Monday, September 25, 2017

REVIEW: Trixie Belden and the Gatehouse Mystery

Trixie Belden and The Gatehouse Mystery
Author: Julie Campbell

Trixie Belden is a teen amateur sleuth. She lives in Sleepyside, NY with her family. Her best friend, Honey Wheeler, and Honey's adopted brother, Jim Frayne, live at the large estate next door. Mysteries always seem to come their way. The series is similar to Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. There are 39 books in the series, written between 1948 and 1986. The original six books were written by Julie Campbell. The rest of the series was written by various authors, using the pen name Kathryn Kenny.

This was my absolute favorite book series when I was a kid. I had the entire series. Every holiday, birthday, or special event usually brought me new books and I remember being incredibly happy when several new books came out in the 80s. Before leaving for college, I sold the entire series to a mom who had two middle school age
girls at home. I hope they loved the books as much as I did! The first four books were re-released a few years ago, but the rest are OOP. Luckily, I found scans of many of the books on OpenLibrary, so I'm going to re-read as much of the old series as I can find! Revisiting my old Sleepyside buddies as an adult has given me some mixed emotions, but all things considered I'm enjoying it.

The Gatehouse Mystery is the third book in the series. Honey and Trixie are out walking and stop by the old Gatehouse on the Wheeler estate. The old building is overgrown with vines and neglected. They are shocked when they find a diamond in the old gatehouse wedged between two floorboards. Then they hear someone lurking in the bushes listening to their conversation. Who hid the diamond on the Wheeler estate? And are they in danger after finding it? Honey and Trixie know they need to discover the truth before the criminals attempt to recover the valuable stone.

As a young girl, I loved reading about Trixie and her friends' adventuring. I spent many an afternoon laying across my bed reading about their exploits. I sympathized with Trixie's occasional annoyance at her little 6-year old brother. My young nephew was a pain in the butt sometimes too when I was 11 or so -- he's 38 years old now -- and I often had to babysit him much to my chagrin. I also remember laughing at the constant teasing between the siblings and friends in the books. :) I ran around with the neighbor kids back in the day myself and I think every one of us had a creative nickname, mostly insulting stuff. I fell in the creek once and got called wethead for a few weeks. So I liked reading about the teasing among the characters. It made the group seem a lot like my own gang of friends. At the time, I did notice that the wording and situations were a bit dated, but I didn't care. As an adult, I had a few problems re-reading this book. For example, the use of the word "squaw' as an insult. One of Trixie's brothers uses that name to tease the girls. It might have been acceptable back when the original six books were written, but it's pretty much seen as racist and derogatory now. I cringed a bit each time Mart teased his sister about being a " lazy squaw'' who should bring him food, and do her chores faster. It was meant as good natured teasing between siblings in the story,  but it did bother the adult me. I have seen a few negative comments in reviews of the Trixie Belden series because the dad goes off to work and the mom takes care of the house, home chores, canning food, gardening, etc. I didn't see it as a negative when I originally read the books, or now. It's not sexist. For many families, that's how life was during that time period. I don't see it as belittling of the mom in the stories. The kids and the dad constantly talk about how awesome she is for being such a good cook, mom, gardener, and home maker. What's wrong with that? She gets way more praise and attention than the dad, who gets mentioned only rarely. A reader has to remember that these books are set in the 1950s. It was a much different world back then. I like the fact that the kids all have chores to do each day to help out, and for the most part they obey and respect their parents. The mysteries are a lot like those from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys....unusual events, mysterious strangers, hidden treasures, etc instead of murders or anything too gruesome.

So, despite the fact that I read the stories with a much older outlook than when I was a teenager, I'm still enjoying reading my way through this series again. I enjoy the dated language for the most part. When there is a word or phrase I find a bit offensive, I have to remind myself that the series is 60+ years old, and take things in the spirit in which it was originally meant.

The Gatehouse Mystery is one of the Trixie Belden books that was re-released. I read an ebook copy using OverDrive through my local public library. I'm finding most of the OOP books in this series on OpenLibrary. They have many scans of OOP books available through Internet Archive. Register for an account here: https://openlibrary.org/ They provide links to books from Project Gutenberg, OpenLibrary scans, and publication information when print books are available. Everything is done with respect to copyright laws. All scanned materials and downloadable ebooks are in the public domain, or available to borrow and read online for a set time, just like a lending library. It's a great resource!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

REVIEW: The Mountain Between Us

The Mountain Between Us
Author: Charles Martin

I had never heard of this book until I saw a trailer for the movie that will be out soon. The concept sounded interesting, so I put a copy on hold at the library. I picked it up this afternoon and started reading. I couldn't put it down until the last page! Great book!

Ashley Knox and Ben Payne are both waiting for a plane out of Salt Lake City when an incoming snowstorm shuts the airport. Ashley needs to get home because she's getting married and Ben has surgeries to perform. Thinking a charter flight can beat the storm and get them to Denver, Payne hires the pilot of a small prop plane, offering Ashley a ride. Mid-flight the pilot has a heart attack, but manages to control the descent of the plane at least enough to save Ashley and Ben's lives. But they are injured and stranded miles from anywhere on the side of a mountain, just the two of them and the pilot's small dog. Over the next 28 days they struggle to reach civilization and medical treatment, knowing that one mistake could mean they both die. As they struggle to survive, both learn some very important lessons about life, forgiveness and love.

I can't believe I read this book in one sitting. I literally could not put it down. I love to read, but it's a rare event when I find a story that engrosses me so much that I don't want to stop reading. I even read while eating dinner tonight and I never do that. I was so into the story that I could have been eating my napkin and wouldn't have even noticed.

I love adventure stories, and there is plenty of adventure and struggle for survival in this story, but also a lot of emotion, healing and growth for the characters. Ashley learns that "settling'' is not really finding freedom or happiness. And Ben works through his past mistakes and discovers he has to forgive himself for them. Just a nice, "feel good'' sort of story that has some adventure built in and never gets too "sappy.'' This is as close to chick lit as I will ever get.....the outdoor adventure part of the plot made me not mind the emotional parts of the story.

To find out more about Author Charles Martin, check out his website: http://charlesmartinbooks.com/books/the_mountain_between_us#.Wbsw5siGOM8  The movie version (starring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) releases on October 6, 2017. I'm glad I read the book before the movie comes out.....I hope that they stick to the story Martin wrote. Sometimes movie versions are so disappointing. I'm hoping this one is awesome!



Saturday, September 23, 2017

REVIEW: Elementary, She Read

Elementary, She Read
Author: Vicki Delany

Gemma Doyle is English, but has moved to West London, MA to help her Great Uncle Arthur run his bookstore and emporium. The shop is located at 222 Baker Street and sells all things Sherlock Holmes -- everything ranging from books and magazines to busts and movie posters. Right next door, Gemma's best friend Jayne has a tea shop, Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room. Gemma loves everything about her new home, except maybe the shop cat, Moriarty, who doesn't seem to like her one bit.

I am a BIG Sherlock Holmes fan, so I knew from the start that I would enjoy this book series. I am however struggling under the Mount Everest of TBR piles....and it took me awhile to dig down to this gem. I wanted to wait to read this one until I had time to savor and enjoy it, rather than reading quickly to move on to another book. Finally, with the second book coming out this month, I spent two lovely days reading this book. I'm glad I waited.....and curled up on the sofa with a nice cup of tea to start this series.

The Basics: Gemma is a very observant person, and a bit.....impulsive. Both traits have gotten her into trouble in the past. This time, a tour group is visiting her store and the tea room next door. As they are shopping and picking out Sherlock goodies after having tea, Gemma notices a strange woman come into the shop. Later, she spies what appears to be a priceless Sherlock magazine from 1887 on the shelf -- it isn't anything she has in stock at the shop. In fact, a perfect copy of this particular issue is worth six figures.....a lot above the price range of items sold in the store. Gemma tracks down the strange woman, deducing what hotel she is staying in. Jayne and Gemma go there hoping to talk to her and return the priceless item, only to find the woman murdered in her room. Things go downhill from there....Gemma's inquisitive and observant nature takes over and she jumps into investigating the killing. While she does make progress, she also makes herself a suspect.  When the body count rises, Gemma digs herself in deeper and deeper.....    How can she discover the murderer without incriminating herself further? The game is afoot!!

I love this book! As a big Sherlock fan, the theme made me extremely happy before I even cracked it open. I like the characters and I found the mystery engaging and fun. The side characters help round out the plot, and I even love the feisty Moriarty (who loves everyone but Gemma, apparently, much to her chagrin).

I do have two things to say.....       Jayne has the patience of a saint where Gemma is concerned. Oh dear lord, if I had a friend who got me in as much serious hot water as Gemma drags Jayne into.....I would be looking for a new friend. ha ha :) I kept thinking that every time Gemma went into investigation mode, dragging poor Jayne along for the ride. Definitely reminded me of a few cases where Dr. Watson had a less than stellar time as Sherlock's trusty sidekick.   And, how can someone as observant and intelligent as Gemma do so many dumb things? She forgets to call an employee about working an extra shift for an event ..... leaving Jayne to fix her mistake. She makes herself a murder suspect by getting into situations (usually involving a dead body) that would have best been avoided.  But......really.....despite finding myself talking to the character while reading ("Oh for heaven's sake Gemma...really???? Poor Jayne!") this quirk of hers is what makes this story so much fun to read.  So, despite more than one facepalm moment, I enjoy Gemma as a main character and I will definitely read more of this series!

The mystery is nicely paced with several viable suspects. The ending caught me by surprise....which I like! I'm very happy that I have book two, A Body on Baker Street, waiting in the wings for me to enjoy right away! :) Elementary, She Read is definitely a great start for this new series! On to book two!

Vicki Delany also writes under the pseudonym Eva Gates. To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website: http://vickidelany.com/

Friday, September 22, 2017

REVIEW: Trixie Belden - The Red Trailer Mystery

Trixie Belden: The Red Trailer Mystery
Author: Julie Campbell

The Trixie Belden series is about a group of teen sleuths who investigate mysteries around their hometown of Sleepyside, NY. Trixie Belden lives on a farm with her brothers and parents. Her bestie, Honey Wheeler, lives nearby at a manor house with her wealthy parents. They have great adventures together. The series was written from 1948-1986.  The first six books were written by Julie Campbell. The rest of the series was written by multiple authors all under the penname Kathryn Kenny. The series is similar to Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.

I loved the Trixie Belden series when I was in middle school back in the '80s. I received a couple books for every holiday and special event until I had the entire series. :) When I noticed that a few of the titles had been re-printed, I wanted to read the series again. I was a bit worried at first because I wasn't sure if I would enjoy re-reading them as an adult, and I didn't want to ruin my happy memories of reading about Trixie's adventures with her friends, Honey and Jim. After reading the first two books again, I'm glad that I decided to revist Sleepyside. The stories are a bit dated, but still so much fun to read!

The second book, The Red Trailer Mystery, is a continuation of the story from book one. Honey and Trixie have made a new friend, Jim Frayne. He came looking for his uncle, only to find out that the old man had passed away in the hospital. Jim runs away at the end of book one, fearing that his mean, abusive step-father is coming to take him away. He never finds out that he has inherited a lot of money from his uncle. In the second book Trixie and Honey, along with Honey's Governess Miss Trask, pack up the Wheeler family travel trailer to go find Jim. The boy expressed interest in finding a camp counselor's job at one of the nearby campgrounds, so they hit the road to find him and bring him home. Along the way, they discover a band of thieves who are stealing trailers and property from travelers. The girls end up in some hot water when the bad guys catch them following them to get proof to take to the police.

This book seems a bit simple and dated to the adult-me, but I still enjoyed it just as much as I did when I was 12. Maybe more for simple nostalgia than the actual story.  It was a fun afternoon read, and I'm looking forward to reading more of this series. Only a few of the books were re-printed so I'm going to have to do some hunting to find the complete series to read, but locating all the books will be part of the fun of re-visiting this series.

I always preferred Trixie Belden over Nancy Drew. I'm not sure why. I think I will re-read some Nancy Drew books as well and compare the two. Maybe I can come up with a reason why I loved Trixie and was more meh about Nancy.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

REVIEW: The Haunting of Rachel Harroway - The Beginning

The Haunting of Rachel Harroway - The Beginning
Author: J. S. Donovan

I love a good ghost story. When I saw the cover for this ebook and read the description, I knew I needed to read it. I'm glad I did! I thoroughly enjoyed this spooky read!

In this short introduction to the Rachel Harroway series, Rachel and her husband Brett move to Highlands, NC and purchase an old Victorian house. The Hadley House, built in the 1890s, has seen better days, but Rachel looks forward to restoring the old home with her husband. After moving in, strange things start happening in the house. Rachel does some research and learns that a family was murdered in the house in the early 1980s. When their ghosts start appearing to her, calling for her to find their killers, Rachel realizes she needs to investigate the murders to keep from losing her mind.

There are some editing errors in this book -- just small ones -- some grammar mistakes and little things that caught my attention, but only for a second or two. The story is much more interesting than nit-picking for minor grammar errors. This story of a haunting isn't anything new.....spirits wanting closure or justice is a pretty standard haunting theme. But, the story is well-written and suspenseful, building to an awesome, exciting ending. The story kept my attention to the very end. So, it doesn't matter that it isn't a new spin on the ghost theme -- it's a well-told story that has me wanting to read more from this author. This prequel to the Rachel Harroway series is a quick read at 123 pages. There are two more books in the series.

J.S. Donovan also writes the kidnapped and EMP series.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

REVIEW: Body on Baker Street

Body on Baker Street
Author: Vicki Delany

Gemma Doyle runs the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium on Baker Street in West London, MA. Her best friend, Jayne, is next door at Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room. In this second book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, Gemma and Jayne are excited (and stressed) about the last minute visit of famous author Renalta Van Markoff to the shop. Markoff writes the Hudson and Holmes book series. The books are a bit controversial (and definitely non-canon) because Holmes and Mrs. Hudson are lovers, with Mrs. Hudson being the real genius instead of Sherlock. With only a day or so to prepare a huge signing event, Gemma and Jayne are stressed and worried that something will go wrong. And, of course it does. At the signing a local Sherlock fan who hates Markoff's books makes a huge scene, accusing her of disgracing the beloved classic characters. The author gives as much as she gets, and ends up winning the argument......but, then she promptly drops dead. After his huge public fight with the author, Donald Morris is immediately the number one suspect -- but he swears he didn't do it. Markoff was a difficult person. Gemma and Jayne have no limit on suspects who might have wanted her dead. Can they investigate and deduce the truth before Donald faces murder charges?

I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan. So for me, this cozy series by Vicki Delany is just a joy to read. I love the facts and tidbits about Sherlock and Arthur Conan Doyle sprinkled throughout the books. I like Gemma as a main character, and all of the supporting characters are interesting, quirky and delightful. I catch myself wishing the bookshop and tea room were real. I would SO love to have lunch there and browse the shop after! :) The books are a nice mix of mystery and background theme. And there are always enough suspects to keep the reader guessing til the end. Lots of humor, too!

I will definitely be reading more of this series!

Vicki Delany is the author of several mystery series. For more information on her books, check out her website: http://vickidelany.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

REVIEW: Chickadee, Chickadee Bang Bang

Chickadee, Chickadee Bang Bang
Author: J.R. Ripley

Ruby Lake, NC is gearing up for the fall festival car show. The guys in town are all being very secretive about the cars they are entering in the competition, while still bragging up a storm about how their particular car will steal the show. Everyone is curious about Chick Sherman. He's been bragging for years about a car he's been working on in his barn. So far, nobody has ever seen it. Rumors range from Chick's car being some experimental super car to there being no car at all. The whole town is instantly abuzz when he registers for the car show. Amy Simm, owner of the Birds & Bees shop in Ruby Lake, drives to his house one night and her curiousity gets the best of her. Surely Chick won't mind if she takes one little peek into his barn to see if there is actually some super car in there......  She sees something extraordinary, but it's not a car. It's Chick Sherman's dead body. Who killed the town eccentric? And can she discover the killer before anyone else gets hurt?

I really enjoy this series. Amy Simm is a feisty, fun main character. I love the bird theme. The side characters are quirky and interesting. Every book has been a fun read!

I'm not really a hot rod or car show fan. It's not a hobby that interests me. But, I still enjoyed this latest book in the Bird Lover's cozy series. The mystery was engaging and perfectly paced. There were several viable suspects and I wasn't quite sure about the killer until the very end. There is a nice mix of humor, mystery and side theme. It makes for a nice, balanced, enjoyable cozy mystery. Chickadee, Chickadee Bang Bang is the fifth book in the series, but a reader can jump in at this point and enjoy the story without reading the prior books. There is enough explanation of the characters and setting to read this book without starting at the beginning of the series.

The next book in the Bird Lover's Mystery Series, How the Finch Stole Christmas, will be out in November! :) I'm glad I don't have long to wait for the next book in this series!

J.R. Ripley is a pseudonym of the author Glenn Meganck. For more information on the author and his books, check out his website: http://www.glennmeganck.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**