Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Marvel Masterworks - the Atlas Era: VENUS

Now that I'm back from vacation (a week-long trip to the New England coast!), I can get back to talking about my reading materials.  Taking a train up the East Coast, from Florida to Massachusetts, gave me plenty of time to read the Marvel Masterworks that I picked up back in July - the collection of issues 1 through 9 of an old Atlas comic titled Venus.

I picked up this book for two reasons - one, its original price was $59.99, but the dealer was selling it for $10; and two, it was a comic with a female lead.  My love of comics has always gravitated towards comics with female leads - Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Huntress, Power Girl, She-Hulk, Hellcat, Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, etc.  So, the opportunity to read a comic from the 1940s with a female lead definitely intrigued me.

With an introduction by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, who is touted as being "a noted comics historian and a chief authority on Marvel's Atlas period," the first (and only) volume of this collection of Venus tales presents in full (including covers and all ads) the first nine issues of the comic, as well as two short tales of Venus that appeared in Lana no. 4 and Marvel Mystery Comics no. 91.  The stories in the this volume are all fairly tame by today's standards, and definitely lean more towards the romance comics than adventure or mystery.

Now, I'm not the biggest fan of romance stories (unless it is gothic/supernatural in nature), but I do have to admit, these stories were kind of fun.  In a way, it is almost a reverse of the Superman/Lois Lane love story.  Venus is a goddess (alien) from another planet who falls for a publisher of a fashion magazine - he also falls for her, but he refuses to believe that she is really the goddess of love.  And, of course, there's a nemesis in the form of Della, secretary for Whitney Hammond (the publisher of Beauty Magazine).  She resents Venus' sudden appearance and her appointment by Hammond as the new editor of the magazine - a position she had been in line for until Venus showed up on the scene.  Throughout nearly all of the stories, Della is trying one stunt or another to take Venus out of the picture (in a way, Della reminds me a lot of Lettie Briggs from the Dana Girls Mystery Stories).

The early stories are focused more on the rivalry between Venus and Della, and each issue contains several self-contained short stories, along with a 2- or 3-page prose story, as well as other short features (such as  Hedy De Vine tale, or a "Hey Look!" comedy page, or a "True-To-Life Romance" story.  But, later issues began to evolve into longer tales with two or three chapters, in most instances filling the entire comic with a single Venus tale.  In addition, the later tales also began to focus more on Venus compatriots from the gods and goddess realm on Venus, as well as from the underworld itself.  While the first nine issues compiled here are more romance and slight adventure, according to Dr. Vassallo's introduction, issues 10 and beyond became more sci-fi oriented, and then horror-oriented before the series was finally cancelled with issue 19.

One interesting tidbit I did enjoy seeing was the ad that appeared in several issues, in which "The Editors" at Marvel Comics urged readers to consider why they were buying and reading this comic.  "We want to help you protect your right to buy and read your favorite magazines," the ad says, "as long as they contain nothing that might be harmful to you ... Lately, lots of people are criticizing comics.  They have been saying that comics teach you youngsters things that are not good for you, things like violence, cruelty, immorality, etc."  The ad then goes on to explain that Marvel has engaged the services of Dr. Jean Thompson, a psychiatrist in the Child Guidance Bureau of the New York City Board of Education to serve as editorial consultant on all of their magazines, to help ensure that their comics are "safe" for children to read.

Something else I found intriguing was the fact that when Marvel listed in the ads their regular titles, they were divided into two categories:  the "Red Unit" and the "Blue-Yellow Unit."  Not really sure why the books were assigned to which unit, or even why they were designated as "units" and what the colors meant.  I suppose the readers back in the late '40s would have known.

The writer of these comics are unknown, as the comics in those days rarely gave credit to the authors and artists; however, through research, the artists for some of the stories were determined (George Klein, Vic Dowd, Harvey Kurtzman, Ken Bald, Ed Winiarski, Don Rico, among others - none of whom I have ever heard).  The art is not consistent, as the artists changed, but the one major thing I noticed is that in the first issue, Venus is portrayed as having silver/white hair, but starting with issue 2, even though Venus is shown with white hair on the cover, the interior pages all show her with blond hair (which is the color that continued through the rest of the series).

The supporting cast was not large - Whitney Hammond - the publisher, Della - the secretary, and Marvin Klee - staff artist at the magazine, and the various gods and goddesses from Olympus.  Otherwise, there were no other regular cast members.

I enjoyed the stories enough that I would have liked to have seen the second volume, just to see how the comic fared with sci-fi and horror stories.  Sadly, although a second volume was discussed, it was never published (making me wonder if sales on this volume were so low that Marvel decided to pass on a second).  It's a shame, as I don't believe the remaining issue of Venus were ever collected.

RATING:  7 statues of Juno out of 10 for proving to me that even back in the late 1940s, comics could provide a strong female lead (even if she did only last for 19 issues...)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Lilly Long Mysteries, Book 2 - Though This be Madness

That persistent red-headed actress is back in her second mystery, as author Penny Richards provides another captivating adventure of actress-turned-detective, Lilly Long.

Though This be Madness, taken from a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet, gives readers the perfect mystery, filled with murder, greed, lies, secrets, and even a little voodoo thrown in for good measure.  Oh, and let's not forget some of that romantic tension that we saw between Lilly and McShane in the last book - it definitely intensifies in this book, particularly since they are sent on an assignment together, posing as husband and wife!

The mystery comes to the Pinkerton Agency in the form of a letter from a wealthy widow in New Orleans - her grandson's former widow has been committed to a psychiatric institution for the insance, and the family matriarch believes her new husband had her committed solely for the purpose of gaining control of the family fortune.  To make matters worse, one of the grandson's daughters was brutally murdered shortly after the grandson's former wife gave birth to a stillborn child.  From any outsider's point of view, it would seem only natural the grief was so much, she was overcome and needed psychiatric help.  The matriarch, LaRee Fontenot, does not believe this is the case.  So, it is up to Lilly and McShane to work together, posing as newly hired help on the Fontenot plantation in New Orleans, to uncover the truth, one way or another.

As with any good mystery, Richards throws in a few hiccups along the way.  First, there's the distrust between Lilly and McShane, neither of whom wish to be paired with the other for an investigation. Then, there's the matter of young Robert Jenkins, a street urchin and pickpocket who has a past with McShane that neither will reveal, who shows up as Lilly and McShane are traveling to New Orleans and who ends up having to pose as McShane's younger brother to help with the investigation. And we can't forget the vile Henri Ducharme, who is the current husband of Mrs. Fontenot's granddaughter-in-law - a self-absorbed man who believes he runs the house and the family - but who Lilly notices becomes unusually uneasy any time his step-daughter's husband, Preston Easterling.

Lilly's acting skills are put to the test in this mystery - not only is she forced to assume an Irish accent and humble herself as a housekeeper and maid for the Fontenot plantation, but she must also deal with the fact that as "husband and wife," she must share a room with a man she has conflicting feelings about.  On the one hand, he is arrogant and demeaning, and she would much prefer to have been assigned this case on her own; on the other hand, she continues to find herself drawn to him and he is able to teach her things about the field that she still needs to learn.

With this mystery, it's not so much about the whodunnit? part, but more about the "did he do it?" part and "what's really going on at the Fontemont plantation?"  Lilly, McShane, and Jenks (the name by which Robert Jenkins prefers to go by) actually make a great team, and their family dynamic works well in solving the crime(s).  I readily confess, reading 260 pages has never been so easy, when you an author draws you into the tale like Richards does.

RATING:  10 hard boiled eggs dyed red out of 10 for creating an investigative "family" that is engaging and entertaining to read.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The First Northwoods Mystery - Enchantment Lake

I love books.  If you've been reading this blog, then you KNOW how much I love books.  Mysteries are, by far, my favorite all-time books to read.  My love for mysteries stems from my mom buying me Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, and other various series books back when I was a kid.  Thus, while I enjoy some select adult mystery series, my true love will always be children's and young adult mysteries.  And in the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to stumble across some really good series (particularly in light of the slim pickings when it comes to children's mysteries today).  But rarely do I buy a "one-off'er" mystery.  I prefer my ongoing series.

Yet, for some reason, I was drawn to Enchantment Lake, by Margi Preus.  I'm not sure if it was the "A Northwoods Mystery" header, or if it was the description of the book that describes the protagonist as a Nancy Drew-type, or if it was the rather unique cover art and design.  Regardless, I did ultimately purchase the book through Amazon in the hopes that it would be a good read.

I was wrong - this was not a good read at all - it was a FANTASTIC read!

Preus introduces readers to her reluctant teenage detective, Francesca (Francie) Frye (a/k/a "French Fry" or "little Frenchie") at an audition in New York, where Fancie is nervous about her audition.  Before she can audition, however, she gets a call from her Aunt Astrid, who lives with her other aunt, Jeannette, up in the north words of Minnesota.  The connection is anything but good, but it's enough for Francie to hear her aunt say "murder" and that "someone is trying to kill us" and "come quickly."  Now, her aunts are known for their absurdity and odd ways, but Francie can't imagine them asking her to leave New York where, despite being only seventeen, she is pursuing her career as an actress.  But they do - - and she does, flying halfway across the country to discover whether her aunts really are in serious trouble.

She soon finds her concern for her aunts misplaced, when they reveal that someone is forcing people to sell their properties on the shore of Enchantment Lake to build a road through the area.  Francie could kick herself for dropping out of an audition for this "emergency" - until her aunts reveal that the people who sold their property have been dropping like flies!  A falling tree limb, a drowning, a poisonous snake bite, a poisoned well, a heart attack, and most recently - a gunshot made to look like a suicide.  Are they merely coincidences, or is something more sinister happening around Enchantment Lake.  And what is this story Francie hears about a supposed treasure said to be under enchantment?  Or, more accurately, under Enchantment (as in, under the lake)?

Preus weaves a wonderful mystery tale about murder, secrets, greed, and blackmail, and quite frankly, it will keep you guessing until pretty much the end when the culprit is finally revealed.  Every time I thought I had it figured out, another curve ball was thrown, displacing my theory.  The characters are charming - love the local lawyer's intern, Nels, as well as Sandy, the owner of the local store.  And, of course, Aunt Astrid and Aunt Jeannette are barrels of fun with their quirky strangeness.  And as for Francie herself - she may begin as a rather reluctant detective (having played one as a child on television), she soon finds herself drawn into the mystery, and before you know it, she turns all Nancy Drew, refusing to turn away from solving the crime and saving her aunt's lives, even when her grandfather shows up and threatens to tighten the strings on her trust fund if she doesn't drop it and return to New York City.

And to top it all off, Francie herself has some mysteries of her own to solve - like, what really happened to her father?  Was his death an accident, or something else?  And who is her mother?  Why will no one tell her anything about her?  And what happened between her and her brother to create the strained relationship that they now have?

With a great mystery and fun-tastic characters, there's no way you'll be able to avoid falling under the "enchantment" of Preus' writing.  And thankfully, while writing this post, I checked on Amazon and found that there is a second book in this series - The Clue in the Trees, wherein we will discover more about Francie's estranged brother.  I definitely cannot wait!

RATING:  10 brown casserole dishes out of 10 for giving readers a contemporary teenage detective that is over the age of 13, a well-written, superbly-plotted mystery, and an excellent read!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hardy Boys Adventures, Book 15 - A Con Artist in Paris

I hate repeating myself when talking about these books, but when it comes to the current condition of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, I find myself thinking the same thing with each book I read - why does Simon & Schuster not allow the writers to truly flesh out these mysteries?  Some of these stories have really good plots, and a few actually have some very interesting characters that could make for a really great read if the story were not rushed to fit into a dismal 120 or so pages...

But, alas, it seems The Hardy Boys, like Nancy Drew, are doomed to the shameful idea that the brand name alone will sell the books, so why bother putting any effort into them?

The fifteenth Hardy Boys Adventures book, A Con Artist in Paris, is one of those tales that could actually make you think. It has a creative premise - the boys are on vacation in Paris, where their father is supposed to attend a detective convention (and any time I think of a detective convention, I think of the second story from the old Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries on television - "The Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom"). They are enjoying the sites, marveling at the number of street artists who are making such a splash around the city. One artist, Le Stylo, seems to be making the biggest splash, with his activist art that is always intended to bring attention to various social injustices throughout the world. His fame turns to infamy, however, when a huge graffiti exhibit takes place at the Louvre, making it appear the Mona Lisa has been stolen - all of which is a distraction for a real crime - the theft of a very expensive pen that was being held in the safe across the street where the Hardys and all of the detectives are staying!

There are two real mysteries here that the brothers must solve - figure out the true identify of Le Stylo and prove that he is innocent of what they believe to be a copycat art crime.  The boys have their work cut out for them, as it seems the entire city of Paris has turned against the artist, and he now on the "most wanted" list.  Frank and Joe end up have quite the adventure - from borrowing a car that ends up being able to fly (you'll have to read it to believe it!) to combing the underground catacombs of Paris, to the ultimate showdown with the villain behind it all (which is actually a nice surprise twist).  The plot is well-devised, albeit rushed for the sake of brevity of pages.

What does bother me about the book is the fact, by pure coincidence, Chief Olaf is in Paris on a vacation of his own, so when the boys' father is delayed, he is asked to watch over them to make sure they don't get into any trouble.  Seriously?  Of all the places in the world, the Bayport police chief just happens to pick the very same city where the Hardys are vacationing for his vacation, and they happen at exactly the same time.  Even that is a hard pill to swallow.  That being said, there is one moment that I did enjoy with the Chief in this book - when the French police inspector snubs the Chief for "interfering" with his investigation, he gets angry, and in so doing, unwittingly helps the Hardys, if for no other reason than to see an American one-up the French police.

I keep hoping that sooner or later, S&S will wake up and realize that their books will sell better if they actually flesh out the stories and make them more enticing to the young readers, who (despite S&S's belief) are not so short of attention span that they can't read a book of more than 120 pages!

RATING:  7 Sky Ranger prototypes out of 10 for giving readers a unique mystery that wasn't yet one more tale of sabotage - and surprising readers with the reveal of the culprit at the end!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Star Power - TBP Vol 3 - Star Power and the Mystery of the Zel Gux Dynasty

Michael Terracciano and Garth Graham created a unique comic and a one-of-a-kind comic character when they created Star Power.  What started as a simple space adventure with a new star-powered super hero in Star Power and the Ninth Wormhole, continued as a space opera that not only more defined the characters, but opened up more questions about the star power and where it came from in Star Power and the Search for Black Hole Bill. Now, with this third graphic novel in the series, Terracciano and Graham conclude the so-called origin story of Star Power by sending Danica Maris on a quest to learn more about her power and whether she truly is the last Star Powered Sentinel.

The Mystery of the Zel Gux Dynasty is more than just a discovery quest about the Zel Gux Dynasty and why Danica’s star power seems to have no knowledge of these alien creatures.  It’s also a path of discovery for Danica and her friends.  Readers learn more about the Countess and the reason she is who and what she is.  Readers get another glimpse of the Void Angels and their thirst for vengeance against the Star Power (as well as a change of heart in one of them).  And readers will see the camaraderie, friendship, and jealousies grow within the group as they travel from one world to the next to find the keys that will lead to Danica’s ultimate discovery – is she truly the last Star Power, or do more Sentinels exist?

Terracciano provides a fantastic sci-fi ride through space and star systems, with each planet unique in its inhabitants, their interaction with Danica’s team, and the fallout from Danica’s discovery on each planet. Danica’s relationship entanglements with Beena and Burke are also explored as Danica learns how to deal with jealousy and how people can change, regardless of their vocation and history.  Graham maintains his beautiful art, with panels and angles that are cinematic and moving in nature, keeping the story going at a pace that moves not only the action, but the reader, forward.  The intermittent jumps between Danica’s story and the psychological interrogation of the Countess play flawlessly against one another, and the brief interludes to drop subplots never interrupt the flow of the story at all, but rather leave the reader wanting for more.

I love Danica’s almost-child-like innocence with her star power; but it’s her determination and her willingness to sacrifice anything for her friends and for others that truly defines her as a hero.  She’s not in it because someone killed her parents, or because her home planet exploded, or because of any other tragic event in her life.  She’s also not doing it because she feels she has to, or because she has been ordered to do so.  Danice, a/k/a Star Power, is using her powers for good, to help people, because that’s simply who she is, and quite frankly, she enjoys doing it.  For me, the Star Power series is a completely refreshing take on the super hero / sci-fi story, and I give Terracciano and Graham the highest praise for sticking with it and providing truly entertaining, fun stories.  This is truly what comics are meant to be!

I’m hoping this is not the last graphic novel in the series. While the online comic appears to be continuing, both the writer and artist indicate in their introduction to this third book that this could possibly be the final printed book, depending on sales.  Hopefully, sales will be enough to continue with printed collections, as I definitely want to see more Star Power!

RATING:  9 flying sand dragons out of 10 for neatly wrapping up a lot of loose plot threads, while leaving just enough story open to continue the tale of Danica Maris – the Star Power.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Cainsville Novel, Book 4 - Betrayals

I have been thoroughly enjoying the Cainsville series by Kelly Armstrong.  It has a bit of the Gothic feel from Dark Shadows, plus the supernatural elements of The Gates, and good ol' fashioned mysteries like Agatha Christie.  It has a strong leading character in Olivia Taylor-Jones (Eden Larsen), a woman with a mysterious past and an even more ominous destiny. It has definitely engaging supporting characters - Gabriel, the strong silent type and Ricky, the wild exciting type.  It has the perfect love triangle that has endured through the centuries.

The only thing this series apparently doesn't have - is a continuing saga.  Before I picked up this book to read it, I found out that the next book in the series, Rituals, is going to be the last in the series.  Which, is very disappointing, as I love the stories, I love the characters, and I really love ongoing series.  Yet, as with so many "series" in today's market, it has to be finite.  So, of course, knowing that this was the penultimate book in the series, it made it difficult to open it up and start that first chapter.

But I did ... and it was so worth it!

With Betrayals, Armstrong continues the destiny of Gwynn, Matlida, and Arawn - Gabriel, Olivia, and Ricky.  Are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes as their past lives?  Can they break the cycle of betrayals and jealousies?  As a new threat comes on the scene, and the three of them find themselves protecting the lives of desperate fae women who are being hunted by a rogue Cŵn Annwn and his broken hound, they find that keeping secrets from one another comes naturally, and what happens when those secrets come out?  Can their love and friendship withstand the test?

Armstrong plots a wonderfully crafted mystery, as I'll admit, I didn't see the twist coming with regards to who was really being the murders of the fae women.  And, as with the prior three books, she continues to drop more and more hints about Olivia's past, the reason her parents did the things they did, and more information on the two factions who are so desperately vying for Olivia to make her choice - will it be Gabriel (Gwynn) or Ricky (Arawn)?  So far, she has avoided making any final decisions, but it seems the time for making that decision is drawing close, as the battle lines are being drawn.

I love Olivia's strength - she has no problems standing up to those who would push her, and she certainly has no qualms about calling out others on their hypocrisy and their weaknesses.  At the same time, she can be vulnerable, like any real person, particularly when it comes to being hurt by the ones she loves the most.  But, as with any person, she has grown over the course of these first four books, and Betrayals gives Olivia the chance to really shine, particularly when it comes to her relationship with Gabriel and her love/hate relationship with her parents.  I'm still rooting that Gabriel will able to get her biological father freed - but he can leave her biological mother in prison to rot for what she did.  And while Armstrong has built up the love between Olivia and Ricky, I'm also still rooting for Gabriel to ultimately win Olivia's heart.  He's the real underdog in this series, despite his power and strength, and while this book does not yet answer that continuing question, I'm guessing the next (and last) book will.

So, yes, reading the book was most certainly enjoyable - it's well written, it's not riddled with editorial errors as many books I've recently have been, and it continues a saga of supernatural and Gothic intrigue that keeps me entranced - but that enjoyment was tempered with a bit of disappointment and sadness, knowing that soon, I'll have no more Cainsville to visit.  At least it won't be for another year until Rituals comes out in paperback, so until then, I can relish in the tales I have read and keeping hoping Armstrong and her publisher will change their minds...

RATING:  9 cans of beef stew out of 10 for showing the world that "supernatural" does not have to mean vampires and werewolves - there are other creatures of the night that can be just as scary, if not scarier!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Aunt Claire Presents (Book One): The Automobile Girls at Newport

There is a reason why, when I go to a bookstore, I will stroll up and down the aisles of the various genres - mystery, science fiction, graphic novels, young adult, and children's.  Sometimes, as I stroll down the aisles and let my eyes wander across each of the shelves, I will (a) see a cover of a book or a title that catches my eye; (b) see something new that I was not even aware was going to be published; and (c) see a book that really gets me excited about reading.

All three of those reasons are why I picked up Aunt Claire Presents... The Automobile Girls at Newport.  Now, to be completely fair, this was not the first book I noticed.  The first one I noticed was actually Aunt Claire Presents...Grace Harlowe's Freshman Year at High School.  My eye caught the name "Grace Harlowe" in the part of the title on the spine on the bottom shelf at the store, and I immediately knelt down and pulled the book out.  I am fully aware that Grace Harlowe was a series of vintage children's books written nearly 100 years ago, so my first thought was that they were doing an updated version, or that possibly it was a pure coincidence that the name was the same.  Those ideas were quickly dispelled as soon as I saw the cover and read the back of the dust jacket.

"These are the series books that American girls read for fun a century ago.  They are not only fast-paced tales of friendship and adventure, but also pieces of history that reveal many interesting things - good and bad - about the time in which they were written.  Look under the book jacket to see the original front cover from 1910!"

Reprints!  These were surprising reprints of series books from the early 20th century, books that I never imagined in a million years they would actually reprint.  And just as the back of the dust jacket said - under the dust jacket, the cover to the book is a reproduction of the actual cover of the 1910 edition of this book (although it is not cloth, it gives the appearance of cloth and age, even with what appears to be shadowed stains here and there, which any collector will tell you appears on pretty much any of those old series books).  There is a frontispiece, and there are illustrations throughout the book - although not glossy, they are indicated to be copies of the original illustrations from the 1910 version of these books.

Needless to say, I quickly picked up both the Grace Harlowe and the Automobile Girls books (and a quick look at Amazon.com reveals a second Grace Harlowe book is set to come out, along with a reprint of the first Girl Aviators book).  I couldn't wait to tear into these (not literally tear - I would NEVER do that to a book!!!!), so I started with what is indicated to be the first one "Aunt Claire" reprinting, The Automobile Girls at Newport.

This book begins the adventures of Barbara Thurston; her younger sister, Mollie; their friend, Grace Carter; Grace's friend, Ruth Stuart; and Ruth's aunt, Aunt Sallie Stuart (who acts as a chaperone for the girls on their trip).  Pages 7 to 18 provide an introduction (aptly titled "A Note from Aunt Claire"), which gives young readers an introduction to the book and provides information on the time period, the characters, the ideals of the day and age in which it was written, the style of clothes, etc. It also gives a snapshot of the various titles in the 6 book series. It even provides illustrations of magazines, advertisements, and photographs from the era to help enhance the reading and understanding of the book.

The story itself was very enjoyable to read.  Barbara and Mollie are lower middle-class girls who help their mother in their modest cottage.  Their father died, and although he was partnered with his wife's brother in a lucrative business, their uncle, upon their father's death, claimed there was little money left on their father's part, as he lost a great deal on speculations (although, frankly, there are subtle hints that this is not the case, and I hope that later books in series revealed the girls were not as poor as they thought...).  As with any good series book, something unexpected happens in the first chapter that gets the mystery and adventures started, and in this case, it is sixteen-year old Barbara stopping a runaway carriage.  The inhabitants of the carriage happen to be none other than their friend, Grace, and her friend, Ruth - as well as the Thurston's rather uppity cousin, Gladys Le Baron, and her companion, Harry Townsend.  As a reward for her help, Ruth invites Barbara and Mollie (much to Gladys's dismay) to the hotel in town for a special luncheon the next day - where she invites the two girls to join her and Grace on a great adventure:  travelling by automobile to Newport!

Now, this is where one has to remember the time period in which this book was written.  First, automobiles were not something everyone had.  And those who did have them did not allow women to drive them.  Of course, Ruth, much in the vein of Nancy Drew, lost her mother at a young age, has an indulgent father, and is a determined young woman who accomplishes whatever she sets out to do.  And just so the automobile journey is approved by her father, Ruth's Aunt Sallie has agreed to accompany the girls.  It is only natural the girls are able to join them for the ride, and Mrs. Thurston even provides the girls with a little extra money that she has been saving up for them so that they can buy the proper clothing for riding in an automobile (remember, most roads were not paved back then, if any where, so driving along stirred up quite a bit of dust and dirt!).  The mystery, though, begins when two 20-dollar gold pieces that Barbara and Mollie had earned are discovered to be missing after Grace, Ruth, Gladys, and Harry leave.

The author, Laura Dent Crane (pseudonym or real?  good question...), writes a fun and engaging story of friendship, jealousy, accusations, mystery and mishaps, and adventures that girls back in 1910 would find exciting and perhaps a bit tense.  In today's day and age, a flat tire on the side of the road is nothing; however, in 1910 - without cell phones, without easy equipment to jack and replace the tire - a flat tire for five young women could be a near catastrophe, particularly when it starts raining, and Barbara gets caught "borrowing" a horse for a nearby farm house to race to town to get help!  But I do give Crane credit for keeping the mystery subtle at first, but slowly building it throughout the story as there appear to be thefts at every stop along the way, with big-ticket thefts occurring at the parties the girls attend in Newport!  And while I new who the culprit was pretty much from the get-go, it was fun to watch how Crane weaved the story and had the characters slowly figure it out.  Plus, the fact that Barbara did figure it out and make an accusation that caused her to basically be ostracized from the group - only to be vindicated later when the truth came out - made for some great tension among the characters.

All who know me know that I love the vintage children's series, and this is one that I have taken a great liking to - I hope "Aunt Claire" presents some more titles from this series - would be a manageable (and affordable!) way to collect the series and read them!

RATING:  9 diamond butterfly pendants out of 10 for bringing back a classic tale and introducing it to a whole new generation of readers!