The Clue of the Broken Wing (Judy Bolton #29)

by Margaret Sutton

“I dozed off and didn’t wake up until I heard those police sirens.”
“Then what?,” asked Judy. “I don’t suppose you knew they were coming to arrest me?”
Peter grinned. “I should have known it. Past experience should have taught me that something was bound to happen. You enter a queer old house. The police arrive. You vanish. It all adds up.”

The cheer of the kitchen had vanished. Like the rest of the house, it was suddenly filled with ghosts. Their names were fear and suspicion and guilt. Prejudice was there, too, and panic that drives a person who runs away.

Like many of Margaret Sutton’s books, this one has some dark elements in it which reveal her social consciousness. Although those children reading it in the ‘50s or even today may not have picked up on these, an adult reading it today surely does.

A little girl, afraid of a temperamental and harsh mother’s punishment, runs away from her in a department store and is helped by a woman who finds her at a bus terminal. The little girl tells her she is alone in the world and the woman takes her with her while visiting her estranged mother who is neighbors with Judy Bolton. Her mother disapproved of the man she married, who is poor, and will not accept him. She tells her mother that “Anne” is her own little girl in hopes that when she dies (she has a terminal illness) her mother will not try to take her real daughter away from her husband and his mother. Anne is happy with her loving grandmother but still thinks of her real family and misses them.

The book picks up a year later with Judy and Peter traveling to New York City at Christmas time to visit her friend Irene, her husband Dale, and her daughter, little Judy. When they get to Irene’s address, they are surprised to find Irene’s house is razed to the ground and an apartment building in its place. She goes across the street while Peter, tired from his long drive, takes a nap, to find out what happened to Irene and her family. It is the home of the Lakes, the same family that lost little their little girl and believes, along with the police, that she is dead. They suspect that Judy is part of a gang that kidnapped their daughter “Sukey” for reasons I won’t go into here, and the adventure begins when the witch-like Mrs. Lake locks Judy in an upstairs room and calls the cops. Plus we have the mystery of what happened to Irene and her family. They soon find out that Irene and Dale moved out to Long Island and didn’t tell Judy and Peter because Irene wanted it to be a “surprise.” It was a surprise all right. Irene is a real dingbat among other things, but after we get past that bump in the road, she turns out to be a valuable partner to Judy while she tries to help the dysfunctional Lake family against their will.

While the ending results in a happy reunion between the Lakes and their girl, Mr. And Mrs. Lake’s behavior throughout the book has been alarming, to say the least. While their actions are smoothed over at the end, we can’t help but be concerned about their parenting skills and can only hope for the best as far as the fates of their younger children. (Polly, their oldest, seems to have escaped their negativity and is remarkably likable and well-adjusted.) Margaret does a good job balancing the bleakness of the Lakes with the cheerful Christmas celebrations at the Meredith’s new home. (when they finally find it.) Despite the loose ends, I think it’s one of her best. **4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

January 8, 2022

The Haunted Fountain (Judy Bolton #28)

By Margaret Sutton

“This can’t be happening to me,” she thought. Never, in her whole life, had she felt so alone and helpless. She felt it was her own fault, too, for not calling Peter and telling him where she was going. But wouldn’t Honey tell him? She knew, and so did her father. Didn’t anyone care?…“They can’t let me just lie here and die,” thought Judy. She had never thought very much about dying. She had always felt so vibrantly alive. But now, suddenly, it seemed possible.

This book has it all! Judy, Lois, and Lorraine go to visit a fountain that Judy remembers from her childhood that seemed to talk to her. Lorraine reveals that she no longer trusts her husband, Arthur, and seems very upset. But she will not open up to Judy or Lois. Judy finds a diamond in the fountain and meets some intimidating shady characters. She enlists Horace to go back with her to the fountain to investigate and they end up getting trapped under it when someone turns the water on. Also under the fountain is a dying man, parolee Dick Hartwell, who discloses that he was coerced by a gang to forge important men’s signatures on incriminating documents for blackmail purposes. Because of leaky pipes, the room they are in starts to fill with water, and Judy and Horace realize that unless they escape, they will drown.

What follows is Judy’s very exciting and tense escape from the deadly fountain, her race to save Horace and Dick from drowning, a terrifying confrontation with hardened criminals (Judy gets slapped!), Judy’s despair when she thinks her brother is dead, a very romantic reunion with Peter, and ensuring the true criminals are brought to justice (remember the Vine gang from The Haunted Attic?. In addition to the action-packed adventure, we also have the marital drama of Lorraine and Arthur and their unhappiness with each other. Will they be reconciled?

By the end, Judy and Horace wind up in the hospital, and Blackberry, Judy’s cat, is awarded a medal for bravery. All the loose ends are tied up, including the mystery of why the fountain talked to her when she was a young teen. This mystery is many loyal Judy Bolton fans’ favorite book in the series. It is not hard to understand why. Her physical courage is at the forefront here as well as very tender scenes with Peter, Horace, and her father. Lorraine and Arthur’s problems lend complexity. It is exciting but it has emotional depth as well. Once again, Margaret Sutton ventures into territory seldom seen in juvenile series of this type.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 26, 2021

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

By J. K. Rowling

This a review of the Audiobook performance of this wonderful book. I love the Harry Potter book series and the movies and am currently, slowly but surely, listening to them on audio. I have read this book twice before. I listened to the first in the series read by Stephen Frye which was marvelous. The last two, by Jim Dale, because I don’t have a choice in the United States. I much prefer Stephen Frye. I know Mr. Dale has won numerous awards for his reading of this series, but there is one aspect that regrettably presents itself frequently. It is the voices of the 3 kids, especially Hermione. He often makes them sound querulous and whiney. Hermione’s “Haaaaaarrrrrry” is just like nails on a chalkboard to me. I am hoping that as the trio grows older, the squeals will abate. I have no quarrel with the way he pronounces Voldemort (with a silent “T”) But his pronunciation of the spell “Accio” as Ah-see-o absolutely drives me up a wall.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 19, 2019

Up Goes the Curtain

by Janet Lambert

 I am reading all of the Penny Parrish books in order and have just finished Up Goes the Curtain. I have chosen this particular one, which is 4th in the series, to review because in many ways it is an unusual book. Spoilers ahead, if a book like this can have spoilers. It introduces a new possible love interest in Josh MacDonald, the stage manager in the play that Penny has gotten a part in. He does not follow the usual stereotypes of fine upstanding young men that our girl’s series heroines, including Penny, usually become involved with. He is grouchy, not conventionally handsome or tall, sarcastic, unsympathetic, and (mercy!) makes fun of Penny when she screeches to a halt in the middle of a crowded backstage to pay due respect to the playing of the National Anthem. He is a wounded soul with an unconventional childhood and was put on some kind of psychological leave from the Army, which he entered as a private. (According to him he blew his top when the big bad Army wouldn’t send him to the front, but gave him the job of directing propaganda and recruiting plays. Yes, really. “ I was so mad to be doing for fifty bucks a month what I’d been paid a thousand for, my nerves blew up. They flew in all directions like a busted light bulb.”) No true-blue WestPoint cadet here. And this is why I totally love him for Penny. He reminds me of the John Garfield character in the old movie favorite, Four Daughters. Or when Rory fell for Jess in the Gilmore Girls. No doubt in the end he will prove himself “worthy” of our heroine, but, boy, what an entrance. He was especially refreshing after the sickeningly blissful marriage of beautiful angelic Carrol and handsome noble David.

In addition to this very intriguing and, for girls-series, cliché-busting romance, we have Penny going all Judy Bolton/Nancy Drew and catching a spy at Fort Knox, Carrol going to the hospital to “get” their baby (this part is a scream), and Michael, her likable childhood sweetheart going missing in action. There are some behind-the-scenes looks at the professional theatre, which are quite captivating and probably fairly realistic considering Janet Lambert was an actress. Penny’s struggles with a scene-stealing colleague, Miltern Wilde (gay?) are entertaining. We also have Penny and Carrol striking up a friendship with a New York waitress and rescuing her from her slum and moving her bag and baggage to their Park Avenue penthouse. Lucky, Lucky girl. It all ends rather abruptly with no news of Michael and Penny carrying on bravely by preparing for her next performance. Can’t wait to start Practically Perfect.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 5, 2015

The Trail of the Green Doll (Judy Bolton Mysteries #27)

By Margaret Sutton

“This must be the entrance to the cave…We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”
You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”
Apparently nobody was.

Judy’s adventure starts out with her putting a sign on the road advertising her home as a place for tourists to stay. Without consulting her husband who is a secret FBI agent with an office in his house. Not Good, Judy, Not Good. Of course, It quickly attracts some really sketchy men and Judy comes to her senses. Anyway, a young single mother with two children whose car had just been forced off the road and her purse stolen also saw it, and Judy is off to the races.

What follows is a mystery involving a valuable jade collection that is missing from a mansion that has just burned to the ground. The rather flaky and secretive widowed mother was traveling to see her Uncle Paul, the owner. Besides being the key to the missing jade, her history includes a soap opera-ish love triangle between her, her late husband, and his identical twin brother, three cousins who grew up there.

This effort by Margaret Sutton is notable for its exploration of the Hindu mythological tale, The Ramayana, which permeates the story and the mystery. It surely would have been very strange and very educational to her young readers.

This book is not a favorite despite its exotic and interesting aspects. The little family and their troubles did not appeal to me, and one of the mysteries (Talking Trees!) had a very far-fetched explanation. Almost as implausible as the secret tunnel in The Black Cat’s Clue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 8, 2021

The Pink Dress

By Anne Alexander

I don’t remember how I heard about this book. No doubt through my interest in girl’s series books. When I read all of the glowing reviews and looked around and saw how expensive it was, I couldn’t justify it but I did put an email alert on eBay so I would be informed whenever one came up for sale. Lo and behold, when one did, and I re-researched it, I saw that it was on Kindle for 9.99! There goes the once justifiably inflated price of another out-of-print book. Thank-you Amazon.

I just finished it, and I do see why people love it so. I still prefer Rosamunde du Jardin, whose stories are a little more complex, but this one really drew me in from the very beginning. Although sometimes, I grew very frustrated with how blind Sue was to her so-called friends, when she finally woke up and smelled the coffee, the resolution and climax were very satisfying. It was very realistic to how teens would think and behave back in the ’50s and probably even today. They are immature and insecure and very silly sometimes. The book had some surprises regarding her new cool boyfriend, Dave, who had quite a good character arc! In parts, it kind of reminded me of a John Hughes movie, or another favorite teen movie, Can’t Buy me Love.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 25. 2016

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

By Kate Douglas Wiggin

“Rebecca’s eyes were like faith,—”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” …Their glance was eager and full of interest, yet never satisfied; their steadfast gaze was brilliant and mysterious, and had the effect of looking directly through the obvious to something beyond, in the object, in the landscape, in you. They had never been accounted for, Rebecca’s eyes.

I loved the well-realized characters, life lessons demonstrated with a light, sometimes amusing touch, and words of wisdom. This is a great comfort read and trip back into time on par with, if not better than, L.M. Montgomery, Jean Webster, Louisa May Alcott, the Five Little Peppers and the Pollyanna series. It kept me interested from first page to last because of the quality of the writing. My only regret is the lack of any kind of sequel, unlike the previously mentioned works. It would have been lovely to see Rebecca’s continued progress into maturity and what life may hold in store for her. (Although, in truth, it is made crystal clear that her final place will be as a teacher and the wife of Mr. Aladdin, her wealthy mentor, Adam Ladd.) Still, the journey there would have been a treat to read. Although some, looking at this relationship through modern eyes, might find it inappropriate, It was written with innocence and I found it charming. The book is concluded with her path pretty much set and the financial problems that beset her family pretty well solved. It does seem to me that if not Rebecca, the story of her brother John, destined to be a doctor, could have made a wonderful continuation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 27, 2015

Mother Carey’s Chickens

By Kate Douglas Wiggin

This is the story of a wonderful single (widowed) mother raising her four children around the turn of the century. Because they are in very straitened circumstances they have to downsize. Nancy, the oldest daughter, remembers a yellow house they saw on a vacation to Maine when their father was alive where the family can live much more cheaply. Sound familiar? It was made into a Disney movie, Summer Magic.

For a while, this book is quite similar in tone and content to many other children’s books I have read from the turn of the century. It noticeably picks up around chapter 20, however. A neighbor family, The Lords, are introduced. This family is a piece of work. Henry Lord, especially, being a seriously messed up parent, to the point of tragedy. The two children are the bitter but brilliant Olive and the nerdy Cyril, who has tons of potential. As with her more famous Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, I would kill to read a sequel. Unfortunately, once again, Kate Douglas Wiggin did not oblige. The Lords are surely one of the most unique and non-stereotypical families in any literature of the time and genre.

There are several quite slapstick and delightful comedy scenes. I found myself pausing with delight and saying to myself, “Hey, this is really funny!” Among them, the resurrection of “You dirty boy”, a much-hated to the point of being a family joke, statue. Despite the family’s best efforts, it refuses to be broken so it can be disposed of. The deed is finally accomplished after they move into the yellow house, by a fall from a loft, after the initial move, despite supremely careless packing, failed to destroy it. However, Osh Popham, their friend and landlord, glues the whole mess together from “a thousand” pieces much to the family’s chagrin, and presents it to them during a solemn housewarming ceremony. The description of Nancy teaching her brothers and sisters how to pretend-faint on command and en-masse creates a hilarious picture in the mind’s eye. At her signal, this performance turned a serious and possibly weepy cliché moment into laughter instead of tears.

Mother Carey is a beautiful widow who is universally admired at first sight by all who meet her acquaintance. Yet somehow, I liked her too. Here is a rather poignant glimpse into her secret thoughts and emotions:

Was doing all that she could, she wondered as her steps
flew over the Yellow House, from attic to cellar. She could play
The piano and sing; she could speak three languages and read
Four; she had made her curtsy at two foreign courts; admiration and
Love had followed her ever since she could remember, and here
She was, a widow at forty, living in a half-deserted New England
Village, making parsnip stews for her children’s dinner. Well,
it was a time of preparation, and its rigors and self-denials must be cheerfully faced.

Summer Magic is my number one comfort movie, and it was amazing to read so many passages and scenes and dialogue that Sally Benson incorporated into the film. The book is considerably fleshed out with more characters and plots, but regrettably, only a bit where Nancy meets her future love, Tom Hamilton. Miss Benson obviously read the book very carefully and loved it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 13, 2015

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling

“GINNY: After I came out of hospital — everyone ignored me, shut me out — other than, that is, the boy who had everything — who came across the Gryffindor common room and challenged me to a game of Exploding Snap. People think they know all there is to know about you, but the best bits of you are — have always been — heroic in really quiet ways. My point is — after this is over, just remember if you could that sometimes people — but particularly children — just want someone to play Exploding Snap with.”

For a play, I thought this was a worthy edition to the Potter canon. But it’s not great like the books and it’s not written by J.K. Rowling, so it shouldn’t be judged as such. The epilogue of The Deathly Hallows serves as the jumping off point to the story. What could be more appropriate and welcome? The adventure centers around Albus, the estranged son of Harry, and Scorpius Malfoy who, after both are sorted into Slytherin, become close friends. In a misbegotten effort to prevent the death of Cedric Diggory, by the use of a forbidden and illegal time turner, they rain down disaster and darkness on the Wizarding World and their own families. Lots of scenes from the original 7 books are revisited and we are treated to some alternate realities in which, for one, Ron and Hermione never fall in love and get married and Harry Potter is killed by Voldemort. It’s not nice to try to change history. It has somewhat of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” vibe in places. Some of the ways the boys unintentionally change history are overly fanciful and fan fictiony, but the script fits in. Potterheads should not be outraged, and I was not disappointed. There are lots of cameo appearances by many beloved and hated characters from the books and movies, and I believe it when I read what a crowd and critic pleaser the actual West end play is.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 2, 2016

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

By Grady Hendrix

“The devil is loud and brash and full of drama. God, he’s like a sparrow.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about the friendship and loyalty of Abby towards Gretchen. Of course Gretchen was Abby’s friend too, as we see especially in the concluding pages, but for almost half of the book, Gretchen wasn’t there. She’d been replaced.
I loved the humor in the face of the horrific. Not especially the gross details of some of the fates of the teens involved and of course the possession and exorcism, but really the uselessness and terrible behavior of the adults. That was the scariest evil in this book.

“Families like that don’t listen to other people,” Mrs. Rivers said. “You get in the middle of whatever this is and you’ll be giving them an excuse to blame you for everything.”

Mrs. Rivers, Abby’s mother, was not a good parent and was a bitter person although not without good reason. But she was right in all of her observations. Her portrayal was fascinating and unpredictable. One of many gripping characterizations in the book.

Of course, some of the events just could not have played out the way they did for real. When confronted by the sights and smells and devastation that Gretchen’s possession caused, including what happened to one friend in particular, surely at least one parent, teacher, doctor, law enforcement, or clergyperson, would have stepped in, Like in The Exorcist. Denial caused by cognitive dissonance can only continue to a certain point. But that would have defeated the purpose of the book, I guess.

Someone had to do something. Someone had to say something. Teachers weren’t doing it. Her mom wasn’t going to do it. The Langs wouldn’t do it. That left Abby.

This was a real page-turner and one which was emotionally satisfying as well.

P.S. As I always do, I went on Google Earth to find some of the stomping grounds of the characters. Amazingly, Gretchen’s street not only exists, but her exact house is right there too. As are all of the other locations as well. I loved that authenticity.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 20, 2020