Friday, April 14, 2017

The Babysitters Club Mysteries #34: Mary Anne and the Haunted Bookstore

Thanks to some random English assignment, Mary Anne keeps reading Poe stuff while home alone. That naturally makes her think about and miss Dawn. During the net BSC meeting, she takes a call from Mr. Cates, a new client who is conveniently opening Poe & Co., a bookstore in a historic mansion. Kristy kindly gives her the job.

See, Stoneybrook was apparently home to Benson Dalton Gable. Not only was he a compatriot of Poe's, but there are rumors that Poe maybe stole ideas from him or even killed him. She meets Tom and Gillian, the two kids of the bookstore owner. They hate living in the old mansion, hate that it keeps raining, and hate that their mom isn't there. They also really dislike Ms. Spark, the bookstore designer (is that even a real job?), but that might be because she and their dad have a clear spark.

Mary Anne also meets Professor Kingslover, an English professor from the local college who has an unhealthy obsession with Poe and Alex Gable. His dad sold the family home, and it's pretty clear that he hates it. She also meets Andy, the foreman for the construction crew. These names are important because all become suspects later.

Since this is a mystery book, you know weird things must happen. Mary Anne and Logan wind up in the building alone one night and hear what sounds like a thudding heartbeat. Though she tells Cates about it, he blows her off and explains that it was probably just rain. She also finds a letter signed Annabelle Lee that he asks her not to tell Mrs. Spark about, and she later finds a raven carved in an old shelf.

Alex always seems to be around to piss and moan about something. He goes off on the professor about how Poe stole from his ancestor and “proves” it by showing a series of raven carvings on the fireplace. Alex keeps whining about all the renovations they keep doing to “his” house, and makes a huge pain of himself. The only time he seems like a normal teenager is when he pops up to flirt with Stacey.

Claudia gets a job sitting for Tom and Gillian, which means taking them to the movies. Tom acts like a huge pain, whines about not getting to play in the arcade, and ditches Claudia to play games when he's supposed to be in the bathroom. He also complains about the Pike kids being there with their mom and mopes about being “forced” to see Star Wars. He's apparently so mean to Ms. Spark when she picks them up that she actually heads home early.

Since Cates clearly has no idea what he's doing, he hires the BSC to come over whenever and help him out. This leads to random members showing up at random times and doing random things like painting, watching the kids, or organizing book shipments. At one point, Pluto, a black cat named for the cat in The Black Cat, gets trapped behind a wall during the renovation. Mary Anne decides to keep track of everything in the BSC mystery book until they find the solution.

Mary Anne pretty much suspects everyone. She thinks it's Andy and his crew because he complains about how much work the house needs and how he'd do better finacially if they tore down the house and built new ones. Alex is a suspect because he makes it clear that he wants his house back. She even suspects that the kids are doing it to to scare off Ms. Spark.

Somehow, a big black raven shows up in the bookstore. Cates adopts it and names it Lenore. Mary Anne checks with the bird store and finds out that someone matching Alex's description came in asking if anyone bought a raven recently and that a woman purchased the bird under the name Lenore. They also find a headstone in the basement that looks like a real grave, and one of the construction workers thinks he sees a ghost.

Mary Anne, Stacey, and Mallory find a boom box that plays the same heartbeat sound she heard before. Mallory borrows the triplets' fingerprint kit, they make coffee, and make everyone drink. After pulling prints from the cups, Claudia uses her artistic eye to determine that the fingerprints on the stereo match Cates.

Realizing he did this all just to get some publicity, Mary Anne sets him up. Mallory turns on the boom box, Mary Anne catches him, and he gives up. The kids get excited because they spent the whole book looking for that boom box. He confesses that he did it all with the help of Ms. Spark, who once worked in Hollywood with her special effects expert ex-husband. The only thing they didn't do was wall up poor Pluto.

Gillian runs off and hides from her brother, but they find her hiding in a secret spot inside the desk in the original writer's old desk. She tells them about a second hidden spot, which conveniently has his lap desk inside. It turns out that Poe only visited once, they made plans to meet again, but then Gable passed away. We still have no clue what happened to him, where he died, or even where he's buried.

At the big launch party, Cates awards Mary Anne the grand prize, which is an exclusive luxury version of Poe's collected works. She gladly accepts it but doesn't remember entering the contest. Alex takes center stage and tells everyone about his ancestor's work. As Mary Anne leaves, she swear she sees the ghost of Dalton standing by his desk.

The B-plot is all about how it won't stop raining in Stoneybrook, which drives all the kids crazy. Kristy and Jessi, while sitting for a bunch of kids, decide to hold a rainy day festival. They all wear sunglasses, build sandcastles, and play sunny day games. In a completely unlike her move, Stacey gets excited about making mud pies and encourages all the boys to make their own. It naturally stops raining on the day of the festival.

*It's funny that when Ms. Spark asks Logan and Mary Anne to paint, she means literally paint a wall. When she asks Claudia for the same thing, it somehow means paint an intricate trim/border around a room.

*Claudia is such a fantastic artist that she can paint a life size version of Nancy Drew on one of the walls.

*Kristy volunteers the BSC to write “reviews” of their favorite books as a selling feature, which everyone goes crazy over. All they really do though is write short recaps, which I'm pretty sure are already on the backs of those books.

*Stacey comes across as pretty bitchy a few times, and the ghostwriter almost makes it seem like she knows more than she does. It's things like her smirking at the idea of a real ghost being in the house, she's described as having a smile playing on her lips when others freak out, and stuff like that.

*Cates tells Mary Anne that he can use as much help as they can provide but that he isn't sure how much he can pay them. Does that mean they just randomly show up to watch his kids without knowing if he'll pay their full rate?

*Abby comes over to “help” but because of her allergies, she instantly has to run upstairs and watch the kids. Given that she's allergic to dust, paint, and a million other things, why would she even bother to show up?

*Professor Kingslover is basically your stereotypical superstitious person. She flips out at the idea of a black cat, refuses to walk under a ladder, snaps at Alex for opening an umbrella in the house, and walks around rubbing her four-leaf clover necklace. Mary Anne notices that she has a rabbit's foot on her bag too.

*Mary Anne has a bunch of ideas for her English project and runs them by her teacher. The teacher likes the idea of her doing a diorama but wants some written component and suggests she also write fake letters between the two men. Are you kidding me? It's eighth grade English, pick one or the other!

*Despite Tom being a whiny brat throughout the whole book, it's okay because he just really misses his mom. Haven't we heard this story a million times? Also, the letter Mary Anne found from Annabelle Lee was from their mom. It's nice that she has time to write her ex-husband but not her kids.

*Stacey brings Charlotte to see Star Wars because they watched it on television and loved it, which seems out of character for both of them.

*Claudia wears some outfit with rain drops painted on jeans, which seems like a waste to me, a vest over a long sleeve shirt, and earrings shaped like umbrellas.

*Jessi makes some random joke about tossing out an idea to see if it floats. I know she's supposed to be the “funny” one, but I cringe every time she tells a joke.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #155: The Mystery in Tornado Alley (2000)

Hannah's cousin Berta passed away and left her a farm in Oklahoma. Since she doesn't want to move away from River Heights, Carson offers to go with her and settle everything so she can sell it. Nancy is waiting for them to come home so they can head to the airport when Carson shows up with a big surprise, an RV! He thought it would be fun to drive there instead of flying and surprises her with the news that Bess and George are coming with them.

It turns out that Hannah is petrified of tornadoes but brought along a book with lots of information on tornadoes. That comes in handy when they one hits the highway. Nancy luckily remembers what to do and gets everyone to lie down in a ditch and hold on. The tornado nearly lifts her up, but she holds onto a patch of grass to survive. Seriously? Even I have a hard time buying that one.

As soon as they arrive, Nancy spots a green duffel bag stuck in a tree. The girls dig through the nearly demolished barn and find a ladder as well as Berta's old car. Nancy gets the bag and finds threatening letters inside about some kidnapping. Just then, a random man shows up at the farm. He claims the bag is his, fights with Nancy, and stalks off but does tell them that he helped Berta a lot. He claims his name is Joe and that Berta promised the farm to him.

While putting the bag in her trunk, someone shoves her head against the car and runs off with the bag. Nancy then meets a waitress named Trudy who she tells about the bag. She also goes to the police station and learns that the cops don't even want to hear her story because it sounds like a prank. Since a university is so close by though, she heads over and finds the tornado research center. One student helps her out by explaining that the bag could have blown in from up to 20 miles away.

When a storm breaks out, everyone goes crazy and heads out in these specially designed VORTEX storm chasing vehicles. Derek, a man in the center, offers to take her with him. He tells her that he was once a student but had to drop out to support his mom and hopes Dr. Johnson, the professor in charge of the research center, will offer him a scholarship. They do some storm chasing, but Derek seems really off putting. He keeps forgetting where he is, starts staring off into space for no reason, and sometimes even forgets Nancy is with him.

After the storm, Nancy heads back to see Trudy again. Trudy introduces her to Mary, a woman who claims the bag belongs to her. When Nancy asks her a few basic questions and then tells her someone stole it, Mary suddenly takes off like a bat out of hell. It turns out that Trudy is still pretty new in town and doesn't know many people, so she has no clue who Mary is and has never seen her before.

Luckily though, Nancy and her friends go into town with Carson and Hannah to stop by the local bank and see Joe inside. He's conveniently having a huge fight with Mary and storms off. They then meet up with Derek in the student union on campus and find him with this woman named Candace. Candace claims that he found her books when she lost them. Bess is the only one who thinks there is something a little off about this guy. Nancy has to agree that something is weird when she asks if he can drive them somewhere. He tells her that he'll be back in a few minutes but is gone for over an hour.

Feeling a little suspicious, Nancy heads over to the research center and finds him in the middle of a huge fight with Dr. Johnson. The professor asks Nancy to take care of her friend and get him out of there before they call the police. Derek kind of apologizes but tells Nancy that the professor wouldn't even listen to his ideas. I've been out of school for awhile, but I'm pretty sure fighting with him won't result in a scholarship.

After Joe comes back to the farm and yells about them stealing his property, Nancy decides to follow him. Derek drives her and the gals around as Joe picks up Mary and takes her to a fancy neighborhood. To get a better look, she sneaks into the backyard and sees Mary with Candace. They seem to fight a bit before Candace breaks down and Mary has to comfort her. A dog starts barking, so Nancy runs off, but she finds that Derek and her friends are gone.

Joe catches her and forces her into his truck with Mary. Nancy tells them all about how she figured out their plan and how they want to kidnap Candace, but Mary reveals that they are actually half-sisters. Joe and Mary though Nancy's crew found the letters that he wrote Berta while he was in the military and the letters she wrote him back, which he saved in a matching gym bag. They thought the group kept the letters a secret because they didn't want to give up the farm to him.

Still unsure over whether to trust him. Nancy sets up a ruse. The girls pack up and head out of town in the RV, but they actually stop long enough for Nancy to sneak out. Joe follows the RV, not realizing she's not in there. Derek then picks her up but starts acting stranger than ever. When she sees the bag in the backseat of his car, she realizes that he was behind everything.

Derek tells her that Candace is actually Dr. Johnson's daughter. He planned to kidnap her and demand a ransom large enough for him to go back to college. Since Nancy screwed it all up, he'll just kill them instead. Nah, he'll really escape first and let people think he died but leave Nancy to really die. He drives them directly into the path of a tornado, which lifts them up into the funnel. Derek then gets hit on the head by flying debris and passes out.

Our brave hero decides that she's close enough to the ground to survive a fall. She kicks open the car door, jumps into the freaking tornado, and survives a fall all the way to the ground below. Not only does she survive, but she's barely winded. Joe shows up with the girls in his truck. They somehow figured out what happened and came to find her.

While getting ready to leave the farm, they conveniently come across Berta's letters that really do state she wanted Joe to have the farm. Carson draws up the paperwork, which lets Joe buy the whole property from Hannah for just one dollar. He then tells Mary that they can finally get married and live happily ever after. Nancy then suggests they hop in the RV and take off to beat the storm that's a coming.

*There's a scene where they come across a couple who had their house knocked down by the same tornado in the very beginning. They both keep worrying about their “son” who turns out to their dog who survived the storm and comes bounding out of their house. It's a completely random waste of five pages or so because they never show up again.

*Nancy, Bess, and George worry that Berta's car won't start because it's “so old,” but she then says it's roughly 10 years old. Man, what would she think of my 2000 Toyota?

*Bess and George both go crazy in the student union cafeteria because there is so much food to sample. George gets an Oklahoma burger the size of her head, Bess orders spaghetti with massive meatballs and garlic bread, and sensible Nancy sticks with soup and salad.

*The cafeteria really is pretty impressive. It has random stalls set up for different cuisines like Mexican, Chinese, and Italian, but there are also separate areas for salads, desserts, burgers, and other foods. This place makes my college's cafeterias look like crap!

*Bess makes a comment about how solving a case is much more fun than what they did yesterday and how boring it was. Hannah acts all offended because Bess spent the whole day with her. It's hard to describe but was actually a pretty funny scene.

*Joe kept all the letters Berta sent him in a green gym bag he stored in her barn, yet somehow, Nancy found those same letters wrapped up in a bundle in a drawer in the kitchen. That makes absolutely no sense. Even if she found the letters he sent Berta, him saying stuff about her giving him a farm isn't proof of her wishes. What's to say he didn't just plant the letters there?

*Berta supposedly loved him like a son and wanted him to have her farm when she passed, but she actually left a will. Hannah didn't get it because she was her last of kin but because of her will. If she loved him so much, why wouldn't she change her will?

*The outfit Nancy wears on the cover looks like an Elizabeth Wakefield outfit! Also, I'm pretty sure pleated khaki shorts were no longer in fashion in 2000!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins

This is one of those early books where Mallory is still fairly new to the BSC, so that explains why she's never heard of the Arnold twins before. Kristy takes the call and explains that Mrs. Arnold is doing a big project with the school and needs someone to watch the twins every Tuesday and Thursday. Isn't it convenient how no one ever needs a sitter during club hours? Since Mallory is the only one free, she gets the job.

On her first sitting job, things go pretty well. Marilyn and Carolyn are super excited to see her kid kit and want to check out all the books. As soon as they grab books and sit down on their beds, Mallory coos about how cute they look. This sets off a firestorm. The twins, who wear identical bracelets with their names on them, ditch their bracelets and make it clear that while she likes sitting, she won't like sitting for them.

Things go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. The next time she sits, the twins play hide and seek. She finds one, who asks for a snack. When she goes back to the kitchen, the twin is gone. Mallory then finds another twin and sets her up with a snack only to later discover that the same twin got both. In a rare case of her growing a pair, she decides to stick with the two girls two snacks rule.

Claudia then gets the job of sitting for the twins. Marilyn has a piano lesson, and Carolyn needs to work on her science project. A neighbor picks up Marilyn for her lesson, but the teacher then calls and reveals that the wrong twin showed up. Mrs. Arnold totally gives her a lecture about how she understands that it's hard to tell them apart without their bracelets but that she did leave Claudia in charge. When Claudia offers to never sit again and suggests that the Arnolds might need to look elsewhere for sitters, Mrs. Arnold quickly backpedals.

The whole gang sits down and talks it out. Kristy decides that they can either pawn the twins off on their associate members in the future or just tell the Arnolds that they have no openings. Given the way she acts about jobs in the future, I think the pod people got her at some point. That, or her tenth time going through the eighth grade finally made her snap.

Jessi talks with Mallory about how she and Becca often pretended they were twins as kids and how they eventually got sick of it. Kristy then sits for David Michael, Andrew, and Karen. Hannie comes over in the same matching sisters dresses that they have, and Karen dresses up just like her. Kristy then puts on her own dress and surprises them. Karen and Hannie share one of those looks and decide that they're tired of being twins. When she writes about it in the notebook, Kristy says that kids get sick of playing twins.

Mallory finally figures out a way to get back at the twins. They keep talking in this made up twin language and ignoring her, so she talks to them in Pig Latin. The girls calm down when she teaches it to them. They even show her how to tell the difference between them, which is just a mole they both have on opposite cheeks.

During their birthday party, the girls really flip out. Not only does their mom make them dress alike, but all the guests get them the same things. Only Mallory does something different. She gives Marilyn a pin shaped like a piano and gives Carolyn a book of science experiments. Their mother then makes them pose identically in a bunch of pictures.

As the girls piss and moan, Mallory talks with them about how they want to look different and how she'll talk to their mom with them. Though they don't get it at first, they finally do talk to their mom. Mrs. Arnold feels bad that she never let them develop their own identities but agrees to let them stop dressing alike. She even agrees to let Mallory take them shopping.

The twins look at clothing at the department store before checking out accessories at the Merry Go Round. Marilyn winds up buying an oh so adult pink jeans skirt and a ruffled white blouse, while Carolyn gets a white sweater with a moon and stars on the front, her first ever pair of jeans, and push down socks. The girls change clothes and surprise their mom with their new looks. She cries, but Mal thinks that she's proud too.

Mallory spends the whole book moping about how she looks like a baby and finally decides to approach her parents. In the hopes of haggling, she asks for a new wardrobe, a haircut, contacts, and to get her ears pierced. Her parents freak out but then agree to let her pierce her ears and get her hair cut, if she pays for part of it herself. Jessi gets permission too, and Claudia wants another hole, so the club plans a trip to the mall.

Claudia is super cool, but Jessi is a little scared. Mallory goes first and then Jessi. Jessi handles it way better than everyone thought. Cool Claudia gets up, has her ear pierced, and then almost passes out. Dawn decides at the last minute to get her ears pierced, calls home, and Sharon somehow agrees to let her get two holes in each ear right away.

The girls have a meeting later on where Mallory keep talking about her earrings and her new “fluffy” hair. Kristy and Mary Anne treat the girls to new earrings. Claudia gets a pair shaped like artist palettes, Jessi gets toe shoes, Mallory gets horses, and Dawn gets a pair of hoops with oranges on them and a pair shaped like California. Claudia then gives them earrings made from miniatures that she created herself with matching clip ons for Mary Anne and Kristy. Mallory also gives Jessi a pair shaped like open books to match a pair she bought for herself. They laugh about looking like twins before walking home.

*Mallory thinks that Mrs. Arnold just looks too fussy. The first time she sits, the woman wears two necklaces, earrings, a pin, an ankle bracelet and rings. She also wears bows on her shoes, in her hair, on her shirt, and on her belt plus lacy stockings. One of her necklaces spells out her name – Linda – too.

*Her pin is shaped like a mouse, and she wears earrings that look like ladybugs.

*Claudia wears earrings shaped like red high top sneakers and then wears a pair she made herself with miniature fruits inside baskets.

*Lots of clothing descriptions! Kristy wears a pink and blue sweater, new running shoes, a white turtleneck, and jeans.

*Claudia wears blue capri pants, push down socks, and a painted tee shirt. She also pulls her hair back in a bunch of braids with puffy hair ties, which is a look that I sadly remember.

*Mary Anne goes funky in a short plum-colored skirt, a body suit that reaches down to her ankles with plum and white stripes, and white suspenders.

*Dawn does “California cool” in an oversize blue shirt that she rolls up to display the green at the collar and wrists, a green skirt, and clogs.

*Marilyn is tired of dressing like a baby and can't wait to wear skirts without straps, but Mallory thinks Mary Anne's suspenders are oh so cool. How are suspenders cool but straps are for babies?

*Mrs. Arnold getting upset at Claudia is way out of line. She has two identical terrors who switch bracelets or take their bracelets off and expect some teenager who never sat for them before to tell them apart automatically.

*Um, Hannie and Karen clearly did not get sick of playing twins. They obviously didn't like that she honed in on their fun. I'm surprised no one called Kristy out on it!

*Mallory buys her first pair of push down socks because they are so cool and mature, but then Carolyn, who is way younger, totally buys a pair too. Those socks were never mature. Everyone I knew had like 90 pairs.

*Marilyn buys knee socks with red hearts on the front and tells Mallory that she's tired of wearing tights all the time. BUT, there were at least two instances in the book of her wearing knee socks, which annoys me.

*Mallory is supposedly a great haggler because she once offered $1 for a jewelry box that the seller wanted $7.50 for at a flea market. She says he priced it too high but got a fair price at $4.50. As someone who grew up setting up at flea markets with her father, I probably would have punched her in the face for offering so little. Also, if $4.50 was only a “fair” price, it's pretty clear that it was actually worth the price he wanted.

*She also moans about how her hair is so out of control and how she wants it cut really short, which she eventually does. As someone who has naturally curly hair and had short hair as a kid, she's insane. I was 13 and looked like a middle aged woman when I could have looked like Keri Russell!

*Could you really just walk into a shop and get your ears pierced at 11 or 13? When I had my first holes done, my mom had to take me.

*I have two holes in each ear and had my eyebrows pierced at different times. I almost wish I didn't have my ears done though. I eventually took out my earrings last year because I realized that I never wore them.

*My ear piercing story is kind of a disaster. My first time, both swelled up so bad by the end of the week that I had to take them out. Second time, one swelled up so bad that I ended up at the doctor, where he literally had to cut the earring out of my ear. Turned out that I was allergic to one of the metals used in some earrings.

*Claudia brings an earring from home, and the woman just totally sterilizes it and lets her use it. That sounds..not right to me?

*They also get to take their earrings out after three weeks to change them, I seem to remember wearing mine for much longer.

*Mallory says that all the other girls were checking out the cute guys working in the food court including Kristy. Between her checking out cute guys and getting excited over earrings in this book, I seriously wonder what happened to her later.

*Two continuity errors between the book and cover. Mallory used pink icing on their cake, but the cover shows blue icing. She also says they wore white dresses with pink lace, but these dresses are pink with white lace.

*At the beginning, the Pikes go shoe shopping at the mall. Mallory wants these hot pink and green shoes, but her mom makes her buy loafers because they are more practical. As someone who grew up in icy Ohio, loafers are never practical. Also, does anyone else remember wearing those Eastlake loafer type shoes with the laces curled?