I fled Goodreads later than many, but this was a better home than I could have dreamed of. I loved the games, the sense of community, and the freedom to talk and read not just about books, but everything from the news, memes, our lives...anything at all. Thank you all for that.


I've made the mistake of deleting-and-walking before from online communities, but I want to keep up with what everyone's reading, so here's where I'll be:




I couldn't escape Amazon completely, so I've been keeping my reviews backed up at LibraryThing for awhile now, and will post new reviews there and what I'm reading. Cataloging is a DREAM on that site.




I've made a new account on GR and will follow group discussions in the Outpost, but I won't be posting reviews there. I went through and followed everybody who's already a member (I think) last week, but follow back/friend me, please! I want my feed on GR to be as much like here as possible.


Thanks again, everyone!


Edit: There's a dozen or so reviews through the end of the year that I have scheduled, I probably won't delete them. So, don't be startled.

Rainbow Revolutionaries by Sarah Prager

Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History - Sarah Prager

A lot of amazing stories here - but, why Wen of Han and no other east Asian person? I'm gonna have to check the book over again.


This was a placeholder for the review I meant to write last week - but, of course, Booklikes was down. I'll get back to this at some point.

The Circle of Footprints, Dana Girls #6

The Circle of Footprints - Mildred Benson, Carolyn Keene

Terrible news! The newspaper reports that a plane has crashed on the deck of the 'Balaska', their Uncle's ship, and injured several passengers. A telegram is delivered that day to inform Lettie Briggs that one of those (minorly) injured was her father. The telegram giving the news is delivered by the plane's pilot's son.


All in a typical day at the Starhurst School for Girls.


The telegram boy ends up getting fired for being slow to return from jobs (his bicycle tires were flat, and then the bicycle got hit by a truck - excuses, excuses). The Dana Girls (and Evelyn Star, before she gets tired and gets out of the mystery) take sympathy on him and want to pump him for more information about his bad pilot of a father.


At the boy's home, they find the house in disarray: "Mother would never leave the house untidy!" Sure enough, there's a crook tossing the place and he almost gets away with a tin box full of cash. Except he runs in a peculiar way, turning in a circle before running off.


There is some doubt as to who actually owns the money as it was obtained dishonestly. The girls are asked to find the real owners and foil some other crimes along the way.


This was ridiculous and fun, but there were two strikes against it. First, there is the black cook at Starhurst, Amanda, who had had a brief cameo in 'By the Light of the Study Lamp', whose man friend resorts to theft to keep her supplied with fancy cologne. Oh man. I've talked enough about that garbage this week. Next! The other, more minor point, but still pointing to some underlying cultural rot, is the character of Lettie Briggs. The girls are constantly thrown together, and when the girls should react with sympathy or admiration with each other, they fall back on snobbery and cold shoulders. When Lettie and Louise are caught in the crossfires of a mad woman accusing them of vandalism (somewhat accurately, but don't let's get into that now) to a policeman. Jean creates a distraction and allows them to make a run for it. Lettie is thrilled, but the Danas impatiently wait for her to leave them alone before getting on with business. Later, at a fancy dress dance where the girls partner the girls as was the custom at a girl's school, Lettie tries fighting off a prowler on the grounds. It's even the frontispiece picture, but no one comments on her efforts except to say she was clearly losing. Written nowadays, the girls would develop a grudging respect for each other at least.


Dana Girls


Next: 'The Mystery of the Locked Room'


Previous: 'The Secret at the Hermitage'

The Secret at the Hermitage, Dana Girls #5

The Secret at the Hermitage - Mildred Benson, Carolyn Keene

'The Secret at the Hermitage' wastes no time in signalling to the reader that there are changes afoot. Louise and Jean are relaxing in their room after classes joking about an item in the paper. Jean is "sprawled" on the window seat and is described as "inclining to boyishness". A suddenly cheeky Evelyn Star appears in the doorway joking about the school food and is invited to grab a cookie. A quick trip to a shop to get a wristwatch repaired is suggested and Jean rushes out to grab the hat she left in Doris Harland's room. Who are these girls? It's an unremarkable scene, except for that we've never seen anything half as natural so far in the Dana Girls books. Mildred Wirt Benson brings a little life to the archetypes.


As is becoming traditional, the latest mystery really begins with the girls giddy with excitement at the chance to escape from campus, if only for a few hours. The article they were reading earlier in the paper had to do with the former warden of the women's penitentiary in Penfield. Howard Norton had been dismissed for negligence, especially after the escape of an inmate. Little do they know they're going right into the heart of case.


They are surprised at the bus stop by Mrs. Grantland, the woman for whom they retrieved a pearl ring in 'Study Lamp', who offers them a ride into town with a quick stop so they can admire her newest hobby: art collecting. There they admire a particularly fine statue signed N.R. that Mrs. Grantland was told had been made by an inmate of the prison.


Later, in the shop where watch is being repaired, the girls are accosted by Norton. He is near-sighted and convinced that the sixteen year old Louise is the much older escaped convict Nina Regan! This begins a bizarre game of cat and mouse where Norton continues to pop up in distant woods, parlors, and other locations to accuse Louise of being Nina.


The Warden's menace is such that Lettie Briggs comes up with a brilliant prank to spook Louise on a field trip by dressing up as Norton and scaring her. It works, but unknown to the fleeing Lettie, Louise is hurt and accidentally left behind by the class. Louise is hurt, alone in the woods, and winds up in a stranger's car and deposited 40 miles from Starrhurst. A hermit finds her and offers her shelter for the night, which Louise takes, but is genuinely freaked out by the whole situation.


Are things not weird yet? That's because I've forgotten the girls digging deeper into the story of Nina Regan, her wrongful conviction, and the plight of another inmate who is separated from her sick child. The solution rests in the hands of Mrs. X.Y.Z., if Jean doesn't get eaten by a tiger first. Yeah. you read that right. A tiger.


Bring on more of these, please.


Dana Girls


Next: 'The Circle of Footprints'


Previous: 'A Three-Cornered Mystery'

A Three-Cornered Mystery, Dana Girls #4

A Three-Cornered Mystery - Carolyn Keene

Louise and Jean are cantering about the mountains above Starhurst when they come out of the woods near a service station and tea room. They are surprised to see a car with a license plate registered in their hometown of Oak Falls - the plate begins with the same serial numbers as many others there. The car belongs to a realtor, Taylor Lott, who is on the trail of his clerk who absconded with rental payments and many valuable papers. He expected the thieving Mr. Carrillo to come along this route, but is losing hope. The Dana girls promise to keep their eyes open.


In due course, as the girls enjoy their lunch, the girls spot Mr. Carrillo stopping at the same service station! They bluff that they haven't heard of any robberies and chat him up for details, but ultimately can't get the information to Mr. Lott in time.


Later, the girls are invited to stay for the weekend at the home of Miss Darrow, a new reporter, and her mother. At the Darrow Farm, they discover that Carrillo had worked at the farm in the past, spending a great deal of time in the barn.The girls find a cache of papers there that the man will likely return for, and get permission to spend the night in the barn.


Things begin to get complicated. An injured man staggers into the barn, the Darrows are missing from the house without an explanation, and the girls must head home for spring vacation without finding any more clues and surprisingly unconcerned about the mother and daughter who went missing in the middle of the night while entertaining guests.


One of Carrillo's victims, a shrewish widow, is played for laughs and the girls spend ages finding her a housekeeper. A detective is employed to track down Carrillo, and he doesn't give the girls much credit for the information they give him, perhaps its because of the rattlesnake he took care of for them.


Oh no! I'm forgetting the foreign spy angle! These books are chock full of excitement, can the Dana Girls get through this slog and save the day? I just want to write about the plot of these books and diagram it on a cork-board, preferably with lots and lots of colored string to clear things up. There's just so much going on in 200 pages.


Since this is the last of Leslie McFarlane's role in the series, I do want to point out something strange. His 'Hardy Boys' books were full of humor, chums, and lengthy descriptions of food. The humor he wrote into this "girls" series was much dryer, about social standing mainly, and the supporting characters were undeveloped. The Dana Girls have their hands in a few pranks, but they appear to be an island in and of themselves except for their "friend of the week" who is the center of the current mystery. It's a shame more effort couldn't have been shown. The Dana Girls get into all sorts of trouble, take risks, and are shown to be as smart as any man and capable as any professional detective, but their original author couldn't bring himself to develop their world. Thankfully, Mildred Wirt Benson was called in after Leslie refused to go on with the series, and rocks the boat a little.


Dana Girls


Next: 'The Secret at the Hermitage'


Previous: 'In the Shadow of the Tower'

In the Shadow of the Tower, Dana Girls #3

In the Shadow of the Tower - Leslie McFarlane, Carolyn Keene

On a winter excursion the Danas seek shelter in a cave and happen across Josie Sykes, a girl with a hunched back reading a letter. Startled, the girl lets the wind take the letter and a piece of green paper with it - revealed to be a $1000 bill! A fox takes the paper and vanishes.


The Danas do their best to help the distraught Josie find the bill and the letter to no avail. The letter had the only information Josie possessed on her only living family, an uncle. The girls offer to help Josie find a place to stay at Starhurst while she searches for her money and letter and they listen to her tale of woe. Josie has lived most of her life at a home for "crippled children", but was lately accused of theft and ran away because she was afraid they wouldn't believe her explanation for the $1000 bill. She wants to find her uncle, but also a way to live independently.


The language around disabled people has changed a great deal in 85 years, Josie is referred to as crippled mostly without malice, it was the appropriate word at the time. The Danas also endeavor to boost Josie up by not allowing her to define herself by her disability or accept the ridiculous judgements she receives from bullies like Lettie Briggs. There's nothing wrong with that side of Josie character. However, when the owner of the fox farm in broad daylight mistakes the teenage girl for a wild animal because of her hunched back and almost shoots her, we begin to have some difficulty.


Speaking of difficulty, the plot brings the Danas to their cousin's farm for the Christmas holiday, and, coincidentally, a neighbor has found Josie's letter with the money still inside of it! The issue comes when that neighbor's employer, an artist with a tower studio, has a black housekeeper called Mammy Cleo. Mammy Cleo speaks in dialect, but is shown to be knowledgeable of her employer's work and gives the Dana girls a guided tour of the studio, pointing out paintings of interest. A positive stereotype is still a stereotype, however. McFarlane - or the Stratemeyer Syndicate as they often made very specific instructions in their plot outlines - makes matters worse when we get to superstition and the language used to describe Cleo and other black people who come into the story. The reader is meant to sympathize with the rational Danas as they confront the ignorance and fear displayed by black people confronting Josie's "monstrous" silhouette or the sight of her on horseback. What the hell, McFarlane. What the fuck.


The real plot involves art theft and the Danas reuniting Josie with her uncle after Josie runs away. After the worse elements of the book are through, there is some comfort to discover that Josie gets herself a job and makes a career of it on her own, without the help of the Danas.


Context is important when reading books from a different era. Language evolves and its important for writers to attempt to tackle difficult subjects, even if they don't succeed. The problems of 'In the Shadow of the Tower' go beyond outmoded language and "cultureal expectations", however. Despite the efforts of the book to provide readers with a mostly positive depiction of a disabled person and the prejudice they face every day, it is undermined by prejudice of a different kind.


Dana Girls


Next: 'A Three-Cornered Mystery'


Previous: 'The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage'

The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage, Dana Girls #2

The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage - Leslie McFarlane, Carolyn Keene

The Dana Girls have been invited on an outing by their favorite English teacher, Miss Tisdale. She is shown in her element, engaging her students by reading from 'David Copperfield' and otherwise being an excellent teacher.The girls are excited to meet Miss Tisdale's parents.


As Miss Tisdale's car leaves the gates a man tries to flag her down, but is dimissed, and the girls put him out of their minds. When the girl's meet Miss Tisdale's parents, they are charmed by her mother, but her father is ill-tempered and prone to monologues about his poor health. Apparently any great shock could kill him. Soon after this visit, their teacher receives a note in the middle of class, leaves the school and fails to return.


Naturally, Mrs. Crandall the headmistress summons Jean and Louise to her office to tell them that Mrs. Tisdale wants to engage them as detectives. Informing the police would mean her husband would find out and that would surely kill him. Mrs. Tisdale had heard all about how the Dana girls had solved the perplexing mystery of the study lamp, after all, so a missing persons case should be no trouble. Mrs. Crandall reluctantly gives permission for this assignment and agrees to help the girls several times even as the case gets more dangerous. This will keep Starhurst School out of the papers.


The girls find her car forced off the road in a remote area. Investigating, the girls find a lost toddler and return her to safety. The toddler's babysitter is an unpleasant woman at first, but proves to be a good person. This is a little lesson that crops up in these books often. Unpleasant women are often worth getting to know, unpleasant men almost never, and Lettie Briggs and Ina Mason should never be given a chance.


As the plot unspools we have an estranged twin sister, fierce guard dogs, rough sailor types and out-of-season boat rides that get nasty. The Dana's Uncle Ned, captain of the 'Balaska', comes in handy more often than you would think.


'The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage' is the second book of the Dana Girls series, but the first three were published simultaneously in 1934 and were written at the same time by the reluctant Leslie McFarlane. Still, it's another overstuffed, fun mystery story.


Dana Girls


Next: 'In the Shadow of the Tower'


Previous: 'By the Light of the Study Lamp'

By the Light of the Study Lamp, Dana Girls #1

By the Light of the Study Lamp - Ferdinand E. Warren, Carolyn Keene

You're several years into a depression and of all your assets: Tom Swift, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and even the Bobbsey Twins, the one most people are interested in buying are two juvenile detective series. What's a publishing syndicate to do? Enter Louise and Jean Dana, orphan sisters who solve mysteries while attending the prestigious Starhurst School.


The Stratemeyer Syndicate was eager to match the success of the 'Hardy Boys' and 'Nancy Drew' when they created this sister series. Originally printed with lilac boards and jackets that featured bold deco designs highlighting the adventures within, the books are striking. Later printings in the 1950s would replace the cover design with the more modern picture-covers of the girls hiding in shrubbery and looking aghast at various scenes.


Notably, the entire back cover of the jacket - usually a valuable space used to advertise titles of another series - eagerly proclaimed that the 'Dana Girls' was written by the same author as Nancy Drew!


Of course, it wasn't. At least not at first. Credit for these books was given to 'Carolyn Keene', but in reality the first four books were written by Leslie McFarlane, the original writer of the bulk of the original Hardy Boys books under the 'Franklin W. Dixon' pseudonym. The syndicate needed another girls series and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams preferred working with McFarlane over the more opinionated Mildred A. Wirt who also wanted more money per manuscript. The first three books also were written in 1933, during which time Harriet had another ghostwriter writing Nancy.


Apparently, however, McFarlane disliked writing from a girl's perspective, especially under a female pseudonym. The poor dear. There were also problems with the increasingly lengthy and convoluted outlines McFarlane had to work from for the series, as well as his other Stratemeyer work.

That's a lot to get into before we even discuss the book itself! Despite McFarlane's lack of enthusiasm, I found the book to be fun reading. The only criticism is that the girls have an interchangeable personality - a similar problem plagued the Hardy Boys for awhile. To help you readers out, Louise is dark-haired and serious, while Jean is blonde, impulsive, and a year younger.

'By the Light of the Study Lamp' opens with the girls packing their trunks to go back to school for their sophomore year. A letter has arrived from their uncle, the captain of an Atlantic liner, informing them to keep an eye out for their farewell present, an antique lamp he is having delivered to the house. The girls are excited, because a lamp is precisely what they need for their shared study - at Starhurst girls have private study-rooms separate from their bedroom. When the lamp arrives the girls have only just unpacked it from the excelsior when they are brought to the hall by a shriek from Cora Appel, their aunt's clutzy maid who they refer to affectionately as "Applecore". A lot of time is spent developing her character considering she rarely shows up after this scene or in subsequent books.

After they calm Applecore down the girls return to the kitchen to find the lamp missing! How could it have been stolen so soon after its delivery, and why? The girl's search takes them to a shabby second-hand store with an obsequious shopkeeper who enjoys rubbing his fat hands together. There is also a glimpse of a mysterious gypsy-looking woman who the author takes pains to point out does not appear to be of Romany ancestry....thanks? The ungypsy will continue to turn up throughout the story.

Starhurst School was once a fine, private estate. The Star family fell on hard times, with the final blow being the theft of family heirlooms. The estate was sold to the Crandalls who run the school. A classmate and member of the old family, Evelyn Star, becomes close to the Dana girls this year when it appears her financial situation is becoming desperate. Her brother has gone missing and there may be no money for her tuition! She is too proud to accept a loan from the girls, so it is up to Danas to discover the whereabouts of Evelyn's brother as well as the secret of the lamp, which deepens when they find it - or one very similar - in the window of a nice second-hand store. They buy it for full price from the shopkeeper, angering their rival, the nouveau -riche and crass (oxymoron, am I right fellow elites?) Lettie Briggs, who was trying to haggle the price down despite her reputation as being the wealthiest girl at Starhurst.

There's a whole lot more going on with the plot, but I'm discovering that it is extremely hard to write about what happens in these books. There are dozens of coincidences and twists leading up to a fairly simple conclusion. This book was charming and holds up alongside its peers. Of course, you have to love this kind of thing (which I do!).

Dana Girls


Next: 'The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage'

The Bright Lands by John Fram

The Bright Lands - John Fram

'The Bright Lands' hit me in some unexpected places. This is a supernatural horror novel, but the foundation of it is a rural, working-class town with not much else going for it except "the good ol' days" and the success of its football team. The novel is set in Texas, but I saw parallels with my own town in Vermont.


The plot involves Joel, a successful financial wizard, getting a strange text from his younger brother Dylan that leads him to flying back home for the first time since he was publicly outed and humiliated at the end of high school. He's flown his family to him in New York rather than return to that place.


The night he returns to town his brother, the star of the football team, vanishes. Joel's ex-girlfriend is on the police force and, while working out their differences, they investigate the disappearance and uncover a lot more than they expected.


I can't go further into this without revealing too much, but on top of the supernatural dread, there were some real gems of small-town, homophobic existence. I want to say so much more, and I CAN'T, urghh. The most outlandish parts of this book are so real. As a gay man I often can only look on  bemused and sad at the knots a community will twist into, even in this day and age, around an obvious truth. 'The Bright Lands' is about many things, but its mostly about the cankers that form around secrets and the cost paid to maintain them.

Reading progress update: I've read 115 out of 215 pages.

In the Shadow of the Tower - Leslie McFarlane, Carolyn Keene

Oh no. I enjoyed the first two - reviews to come, naturally - but the plot here involves a black community that is superstitious to the point of endangering themselves and the wealthy white people they work for. Leslie McFarlane also doesn't seem to be able to write about black people without describing their "rolling eyes" and "great, shiny faces". This was written at about the same time as 'The Mark on the Door'. McFarlane (perhaps at the Stratemeyer Syndicate's behest as their plot outlines were sometimes incredibly detailed and weirdly specific) wrote novels with a distinctly racist vibe in this period.

The Last Life of Prince Alastor, Prosper Redding #2

The Last Life of Prince Alastor - Alexandra Bracken

Prosper Redding has obtained a fragile understanding with the demon inside him, but now he has to rescue his sister from the demon realm. The second book in the 'Prosper Redding' series is as convoluted as the first volume, with less grounding.


The demon realm seems to have suffered and changed during Alastor's centuries away. The old order has been shaken up under his sister's rule and status is no longer based on birth or form. Alastor is horrified. To him, only slightly worse is the fact that the realm is falling to the Void. His home world is slowly dissolving into nothing after having squandered its magical resources. Prosper and Alastor must team up with friends old and new to rescue Prosper's sister and perhaps save the demon realm from collapse.


The book did its job, and a younger reader may enjoy it, especially the humor. For me, though, it lacked spark.


Prosper Redding


Next: '?'


Previous: 'The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding'

The Story So Far by Jane Eklund

The Story So Far - Jane Eklund Ball

I enjoyed this novel following the long relationship between a young librarian and an older, famous, but closeted, author of historical romances. The librarian is writing down the story many years after the start of their romance and reflecting on how they have both changed. This is a gentle, humorous, love story that goes beyond two people. 'The Story So Far' encompasses adult friendships, found family, cultural changes, queerness and aging with affection and wit.


Our narrator and The Author are not given names, lending the book the feel of a tell-all. The author's background as a poet is also clear in the lyrical descriptions and mental monologues peppered throughout the book. The work is fiction and not autobiographical, but feels authentic and personal. 28 years separate the two women and the dynamics of their relationship shift over time, the book is sectioned off by decades as we follow our narrator's career, her other romantic relationships and the family she forms with her gay neighbor Jeff, his partner, and other friends. 


What 'Story So Far' does best is show how love influences you. What love gives and what it takes away. The characters were so real and the voice of the book so honest it was hard to put down - not something I usually say about character-driven novels.


There are some quirks to the book, throughout her life the librarian has inner conversations with Socrates, Hildegard of Bingen, and Suzanne Pleshette, which could have been developed more.  I loved that there are some running jokes about the literary-named dishes she is taught to make by her lover Max and her housemates. I wish there had been more to those scenes as more than ever it is refreshing to read about happiness.


A great find, I'm so glad to have been given a copy of this book by the publisher.


The Hidden Harbor Mystery, Hardy Boys #14

The Hidden Harbor Mystery (Hardy Boys, #14) - J. Clemens Gretter, Franklin W. Dixon

This is the single most notorious of the early Hardy Boys mysteries. 'The Hidden Harbor Mystery' opens with a fantastic set-piece of an ocean liner hitting rough seas and sinking. It is packed with exploding boilers, brawls below decks and panicked passengers. Unfortunately the story veers away from action and into an irredeemable, racist mess.


Valuable papers pertaining to a case of Fenton Hardy's were lost on the ship, meaning the boys will have to obtain new copies. Worse still, a passenger on the ship, Samuel Blackstone, accuses the boys of stealing a large quantity of money and a diamond ring in the chaos. Conveniently, it seems the solution to both problems is heading to the southern town of Hidden Harbor.


The real trouble begins for the reader on the train back to Hidden Harbor. The boys meet black dandy Lukas Jones, who is disrespectful of train-car ettiquette and yet too cowardly to stand up to the conductor. That's a clear signal to readers that Jones is bad news, but the story goes on to describe him as malicious and lazy and dangerous. Spoiler:

Jones is our villain and has contrived to keep the blood feud between the Blackstones and the Rands going strong. Jones also attempts to incite violence against the Rands (and presumably other white people) with his secret society.

(show spoiler)


The Hardy Boys and Chet Morton are accused of participating in the feud between the Blackstone family and the Rands by both sides and have a difficult time getting straight answers from anybody. Chet is an important part of this mystery, mostly so he can be referred to as fat boy by the narrator. The weight jokes seem to be getting lazier and more mean-spirited. That of course pales to the use of lynching as a plot point here and it being discussed as a common, if unfortunate, practice. The disapproval seems to be more in the act being unmannerly than it being against the law and, you know, murder. Frank and Joe begin to have stronger feelings about lynching when they almost wind up in the noose themselves.


I haven't found any comments from ghostwriter Leslie McFarlane about this book, but Harriet Stratemeyer Adam's comments in a private letter before she approved re-writes in the 1950s and '60s make it clear that she doesn't see what the problem is. She hazards a guess that parents disapprove of Jones, his father, and his friends/society-fellows speaking in dialect. Yeah, that's it.


Sloppy plotting is one thing, and I have rolled my eyes through many cringey scenes before with these books, but 'The Hidden Harbor Mystery' is a new low. A lot has changed in 80 years, but there's an increasing ugliness far beyond the stereotypes present in the earliest books. This book, 'The Mark on the Door' and 'Footprints Under the Window' make a point of highlighting the flaws of everyone who isn't "normal", that is, middle class or wealthy, and white. At least 'Window' had Tom Wat, who the boys joked with and protected, and 'Door' found the boys relying on the skill set of the Yaqui Indian guide in the desert. In 'Hidden Harbor' there is only danger and mistrust and a lot of spiteful little details that aren't worth getting into. The disappointment of our white cast members in the disloyalty of Jones and his father towards their employers topped off the book nicely.


The '60s revision scrapped most of the plot - including the ship - in favor of the local newspaper being sued for libel by the Blackstones for publishing a story about their pirate ancestors. Adams also made sure to solve the race problem in the usual way by eliminating any black characters. Urghs, all around.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Sinister Signpost'


Previous: 'The Mark on the Door'

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac

Skeleton Man - Joseph Bruchac

This was another middle grade book that came after my time. It's still requested a lot, so I decided to check it out for myself. 'Skeleton Man' opens suddenly with Molly coming home to an empty house. Her parents are gone, at school a teacher notices somethings wrong and soon Molly is handed by social services to a strange old man who claims to be a distant relative and has the documentation to prove it.


It doesn't take long for Molly to figure out something is wrong with her "Uncle". He never eats and there seems to be something in the food he gives her, so she she stops eatng it, and he locks the door of her room at night. This is a gripping middle grade horror story built off of a Native American legend. Molly's dreams offer her horrific visions, but also inspire her to make her escape and possibly save her family, too.


Skeleton Man


Next: 'Return of Skeleton Man'

The Ghost's Grave by Peg Kehret

The Ghost's Grave - Peg Kehret

Josh's mom and stepfather recently moved, but he's begun to adjust. He plans on making new friends and settling in during summer vacation, and has already earned a place on the baseball team. Unfortunately, his parents will both be away for work this summer - jobs that are sorely needed - so instead of baseball, Josh is forced to stay with his stepfather's Great-Aunt Ethel in some backwater town for the summer. Spending time in a treehouse, he runs into the ghost of a coal miner named Willie who has a very specific favor to ask....


This is your classic shipped off to the boonies for the summer story, but Kehret elevates it by giving the characters depth and focusing on small details to ground the work. 'Ghost's Grave' is a ghost story with a bank-robbery subplot, but it doesn't skimp on the relationships between the characters. This reminded me of 'Ghost Cat' in that a book that very easily could have been hokey and silly, turned into something memorable instead. I loved these kind of stories growing up.

Currently reading

Neal Stephenson
Progress: 135/1139 pages
Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes
Lanny Rose, Martín A. Pérez, Greg Gildersleeve, Matthew Elmslie, Sara K. Ellis, Richard Bensam, Christopher Barbee, Jeff Barbanell, Timothy Callahan, Scipio Garling, Paul Lytle, Jae Bryson, James Kakalios, Barry Lyga, Kevin Colden, Alan Williams, Julian Darius, Chris Si
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