Tues. Aug. 20, 2019: The Secret In the Old Attic

 

Secret Old Attic

Reader Expansion Challenge August — THE SECRET IN THE OLD ATTIC.

It was difficult to pick a favorite book from childhood, because there were so many. I read all the time.

But I finally decided to re-read my very first Nancy Drew book, THE SECRET IN THE OLD ATTIC. This is the 1970 version, with the yellow spine. I bought it, along with THE MYSTERY OF THE 99 STEPS, with my allowance at a store called Mead’s Department Store on Greenwich Avenue. The books were $1.99 each.

It totally plays into the fantasy that I (and many of my friends) still have about wonderful finds in attic trunks and secret rooms. I’d completely forgotten that the main plot revolved around stolen music, and the subplot about black widow spiders and special formulas for fabric.

Nancy, as usual, can do anything. Bess and George were barely in the book, and Ned arrived at the end to break down a door. There was some caricature instead of character stuff with the way Effie the maid is drawn, and the villains.

I kept trying to remind myself that this is a middle-grade book; the characters won’t be as complex as other books. Plus, it’s a Strathmeyer Syndicate book — the Nancy Drew mysteries were comfort books for little white girls. Because Nancy didn’t let anything like sexism get in her way (and, in fact, depending on which ghost writer handled a particular volume, played against it), she made us believe we could do the same. Not just survive, but thrive and beat the bad guys.

I don’t remember a lot of diverse characters in the series as a whole. As I go back and re-read, I’m sure the racism and ethnic slurs will be more evident than they were when I was 8 and 10.

When people bring up those elements of the juvenile mystery fiction of the 20th century — Bobbsey Twins, Dana Girls, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Judy Bolton, Vicky Barr, Beverly Gray, Trixie Belden, etc. — I point out that these books were a snapshot of their times. Of the attitudes. The attitudes weren’t right then any more than they are now. Up until 2016, it was a reminder of the progress we’ve made, and a reminder of how much we still have to work. Sadly, we’re now moving backwards.

There are logistical lapses and a few times where I thought, “That didn’t make sense.” While I didn’t have the unbridled joy I felt the first time I read it, I still enjoyed it. And it was a definite encouragement for me to play with some of the tropes (attics, trunks, hidden rooms) in my own work. It was fun (I read it in about 90 minutes) while still being flawed.

And it’s sending me back to re-read (for the umpteenth time), one of my favorite books, Melanie Rehak’s GIRL SLEUTH: NANCY DREW AND THE WOMEN WHO CREATED HER. Several years ago, I wrote about that book, right here on Biblio Paradise.

September’s challenge is to read an anthology of short stories. We will reconvene here to share on September 17.

What was your favorite childhood re-read for this challenge? Leave your musings in the comments!

 

Reader Expansion Challenge April: MURDER AT LONGBOURN by Tracy Kiely

 

Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely. New York: Minotaur Books. 2009.

This month’s challenge was truly a challenge. I’m in the process of reading many books in favorite genres by new-to-me authors, but they are for a contest, and I can’t talk about any of them until the contest results go live.

I picked up MURDER AT LONGBOURN by Tracy Kiely when I was browsing the shelves of my local library. Set on Cape Cod, inspired, in some ways, by PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, I thought it sounded like an interesting story.

I’m a big fan of mysteries. I have been, since I first started reading Nancy Drew way back when, and figured out my allowance in terms of how many Nancy Drew books I could buy. I still have them. I read in many genres, I enjoy many genres, but mystery is often the most satisfying.

Elizabeth Parker goes to her Aunt Winnie’s new B&B on Cape Cod to celebrate New Year’s. She runs into her childhood nemesis Peter, and into murder when the staged murder mystery entertainment for the evening takes an unexpected turn. Layers of intrigue and hidden motivation, mistaken identities, humor, and witty nods to Jane Austen blend for an excellent mix.

Clues and red herrings are beautifully distributed throughout the tale. If you pay attention, you can figure it out — yet still be surprised by a few of the elements. Kiely is excellent at keeping the balance between giving the reader enough information, but not letting the reader get too far ahead of the story or characters.

I sometimes felt Elizabeth’s learning curve wasn’t fast enough. But I liked her determination to get herself out of the jams she got herself into instead of expecting to be rescued.

I plan to read the rest in the series. Or, I should say, I’ll read the rest in the series once I finish reading the entries for the contest I’m judging. And then I’ll start reading her other series, too. I’m delighted to have come across Tracy Kiely’s work. I hope you’ll give it a try, too, and let me know what you think.

May’s challenge is to switch it up. If you usually read fiction, read non-fiction. If you usually read non-fiction, read fiction.

I read both, but I definitely read more fiction than non-fiction, so I’ll choose a non-fiction book for next month. Our discussion date is Tuesday, May 21.

What book did you read this month? Do you recommend it? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments.

 

Midnight Enchantments: Why Real Women Love Urban Fantasy Women

Why Real Women Love Urban Fantasy Women
By Cerridwen Iris Shea

It wasn’t called “urban fantasy” in the 1990s and even early 2000s. Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde books were filed under “fantasy/scifi”. Yasmine Galenorn’s Chintz N China series and Rosemary Edghill’s Bast Books were shelved in mysteries.

None of these women were your typical heroines, and not just because they worked with magic as part of their normal, every day lives. They weren’t waiting around for some man to rescue them — they rescued themselves. They solved problems more than creating them (how often do you see “heroines” in cozies do something stupid just so “the guy” can come in, call her stupid, and then have sex with her?), they accepted magic as part of themselves and part of their lives. They had jobs and friends and families and heartache and LIVES. They didn’t just sit around and do hocus-pocus — they dealt with the same sorts of things my friends and I dealt with, too. Plus the whole demons and vampires and fae and stuff.

As someone who was just entering the Craft, I wanted to read books about women who knew more about the Craft than I did, and had integrated it into their lives. Sure, I enjoyed high fantasy, sword and sorcery, created worlds. But I also wanted to see someone in similar living conditions, with similar issues, someone who was better and more knowledgeable and all that. Someone who worked to live an integrated life instead of a fractured one. Who might not always succeed, but put in the effort. And who could also kick ass when it came to demons and vampires and fae and stuff I was relieved I never had to deal with!

I knew these women were FICTIONAL. I knew the stories were FICTION. It’s not like I was going to take the novel out on a dark and stormy night, pretending it was a grimoire. I’m not a moron, and I’m not delusional. But the way that Nancy Drew inspired me when I was eight and nine and ten and on to explore my curiosity about the world — and she had friends and family and a life, too — these fictional women also inspired me.

They inspired me to search through the sludge and find my best self. And work on that.

The genre’s grown and shifted. Now we have part-humans and shifters and vampires and all kinds of urban fantasy women who kick ass. They’re still inspirational. Why? Because I’m older, the stakes are higher, and I might not be dealing with a personified demon that way Corine Solomon does in Ann Aguirre’s books, but I’m dealing with metaphorical demons as I try to find a good, ethical way to navigate in an often wildly unethical world.

These women are not perfect. But they are smart, resourceful, learn quickly, give a damn, have compassion and humanity even if they’re not always or fully human. They remind me that life is what I make of it. They remind me that, no matter how bleak it seems, there is always a choice. They remind me that, even if you can’t see the endgame, or know you’re going to win it, there are small victories along the way, moments with those you love, who make it all worthwhile.

Cerridwen Iris Shea wrote for Llewellyn’s calendars and almanacs for sixteen years. She also writes the Merry’s Dalliance fantasy pirate adventures. She teaches tarot workshops, and is thrilled to finally have her own herb garden and still room. Find her on the web at www.cerridwenscottage.com. This is her busy season.