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review 2020-06-27 00:00
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.

(spoiler show)


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'

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review 2018-06-06 01:19
The Lifters by Dave Eggers
The Lifters - Dave Eggers

'The Lifters' made me question my decision about not reviewing books before their release date. I hated this book so much, I felt like it would be unfair.

I know, I know, someone was kidding themselves about their influence on bookface. I also didn't realize I'd stop reviewing books for six months. So many of you have read this incredibly lazy book who could have avoided it!

Dave Eggers was my favorite author the summer I read 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius', but he was replaced after, and none of his other writing have ever sparked my interest aside from an essay here and there. So, when I saw the arc for his new MG book I was pleased to bring it home.

Granite, or 'Gran', is unhappy because his family has been forced to move away from the coast to his father's old hometown in the middle of nowhere. Worse still, his father must commute so far to get to work that he's often not home.

The town of Carousel is full of quirky residents who are divided on POLITICAL ISSUE and are so distracted by it that they ignore the many problems of their community, including the sinkholes opening all over town. Gran discovers one girl, Catalina Catalan, who is a Lifter, who sneaks out at night and works underground to combat the forces gnawing away at it.

I found nothing to wonder at in this story. Eggers goes and explains most everything that isn't a lazy allegory right away. The allegory of the force tearing apart the town (and the WORLD) is driven home eventually and is all the more...uninspiring...for the waiting.

This is a humorless book written by a smug adult who doesn't remember why kids love reading, or fantasy, and delivers a knee-jerk of a novel that gives the illusion of instruction. What kid wants to sit through a 'it'll get better if you just believe in yourself' sermon that doesn't actually give them any tools to MAKE it better? So I'm shelving this with 'The Education of Little Tree', 'Go Ask Alice' and 'Mein Kampf', because fuck this book.

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review 2017-08-18 02:57
A Spell for Chameleon, Xanth #1
A Spell for Chameleon - Piers Anthony

I was enchanted by this book when I was younger, the misogyny and pedophile vibes went right over my head (remember that Bink is supposed to be 25, even if he acts 15), but reading the book again makes me wonder what the hell is going on with this book? It was impossible for me to divorce the attitudes expressed about women by every character from the plot of A Spell for Chameleon.

Other reviewers have done a splendid job of detailing what Piers Anthony accomplishes in this book, so I won't go on about it. Just know that while the development of the setting was fun and had some humor to it - the better puns would have to wait for later on in the series - the writing is clunky, Bink is a total Mary Sue, and no woman gets out unscathed.

I've had great success re-reading some old favorites, but this is one that's better off in the foggy depths of pre-adolescent memory.

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review 2016-09-11 00:00
Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes
Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes - Eleanor Coerr

The story of Sadako Sasaki brings tears to my eyes. The author goes too far in her fiction for me to recommend it. In second grade our teacher read us a picture book about her life and her cranes, it wasn't this and I haven't been able to find it online, but the story stayed with me. It had lost most of its power though, until a few years ago when a small art gallery had an exhibit on origami and, strolling through, I saw a tiny glass case on a wall of miniature pieces.

There was a crane made of yellowing cellophane and it was labeled as having been folded by Sadako from a candy wrapper. I had a rush of feelings, it was like I was a child being explained for the first time what war was and about the suffering we inflict on each other. The atomic bomb helped bring WWII to a close, saving countless lives. Each one of those lives is an argument for the necessity of the bomb, but it is a terrible cost all the same.

In Coerr's retelling of Sadako's story she shows how Sadako, on learning she has leukemia, turns to the legend that when a person folds 1,000 paper cranes a wish will be granted. In this version Sadako tries her hardest but fails. She only makes 644 cranes (a very specific number) and, failing, dies. Death is hard for children to understand, but while there are many times that it may be necessary to soften a blow, a narrative whose main point is to illustrate one person's tragedy as an example of the effects of war is not one of them.


In reality, Sadako reached her goal of 1,000 cranes and beyond, and still died. Children understand unfairness, they can handle a real telling of this story.

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review 2016-07-23 00:00
The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III
The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III - William C. Dear

James Dallas Egbert, a college student at 16, vanished from his campus, seemingly without a trace, and sparked the interest of the nation. Egbert was a genius with computers, but he was fascinated by a certain role-playing game. Dungeons and Dragons was a craze on campus and many students had taken to playing in the utility tunnels that connected all the buildings. This was dangerous activity as most of the tunnels were not lit, had wildly fluctuating temperatures and were unpredictable. The media latched on to the more fantastic elements of the tunnels left behind by players: a paper mache head, cryptic drawings, beer cans.

The media circus focused so much on the game and its terminology that it was inevitable that William Dear would latch onto that for the title of his tell-all book, especially as Rona Jaffe had achieved success with her exploitative 'Mazes and Monsters' and the Tom Hanks' classic made-for-tv film of the same name. Dears book is easily more exploitative, cashing in on a family's grief, Egbert's own story and peddling to the lowest denominator with fears of sorcery and homosexual sex rings. Everything's bigger in Texas.

Dear was the detective hired by Egbert's family to find him, but the reader doesn't even have to crack open the book to figure out what kind of person Dear is. They don't have to scan the lengthy bragging about his client list, his helicopters, or his tacky ranch compound. The author photograph on the back features this human turd posing with an assault rifle in the cab of something expensive. Compensating much?

Not only is this man a successful detective, solving every one of his disappearance cases, but he has some cool man friends to pal around with. Let's get this straight: Egbert runs away from his manipulative parents, the pressure of school, the lack of acceptance and companionship, is kept prisoner and abused, finally solving his own case by phoning the detective himself.. Dear manages to get himself some help from the nerds and the gays, but having browbeat the shit out of those communities, is baffled by the lack of information he receives. He speculates that they're afraid. Huh. In weeks of searching and billing Egbert's parents, making sure to note how fat the mom is, Dear manages to play one game of D&D and barely cling to his sanity.

I'm not sure how impressed readers were supposed to be. The book was only published because circumstances allowed him to break a promise never to reveal what truly happened. How conveniently profitable.

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