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review 2020-05-20 21:37
The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb, Anthony Monday #3 by John Bellairs
The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb - John Bellairs

Miss Eells purchases a suspiciously cheap antique oil lamp and unwittingly sets off yet another doomsday countdown. Well, to be fair, it's not a doomsday countdown, it's just a countdown to giving an unscrupulous woman god-level powers. No biggie.


I still don't like how Anthony Monday and Miss Eells became supernatural detectives, but this book is so spooky and spectacularly gruesome that it charms to this day.


The lamp, of course, was stolen from an elaborate tomb. Once lit, Anthony and Miss Eels begin to be stalked by an entity with a cobwebby face and lives are lost. Add in an appearance from Ashtaroth, winter sports, and the most interesting chamber of commerce mixer ever devised, and you have a swell mystery on your hands.


Anthony Monday


Next: 'The Mansion in the Mist'


Previous: 'The Dark Secret of Weatherend'

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review 2020-05-09 20:01
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang
Superman Smashes the Klan - Gene Luen Yang,Gurihiru

Adapted from the 1946 'Superman' radio serial on 'The Clan of the Fiery Cross', 'Superman Smashes the Klan' is great fun and offers a message of hope for those confronting intolerance.


Author Gene Luen Yang, most famous for the middle grade graphic novel 'American Born Chinese', offers a detailed essay in this edition on the origins of the famous serial and its direct influence in defeating a revival of the Ku Klux Klan in postwar America.


The Lees are moving from Chinatown into the heart of Metropolis' residential area. Dr. Lee has been hired by the Health Department (a private company) on a top secret project and looks forward to integrating his family into modern American life. He encourages his wife to speak only in English and they have had their children take on "American" names.


The night after the Lees move in, the Klan burns a cross in their front yard, attracting sympathetic and negative responses. The Daily Planet's most valued reporters are on the story, of course. 


Roberta Lee is a great character, shy and prone to motion-sickness, she is nonetheless brave and stands up for what's right for herself and her family. She doesn't like the idea of leaving their old lives behind, but a piece of advice from her mother about how to make new places home ends up helping Superman as well. During this conflict Superman is increasingly dealing with challenging visions and memories of his childhood. How different is Superman willing to be in order to be his best self?


A timely and important story, appropriate for all ages.


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review 2020-05-05 21:30
The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, Lewis and Rose Rita #5 by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland
The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder - John Bellairs,Brad Strickland

The second of two manuscripts finished by Brad Strickland after John Bellairs' death. This was a more typical novel for Bellairs, following shy Lewis and his new friend Bertie as they cause and avert supernatural misfortune at the Barnavelt ancestral estate in England.


My opinion of this has improved since childhood, I remember being disappointed there wasn't more done with an actual "FOR REAL" gothic country house. But, you guys, there's a haunted hedge maze.


This text had more of that authentic Bellairs flavor, following Lewis' adoration of Sherlock Holmes, the English Civil War, and little details about mid-century tourism. I could have used a party-line joke when telephones came into it, but to each their own.


Lewis & Rose Rita


Next: 'The Doom of the Haunted Opera'


Previous: 'The Ghost in the Mirror'

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review 2020-05-04 21:29
The Ghost in the Mirror, Lewis & Rose Rita #4 by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland
The Ghost in the Mirror (Puffin Chillers) - Brad Strickland,John Bellairs

This was the first of two manuscripts finished by Brad Strickland after the death of John Bellairs in 1991. I haven't read a full biography, I don't know if there even is one, but it seems to me from Bellairs' focus on Johnny Dixon through the '80s tells me that these manuscripts were likely experiments and wouldn't have seen publication. The only full posthumous work he left was 'The Mansion in the Mist', a rare Anthony Monday book, and one of his all-time best works.



Rose Rita and Lewis had reached a point in their relationship where certain realities were gonna have to be addressed if their friendship was going to continue. Romantic feelings, even if Rose Rita and Lewis were going to stay platonic, were not Bellairs' territory. He left them behind for good reason. 


That said, this is a Rose Rita book and that means its great. Stuck in New Zebedee with a broken ankle while Lewis and Jonathan are in Europe, she makes plans with Mrs. Zimmerman to go on a road trip as soon as she can travel. Mrs. Zimmerman has been feeling the loss of her magic and needs a distraction. Of course, she has a supernatural ulterior motive: a message from her long-passed teacher in a magic mirror tells her that if she rights a great wrong she will find her powers.


Bessy, Mrs. Zimmerman's car, transports the two to the 1830's and seemingly strands them there. What is the wrong they need to correct, and is there a more sinister motive to their being lured into the past?


This was fun, but adult me couldn't get over the lack of period details. The farm family don't speak in 19th century fashion and there are a lot of things like individual bedrooms for the whole, extended family that didn't seem right. Bellairs often inserted obscure bits of 1950s nostalgia into his books in the way of radio programs and defunct candy bars as way to introduce modern readers to a past way of life, and Strickland didn't come up with an 1830s equivalent.


The other nagging detail is I've always felt, even when I read these as they came out in the early '90s, is that 'Vengeance of the Witch-Finder' should really come first. They happen simultaneously, sort of, but the pace would really work better if their order was switched. As their written now, reading them that way spoils 'Ghost in the Mirror', but Strickland could have changed that. 


Lewis & Rose Rita


Next: 'The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder'


Previous: 'The Letter, the Witch and the Ring'

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review 2020-05-01 20:56
Barbie and the Ghost Town Mystery, Barbie #11 by Eleanor K. Woolvin
Barbie and the Ghost Town Mystery - Eleanor K. Woolvin

All the points awarded for being just absolutely crazy.


This is the last of the novels and anthologies Random House published for Mattel. To my knowledge no other full-length chapter book has been produced since. Subsequent books in the '70s, '80s and on have a shorter page count and are geared towards a younger audience. Is it because children cease playing with dolls at a younger age than they used to? It's too bad these stopped, because they were just starting to get REALLY interesting.


Barbie and her family are spending a winter holiday with friends in California. They have plans to fly home to Willows for Christmas eve, but Mr. Roberts had business things to do and nicely invited his family along. The Murchisons have two boys: 18-year-old, beefy, goatee'd Pete who loves science and 14-year-old Larry whose characterization is that he's a boy.


At a backyard barbeque, Skipper and Barbie are challenged by the brothers on their ability to survive in the wilderness and are jokingly invited on a camping trip in the desert. The girls call their bluff and set out to the Mojave desert with them the next morning.


There's car trouble on a back road, but fortunately a town is just in site on the horizon. The four make the journey and discover its a ghost town.


They are then shot at. A prospector out of central casting is mighty suspicious of these suburban kids and their undoubted lust for his gold. They are rescued by a mute Hispanic boy, who leads them to an idyllic pueblo 'castle' built by an older couple.


The older couple, the Bonesteels, welcome the children, but they have no telehone and it seems like their car is out of order, too! Coincidence? Barbie and Skipper are stuck and risk missing their flight home for Christmas, which devastates Skipper.


This book is very hard to find and over 50 years old, but is so bonkers I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might get their hands on it. Things get really weird, but somehow it all works out in the end with a little help from guns, a mule named Mirabel, a cigar store Indian, and dress-up. There's a real mystery here and moments of real danger for Barbie, Skipper and their friends.



Skipper wears 'Day at the Fair' #1911, which included a miniature Barbie doll! Barbie is in the classic early outfit 'Sweater Girl' #976, complete with accessories. The necklace is not Mattel, but was issued by Cleinman and Sons as part of a matching set of jewelry for Barbie and owner and advertised in Christmas catalogs in the early '60s.


Barbie Random House Novels


Previous: 'Barbie's Candy-Striped Summer'

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