Tag Archives: Mystery

Mystery Solving Squirrels

Oh my God it’s finally autumn in the Alden universe.  It only took 13 books.  I can only imagine the length of time that will pass before we see spring again.  This is Snowbound Mystery in case you’re keeping track.9780807575161_p0_v1_s260x420

In the very first paragraph we learn that their school is closed because there’s been a fire and it’s been partially destroyed.  This sounds very mysterious to me, but what do I know, because this crime-solving quartet isn’t piqued in the least by this tidbit.

That’s Gertrude for you, throwing in some interesting news about arson to distract you, then never ever mentioning it again.

Meanwhile, Benny is extolling the features of this marvelous cabin in the woods that he was recently discussing with Grandfather’s good chum down at the Sportsmen’s club.


I’m starting to feel like Grandfather is feeling his age, and has wisely decided to skip over the older, slower ‘jock’ (is he a jock? I can’t think of anything Henry’s good at, that was the nicest term I could come by)—Henry— as his possible heir—going straight to his only semi-intelligent spawn.  All signs point to Benny being groomed for a future of finance and schmoozing on the links.  Why else is Benny hanging out at the Sportsmen’s Club, unless he’s making shady deals and being bribed by long lunches and cabin getaways?  Think of how easy it would be to bribe Benny with a good-sized hamburger.

If that wasn’t enough, it’s also pretty clear who’s now in charge of ‘masterminding’ these little adventures—as usual Benny extolls the virtues of his newest idea with the imagination and style of a mid-sized travel pamphlet.  ‘It’s too early to snow,’ and ‘only a 2.5 mile hike from the nearest grocery store’ and ‘there will be new plants and deer!’ and ‘I’m sure it won’t snow’ and ‘we could eat canned food’ and also ‘it won’t snow so that’s good.’

Spoiler alert:  it’s going to totally snow.  I mean, thanks for keeping the mystery alive, Gertrude, by naming the book Snowbound Mystery.  It’s like you want to inhibit children’s slowly developing deductive reasoning skills.

Obviously Gertrude is now working with some sort of Microsoft Office Word template, so in every new book she just has to tweak Benny’s monologue slightly, changing the details about the grocery store, and the amount of canned food they will want to purchase.  The paragraph about Watch attending/staying at home is optional.

However, I’m relieved to see they’ve finally moved on past ‘rocks and seashells”—earlier phenomena of nature previously fascinating to the set—and are now learning about multi-celled vertebrates.

Continue reading


A Rag-Tag Band of Orphans? Count Me In!

Reynie is an orphan. Sure he doesn’t have any friends, and his intellect is only mocked and derided by his peers, but he does have a very nice tutor named Miss Perumal.  It is with the help of Miss Perumal that he attends a special test for gifted children.

It is quite an unusual test, and Reynie is the only one that passes.  During a series of other, increasingly bizarre tests, Reynie meets Sticky (named for the way facts ‘stick’ with him), Kate (who carries a bucket everywhere), and Constance (she’s really grumpy).

The four of them have been recruited by Mr. Benedict and his assistants, Milligan, Number Two, and Rhonda, to help save the world.  Mr. Benedict, you see, is a genius.  Like, a total super-genius, though also a nice guy with narcolepsy.  As a matter of fact, he’s such a genius he’s the only person that’s realized that there are secret messages being transmitted behind the radio and television programming: messages that are controlling people’s minds.  The madman behind the messages has been using children’s voices, which pass into our subconscious more easily. Continue reading

Boys and Plants and Magical Houses

So, when I bought the ‘Mostly True Story of Jack,’ by Kelly Barnhill–I for some reason thought it was going to be like this:

Not saying that I’m disappointed it’s not.  Jennifer Garner kind of gets on my nerves, and that little boy looks creepy as hell.

So what actually happens is that Jack’s parents are getting a divorce.  And while they ‘get things sorted,’ Jack’s brother goes to stay with friends, while Jack is dropped off at his aunt and uncle’s house.

Understandably, Jack is a little put out to be dumped in a weird house in the middle of nowhere with people he’s never met before.  Even though his previous home-life doesn’t seem that enviable—absent in all the family photos, he literally drew a picture of himself and pasted it in.  A little heartbreaking, that is.

And of course, the town that Jack’s been placed in is a little creepy, with his aunt and uncle’s house—the purple, green, every-color-of-the-rainbow house that seems to shudder and move, and also gives off electric shocks—well that’s the creepiest of all.

What Jack doesn’t know, and his uncle seems very slow to tell him (more a professor of the Socratic method I suppose) is that he is the key to the awakening of the town and it’s magical, nefarious guardians.

Upon arrival, after being almost ran-over by the town power player, tycoon Mr. Avery, Jack meets Anders, Wendy, and her twin brother Frankie.  Frankie was kidnapped several years ago, and mysteriously returned, speechless and with huge, red scars on half of his face.

Then shit gets complicated.  Continue reading


I like to keep with a theme, whether it be kids in space, dystopian youth gangs fighting the man, or scary birds.  So naturally, after reading The Aviary, I wanted to read another book about birds that may be plotting to kill you.

Wildwood starts at a brisk pace, with the kidnapping of Prue’s baby brother Mac.  This kidnapping, like most, happens in a split-second when Prue’s attention is diverted at the park.  However, unlike the usual America’s Most Wanted kidnapping stories, Prue’s baby bro is snatched up by a flock of crows.  A veritable, murder of crows if you will.

This large swarm of birds carry the child off into the distance, into the Impassible Wilderness, the large, imposing forest that no one in Portland (yes, Oregon) ever ventures into (or if they do, never returns from, natch).  Prue, obviously not a shrinking violet, strikes off on her own to rescue her brother.  She is joined at the last minute by her hapless, bespectacled (they always are bespectacled aren’t they?) neighbor, Curtis.

Not long after they enter the woods (and are immediately lost), Prue and Curtis almost stumble upon a crowd of arguing coyotes.  Coyotes wearing tattered uniforms and carrying rusty muskets.  Unfortunately, they are sniffed out quickly, and only Prue escapes.  Curtis, unfortunately, is marched back to the warren to meet the Dowager Governess.

While Curtis is getting drunk on homemade spirits, while getting acquainted with the Dowager, Prue is almost flattened by a mail truck.  The kind mailman escorts her to the South Wood, marvelling that an Outsider has made it into the woods, and gently letting her know that her friend Curtis and baby brother Mac have most likely been killed and dismembered by now. Continue reading

Mysteries, Train Rides, and Narcolepsy: All the Best in Children’s Literature

I just finished all of the ‘Mysterious Benedict Society’ books, and that includes the prequel, which we shall be discussing this evening:  The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.

I am such a big fan of prequels. There are few things sweeter than being woken out of the post-series-finishing blues by the announcement of another installment somehow (no matter how distantly) related to your favorite characters.  I really wish JK Rowling would get with the program already.

You may have noticed (but probably not, because I doubt that anyone is follows my blog posts that closely) that I haven’t yet posted about books 1, 2, or 3 of the series.  Why the total disregard for chronological order?  You may be wondering to yourself.  Well, besides the fact that I am filled with whimsy, I also hold the belief that no matter the publishing order, books are best kept in the chronological order of their own fictional world.  Take the Chronicles of Narnia for instance.  Besides the fact that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is by far my least favorite of the books, it just makes more sense that you read The Magician’s Nephew first so you can understand the Professor and the wardrobe more fully.

Anyway, I don’t really need a reason.  Stop arguing with me already. Continue reading

The Aviary: The Allure of Scary Fonts

see? the font is very chill-enducing

I can’t watch scary movies.  In fact, I’m such a wuss I can’t even watch movies that are supposed to be parodies of scary movies, or even have scary violins in them.  I always blame it on the fact that we lived off of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with scary hangy-over-the-road trees, but it probably stems more from me being kind of a sheltered wimp.  I wasn’t allowed to read the Goosebumps books as a kid because they would give me nightmares (this isn’t verified of course, since I didn’t actually read them, but my mom said they were satanic, just like Clifford and Harry Potter, and I was too frightened by the bookcovers to argue).

My mom probably wouldn’t have let me read The Aviary either, because it has a pretty grim looking cover, and the font is kind of gothic, and birds are the minions of the devil, probably.  But this is pretty much the only type of ‘scary’ I can handle.

Scary-For-Prepubescents. That’s about my limit.

I always battle with myself whether to read the back copy or not, since the majority of the time the back copy (much like my blog posts) gives away most of the story.  So, to compromise, I just skimmed it, and went into the book knowing that the birds in the giant aviary in the Clara’s backyard were once children (hey!  Don’t blame me for ruining it for you—they shouldn’t have put it in the synopsis!). Continue reading

The Boxcar Children: We Can Even Make Science Boring

Lighthouse Mystery begins with the end of the Woodshed Mystery, because that’s how synched up Gertrude is.  Aunt Jane is relieved that no one calls her Mrs. Bean after her marriage, because even she knows that is a stupid sounding name.  We are not even one full page into the book before bread and milk come up.  Henry has decided to take the scenic route home, never missing a chance to enjoy the power steering and smooth ride of their STATION WAGON and Grandfather knows of a beautiful lighthouse that they will drive past.  I feel a mystery coming on.

I am not even a little bit surprised when the lighthouse is for sale, and even less surprised that the family feels like this is something they NEED TO BUY.  Like now.  However, imagine my shock when the group discovers that the lighthouse has ALREADY been sold.  The grocer, Mr. Hall, offers to rent it to them for the summer, and I’m amazed that Grandfather agrees to this, instead of insisting that he WILL buy it, ONE way or the OTHER that lighthouse shall be mine! That’s kind of how the scenario went in my head.  Grandfather does make the children wait in the car however while he ‘negotiates the rent,’ whatever that means, probably a pistol-whipping.

When the family returns to the lighthouse, ‘the girls went into the kitchen at once.’  This is a direct quote.  Dear God.  After inspecting the stove and dishes, and how cold the water is, and if there is sufficient storage for the enormous amount of milk and bread that Benny requires; they go to bed.  At 8 o’clock.

Mystery Alert!  At the stroke of midnight, Watch begins barking and Benny smells food (no one else smells food, but we know that Benny has a keen sixth sense for anything edible).  After a few minutes, Watch goes back to sleep, but Grandfather feels that they should still alert the police due to the highly suspicious activities—that I will reiterate —consist of a dog barking, and Benny, a food obsessed halfwit, maybe smelling some potatoes.  This combination of Benny and Watch and food just made me think of Scooby Doo…Henry, Jessie, and Violet/Fred, Daphne, Velma?  Are we discovering the adult iteration of the Boxcar Children?  Just think about it.

The next day, the group discovers that they don’t have any food and maybe should go to the grocery store.  Facepalm.  The same grocery store they were at the night before, while renting the lighthouse?  NO ONE thought to buy food while they were already there?  Not housekeeping maven Jessie?  Not epicurean Benny?   Wow.  This may be the first time that they’ve passed up an opportunity to purchase, discuss, and cook food.

But if they hadn’t been forced to traipse back to the grocery store we might not have met angry, black-eyed man.  If his dark eyes weren’t enough to let you know he’s a bad seed, let me tell you how he ALMOST bumps into Jessie on the sidewalk.  Yes, to clarify, he doesn’t actually bump into her, but he almost does, which sets the whole group off into hysterics.  I assume that they are used to their own town, where the citizens kowtow respectfully, and know to clear the streets at their approach, perhaps strewing palm fronds beneath their feet.  Just a hunch.

As if this incident wasn’t traumatizing enough, inside the grocery store, Henry tries to chat up a boy his own age, and is REBUFFED.   Mr. Hall, sensei of the town of Conley, tells the family that this boy wants to go to college and his cruel father, Mr. Angry Dark Eyes, won’t let him.   All the children are predictably aghast at this information.  Mr. Hall tells them nothing can be done about this, many have tried and failed, and all the children immediately think of Grandfather, and how he can force anyone to do anything, no matter how much they dislike it.  It’s worded slightly differently, but that’s the gist of it. Continue reading