Sunday, July 17, 2016

“I can write about all sorts of bizarre crimes and criminals without having people hide from me at parties.” BSC #124: Stacey McGill…Matchmaker? (1998)

Before I go on, I routinely get asked, “Hey, what about book number…?” So before anyone asks, I blogged #121, #122, #123 and super special #15 in the early, zygote days of this blog. I promise to have an entry on every BSC book (except the Secret Santa book, which I still believe is a conspiracy and doesn’t really exist), whether I liked that book or not. Just go back and look at my ‘Voldemort Book’ entry if you don’t believe me.
That taken care of, I must say I love this title. It’s so…unsure. In this story, yet another new client comes to town. Mr. Brooke is recently divorced, and Stacey is sitting for his kids. Her mom and Mr. Brooke meet and flirt a little bit, so Stacey tries to set them up with each other. Joni Brooke hates the idea and tries everything she can to break up her father’s relationship. Stacey pushes for the two of them, even as her mother sees flaws she can’t live with in Mr. Brooke.
In the B-plot, Mallory is contemplating going to boarding school. The BSC relate it to the plot of a book they’re reading as a BSC book club.
Interesting Tidbits
Stacey and her mom have started a mother-daughter book club. They’re reading Pride and Prejudice and discussing it weekly. It’s a neat idea, but wouldn’t that be more fun if they had more people involved?
Kristy gets mad at Claudia…for answering her phone before the meeting starts. As Claudia points out, this is her bedroom and her phone…what if the phone call was a personal one? Maybe Kristy doesn’t get those from people outside of the BSC, but Claudia does.
I’ll repeat, since this is coming to a head soon: I love the fact that Mallory’s depression and unhappiness built up over five whole books before she actually left for boarding school. Stacey points out exactly what I said about Mal’s whole experience teaching eighth grade: how ridiculous and unfair was it that the school sent an eleven year old to teach kids older than she was? She mentions the possibility of transferring schools for the first time in this book.
Abby is reading Jacob Have I Loved. That’s one of my favorites! The other members of the club mention The Great Gilly Hopkins and Bridge to Terabithia as being awesome, too.
Mr. Brooke writes detective stories, but Joni describes his books as, “horrible stuff. People being killed….” She seems really happy when describing this, and all I could think was, serial killer in the making!
This is what happens when I watch too much Criminal Minds.
The Brooke kids want to watch the movie of The Indian in the Cupboard. This book is full of other books!
The title quote is Mr. Brooke’s explanation as to why he uses a pseudonym for his books.
Ewan is reading a book called The Wrong-Way Rabbit. I’ve never heard of it, but I don’t doubt it really exists.
Ha! Joni says she thinks her dad used to be cool, way back before he had kids. I can’t help but think that this is not a normal thing for a kid to think, but such a normal kid way of thinking it, if that makes any sense. (I never thought my parents were cool when I was a kid, but if I had, I would have thought they used to be cool.)
Since when is Kristy allowed to babysit past midnight? When Mr. Brooke and Ms. McGill go out on their first date, he doesn’t come home till 12:30, leaving Kristy in charge. Last update I remember was Kristy saying she could sit until 10 on weeknights.
When talking about the Brookes kids, Mary Anne says she never knew whether her dad’s girlfriends (I almost wrote boyfriends, heh) actually liked her or not. I’d always had the impression that Richard didn’t date much before Sharon, though I’m not sure if that’s canon or just my internal image of him as a balding introvert in a sweater vest. I know it’s mentioned in one book that Richard and Sharon were both dating other people less (or something like that), but I questioned that image, as well.
Overall, these girls are really interested in their parents’ love lives. Stacey’s excited that her mom is dating again, while Abby wishes her mom would go on dates. Dawn and MA actively campaigned for Richard and Sharon to hook up. I probably wouldn’t have been so understanding of my mom dating when I was a teen.
Most ironically-funny line in this book award goes to Mallory: “But I’m not a character in a book.”
There is a metric ton of book analysis in this story. Ms. McGill reads Mr. Brooke’s stories and doesn’t like some of the rhetoric his characters spew. She sees the main character distrusting people and thinking they’re all innately selfish across all his writing. She points out that people write what they know, what’s in their head. Stacey, being young and not as knowledgeable, states that it may not be something Mr. Brookes believes as well, but I’m with her mom. It’s very possible to write characters that don’t agree with your world view, but when he’s got that many protagonists with the same position, then it’s obviously something he firmly believes.
Wow, is Joni ever crying out for attention. She steals the mouse from her father’s computer and throws it up a tree. The most annoying part of the story thus far is the fact that Mr. Brooke just keeps telling Stacey and her mom that Joni needs to get over it and he has to be firm with her. Come on, dude. You’re now a single dad; you need to be more sensitive to your nine-year-old’s feelings. I don’t think that she should be allowed to dictate whether or not her dad dates, but knowing that she’s unhappy should probably give him the hint to slow down and let her and Ms. McGill get to know each other before trying to work on a relationship.
I loooove when these books show their age by using real movies and bands and whatnot. Stacey’s mom is playing classical music, which I feel like she’s done before. Joni complains, so Stacey’s mom offers to change it. (This is actually a nice way to make a connection to Joni, so of course, her dad shoots the idea down.) Joni wants to listen to…Hanson. Can’t you just picture it? “Please pass the turkey.” “Mmmmbop!”
The final nail in the coffin? Joni refuses to eat Ms. McGill’s turkey, claiming she’d become a vegetarian since breakfast and that the turkey looked disgusting. Stacey convinces her to come back to the table. Ewan: “Joni, the turkey is good. You should have some even if you’re a vegetable now.”
Every time Stacey describes Ethan, she mentions his earring. Every time, I think…is that supposed to be a selling point for him? Add to that, I’ve always seen Ethan as a completely useless character, like he was only created so Stacey would get over Robert. However, he’s actually smart in this situation. He suggests to Stacey that she should trust her mom when she wants to break up with Mr. Brooke, because a) she’s her flippin’ mom! and b) there might be more to the relationship that what Stacey had seen. (He doesn’t say it, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe Mr. Brooke is really bad in bed and that’s part of the issue….)
Claudia spelling. Strang, wold, thot (thought), terning, tho. She also spells Brooke as Brook, though I completely forgive her for that. (I can’t spell Massachusetts, so I’m not going to misjudge spelling a last name wrong…unless she spells her own last name wrong. I feel like she might have done that once….)
Aww, this is sad. Joni finally gets over her anger at her dad dating again when Stacey tells her it’s normal….right before Ms. McGill breaks up with her dad. She becomes convinced she drove both Ms. McGill and her own mother away with her behavior. Claudia tries to assure her it’s not her fault that Ms. McGill broke up with her father by saying that she loves kids who are a pain—after all, she loves Stacey. This made me laugh.
New characters
Joni and Ewan Brooke (9 and 5)—27 and 23
Claudia: tie-dyed overalls

Next: #125

“Or else the torture room.” BSC Mystery #36: Kristy and the Cat Burglar (1998)

I’ve been a little distracted in posting for the past few weeks. Between wedding plans and having all three of my bridesmaids pregnant at the same time, I’ve been in a tizzy. Well, now only two of my bridesmaids are pregnant, as my baby sister gave birth to her beautiful, 9lb 10oz ‘big nugget’ this morning. I was planning to call the baby Munchkin if I referred to her on the blog—the way I call my ‘nieces’ Pepper and Kakies, but at that size, she’s not really a munchkin. Nugget is sticking! (Her real name, which I will not post for her privacy, is Shakespearean and absolutely lovely.)
Kristy, David Michael and Karen are wandering around to look at the ‘spooky house’ that is in the woods near their house. While they’re there, a shot rings out and the burglar alarm goes off. Officer Johnson got an anonymous call suggesting he check out the house at the same time the security officer got a call saying his wife was in the hospital. A bag of jewels was stolen, and a red cat was painted on the mail box, the MO of a thief known as The Cat Burglar.
The police officers make Sgt. Johnson their primary suspect. He claims it’s a setup, but he’s arrested anyway. Cary, who witnessed the crime as well, helps the BSC solve the crime. Cary joins Kristy, Mary Anne and Abby at the house, where the owner—who had employed the BSC to solve the crime—has a very rare lamp that had been stolen at an earlier Cat Burglar job. They’d just laid out all the evidence that Sgt. Johnson was innocent, right as Cary and Kristy realize he was the one who’d planted all the evidence. He is about to tie them up when the police arrive. The Cat Burglar is arrested, Sgt. Johnson was exonerated and the BSC vows not to solve mysteries again.
Meanwhile, apparently they hadn’t had a Harriet the Spy takeoff in quite a while, so Charlotte is going around spying on her friends…who get tired of being spied on, so they start spying on her.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover: Apparently, the newspaper article is shocking! Also, Kristy looks different than normal. The art isn’t done by Hodges Solieu or however that’s spelled. Oh, and Kristy’s neon green shorts are hawt!

Kristy runs into Cary, and says that the woods behind her house also abut Cary’s house. I have a few comments about that. Abby lives two houses down from Kristy, next to Morbidda Destiny, and there’s another yard backing up to her backyard—one small enough that she can see into his house through binoculars. And the map in the Complete Guide places Cary’s house on Burnt Hill Road, nowhere near Kristy’s house. Now, to be fair, if you continue down McLelland (Kristy’s street), it ends at Hazlet. Take that far enough and you hit Burnt Hill right at/near Cary’s house. Both Kristy’s house and Cary’s are on the far western side of this map, so it’s possible there are woods there. Maybe the road that our friend the embezzler’s house is on runs at an angle, so that Abby can see into Mr. Finch’s yard, but then woods become thicker and thicker so that Cary’s yard hits some real forest.
Wow, I put waaaaaaaay too much thought into that.
The BSC members are introduced by the best mystery they helped solve. I haven’t finished the chapter yet, but it should be funny when they get to Mal and Jessi, who both got pretty shitty mysteries for their only mystery book.
Um. Sgt. Johnson has some questions for Kristy about what she saw as she, Karen and DM approached Reinhart Golem’s house. (That name is flippin’ awesome, by the way). However, when he asks her to meet him at the police department, he says he’s not really questioning her, because that would require a parent. Instead, it’s just a consultation. This rubs in all the wrong ways. I know we’re supposed to consider Sgt. Johnson a suspect, but this is soooo wrong that I just want them to lock him up, separate from whether he’s The Cat Burglar or not. (Especially because he brings Cary in with his father.)
Oh, and then Kristy starts asking him questions about the burglary, and he answers them! Sure, he doesn’t suspect that Kristy—with two seven year old kids in tow—is The Cat Burglar, but you never know. Someone could have sent her as a distraction.
I like the fact that emphasis is placed on the fact that Claudia, MA, Kristy and Cary are all wearing bike helmets. That definitely wasn’t the case in the early books.
The title quote is what MA says right after Claudia finds the gym in Reinhart Golem’s house. I’m completely with Mary Anne on this one.
Wow, SPD really sucks. It takes Kristy and Cary to find a bullet casing and MA to find a bullet hole in the door and the marker used to put The Cat Burglar’s calling card on the mail box. Shouldn’t the coppers have found the casing when they secured the crime scene?
Kristy tells Golem the BSC had solved a lot of mysteries, including catching jewel thieves. They didn’t actually catch any jewel thieves. Not only were the thieves in mystery #8 actually actors, but that mystery didn’t involve any BSC member except Jessi. And the ‘jewel thief’ in mystery #1 was a cat. I can’t think of another mystery where any jewels were stolen or waylaid, except this one.
I liked this, too: Mallory researched The Cat Burglar and refers to him as a he. Jessi questions her sexist notion by suggesting that the burglar could also be female.
Unfortunately, that tiny victory is followed by a whole slew of cat jokes. Blechh.
The BSC’s list of suspects: Sgt. Johnson, because the police suspect him and he knows a lot about alarm systems; Ben Birch, Golem’s former partner; Jack Fenton, the security guard who responded to the house alarm; and Cary, because he was there at the time of the break in and knows a lot about guns.
Golem suggests that Sgt. Johnson’s fingerprints ‘may be’ all over the marker Mary Anne found at the crime scene. What? Kristy noted when the other two officers investigating the case, Sgt. Winters and Officer Hopkins, took the evidence from Golem, they probably wouldn’t be able to fingerprint it, because Golem put his hands all over it as he handed it over.
OOH! Time for the BSC to split up and take notes. What does that mean for us? You got it—Claudia’s spelling! Infourmation, heres’, weerd, culdn’t, anywhare, articals, buisness. This is followed by a babysitting notebook entry by Claudia, so…hearby, announse, officialy, nieghbors, wont.
Stacey convinces Cary that she’s really into bird watching, as an excuse to get into his house and learn a little bit more about him. Raise your hand if you think Cary actually fell for her line. He did invite Stacey in and show her his bird watching notebooks, though.
Jessi checked for information on Ben Birch on the internet, and all I could think is, if I had an eleven year old daughter, I wouldn’t want her on the internet without supervision.
More Claudia spelling! Tusday, dont. She also uses there for their.
Here’s a good clue and the BSC doesn’t even make a real connection. Years ago, Sgt. Johnson investigated Golem for smuggling, but the case was closed because there was no cause. The BSC thinks that Johnson may have held a grudge over that and therefore, robbed him. Huh?
The Thomas-Brewer clan has call waiting, yet Claudia’s phone doesn’t even have speaker capabilities. (Remember when Jessi had to have the operator break into Kristy’s conversation with Bart to tell her that Dawn and Claudia had been found alive?!? Those were the days!)
Mary Anne’s upset that the BSC suspects Sgt. Johnson. Claudia tries to soothe her…by making her eat a Butterfinger. Later, Kristy rewards Mal’s sleuthing the same way.
Sgt. Johnson shows up at the Kishi house to talk to Kristy, Claudia and MA, all the girls who’d been caught snooping at Golem’s house. Janine’s the one who answers the door, and she’s so curious that Kristy can feel it radiating off of her. I have been seeking the answer to a real-life mystery here for about a week, so I really feel her pain. I’m way more interested in whether Claudia tells her what’s going on later than I am in the solution to this mystery.
Also, does Sgt. Johnson know it’s BSC meeting time? If so, why did he take the time to learn that?!?
Oh, and then he goes and tells them he’s being suspected of the robbery, but he’s the victim of a frame up. Umm…doesn’t SPD have an internal affairs department that should be investigating stuff like that, not a bunch of thirteen and eleven year olds? And if they don’t believe him, I’d head straight to the sheriff’s office or the state police or something. Those are really serious accusations and not something that he should be throwing around lightly…especially not to the BSC, who can’t legally do anything to help him. (If I remember the rest of the book correctly, he’s actually right, but that’s beside the point…)
The only amusing part of the Charlotte-as-a-spy story (other than when Charlotte caught one of the triplets picking his nose? because you have to remember, I’m secretly a ten year old boy) is when Abby decides the only way to keep an eye on Charlotte and her friends while they’re doing their spy work is to spy on them.
I love this exchange between Kristy and Sam. You guys know how I enjoy it when the siblings in this book like each other but also antagonize one another.
Kristy: Leave me alone, I’m trying to think.
Sam: Aww, don’t do that. You might strain your brain.
Kristy drags Cary to the BSC meeting to tell the club what he saw during the robbery. He completely freaks out about going to the meeting. I really can’t believe that Cary would freak out about it…the BSC, yes, but not Cary. Remember how weirded out they were when Logan first started coming to meetings? But very little seems to ruffle Cary.
Golem is a giant rich-guy stereotype. He comes to the door in a blue velvet smoking jacket with satin lapels, matching slippers, holding a brandy and a cigar. I kept waiting for him to swirl his brandy.
The final two pieces to the puzzle? Cary recognizes a lamp from a Cat Burglar burglary in Golem’s house, and Golem realizes the BSC knows the evidence against Johnson was planted. Just as Golem starts to lock them in, Cary attacks him and earns them just enough time for Abby and Mary Anne to escape. But the real winner in this case is Jessi, who happens to paw through the reservation log and see that Golem was in Chez Maurice on the day of the burglary, when he claimed he was still in France, so the BSC members who weren’t at Golem’s called the police.
So that’s the last BSC mystery. I am I sad about that? A little. But mostly only because there seems to be less Cary Retlin in the books when there aren’t mysteries to solve.
Stacey: khakis, white button down, brown boots
Charlotte: jeans, red sweatshirt, red sneakers
Claudia: purple painters pants, red high tops with purple laces, red sweatshirt with purple embroidery, purple glasses frames with no lenses

Next: #124

“The only thing that was obvious was that she hated eggplant.” BSC #120: Mary Anne and the Playground Fight (1998)

I thought I had blogged this one before? If I have, I apologize. I’m usually pretty OCD about keeping track, so since it’s not marked off, I’m going to assume I didn’t actually blog it. I might be getting it confused with another book, or maybe I referred to the plot when I blogged SS#15 or something.
Two exciting events are happening this summer in Stoneybrook. First, a camp is opening, and the staff is looking for middle-school aged counselors with babysitting experience. All the BSC members, including Dawn, who’s in town for the summer, and Logan apply. When the club learns that SMS is sponsoring another summer trip—to England and France, this time—several of the members are excited to go to Europe. The trouble comes when the two events, camp and the trip, overlap. Fighting between BSC members over who is the best sitter and deserves the camp job becomes constant. A few even consider lying during the interview process to get a better edge. In the end, the members who decide not to go to Europe get the job, while the others make plans for their vacation.
Meanwhile, Victoria from #102 is heading back to England. The BSC invites various kids to a going away party for her. Victoria wants MA to visit her in England, only to learn that MA isn’t going on the trip…she’s staying in CT because Dawn is.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover: This is not a good look for Mary Anne. This isn’t the first time she’s worn attire that makes her look like a boy, either. Even Karen and friends in the background are better clothed.

Mistake: MA says she lived with her grandparents in Nebraska when she was little. Her grandmother lives in Maynard, Iowa. It’s actually Karen’s step-grandparents—her stepfather’s parents—who live in Nebraska. It disturbs me that I remember that.
I LIKE this a lot: After English class, Mary Anne walks back to her locker with Gordon and Barbara. If you remember all the way back to #93, the two of them and Amelia were her English project group. It’s nice to see her still be friendly with them and that they’re actually still in her English class. Later, it’s mentioned that MA and Abby have the same math teacher, but not the same math class, as mentioned in #96.
Victoria tells MA and Logan she doesn’t want to move back to England, as she’s ‘Americanized,’ and that having to move sucks. I just love that they got away with putting that phrase in a kids’ book, even with Miss Rutherford chastising her afterward.
I’m still trying to figure out in what universe the airfare to London is less than the airfare to Hawaii. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but some girls I know went on a trip very similar to one to London and Paris in SS#15, and it cost them $2400. Now, these girls were born in1998, not traveling in 1998, but you know prices haven’t sextupled in the past eighteen years.
Abby’s mom studied abroad at ‘London University’ in college.
“Sometimes Logan sounded just like Kristy.” Even more reason to ship them? I know I’ve seen that somewhere, and not just in FF#3…
Charlie agrees to drive Kristy, Vicki (what Victoria insists upon being called, because it’s more American) and a slew of neighborhood kids around the neighborhood so she can…say goodbye? Reminisce? I’m not exactly sure. But if I were Victoria’s guardian, I wouldn’t want some seventeen year old I don’t know driving my kid around without my knowledge. Not to mention the fact that Kristy told Miss Rutherford she and Victoria would be at her house. What kind of responsible babysitter takes the kid elsewhere without letting her guardian know?
So Dawn is on her way back to Stoneybrook, and MA decorated her room…which is steeped in presents. I’ve said before that I don’t get why Dawn needs a present every time she goes from one house to the other, but here are my questions this time: Did they completely redecorate her room for her? That’s what the book makes it sound like. Also, is Jeff’s room also piled high with gifts and redecorated?
The title quote is about Claudia, who is eating at her ‘favorite’ restaurant, Cabbages and Kings.
Dawn likes to sleep in, and Jeff apparently repeatedly tells her she doesn’t live up to her name. I think that joke would get old after about the first time he said it…
Wow, a lot of people are going to the bathroom in this book. Dawn does it during a BSC meeting, and then Claudia (during another meeting). It’s really just an excuse to talk about her or read her playground job application without her being in the room, but it reminded me of a whole chapter in one of my favorite book series. These books would have chapters that seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with moving the plot forward, but were funny and brilliant anyway—and actually did relate directly to the plot, if not right away. At one point, the author discusses how a lot happens to the main character that doesn’t get into the books, like eating breakfast and going to the bathroom, because that would make the story drag on and be 3000 pages long. We know the BSC members have to pee sometimes, but rarely does it actually come up in the story.
It must be super-fun to go out for pizza with the BSC and try to share a pizza. Between certain members preferring meat, Dawn refusing to eat meat, and Abby being allergic to pizza on the whole…awesome.
I love this technique; I’ve tried it myself and it works. When Stacey arrives at the Kent house, she can hear Victoria shouting before she even gets into the house. When she’s let in, Victoria is still screaming at Miss Rutherford. Stacey walks and whispers her hello, explaining—when Victoria asks—that she’s whispering specifically to counterbalance the shouting. The person shouting starts to realize how ridiculous they sound.
Victoria is angry when she learns MA won’t be going on the Europe trip, because she thinks Mary Anne doesn’t want to see her anymore. She points out that ever since Dawn came home, she’s been seeing a lot less of MA. This is interesting for two reasons: it’s also part of the reason Kristy is angry (although Kristy hasn’t said that, and it’s never acknowledged in the book), and when MA shows up at the Kent house to apologize to Victoria for not telling her herself, Miss Rutherford says Victoria doesn’t wish to see Mary Anne. Umm, Victoria’s seven. I can see honoring her wishes to some extent, but it seems a little silly to send MA away when she just walked all the way across town to come visit, without even letting her say her piece through a closed door or something.
Alan tells the interviewer during camp interviews that he knows CPR and has lots of sitting experience. Well, who knows whether or not he’s got sitting experience, but he does know CPR. He was in the same safety class the BSC took in #114, where MA learned the CPR that saved Timmy Hsu’s life. And he could have babysat before. The BSC aren’t the only sitters in town.
Okaaaay. The interviews are in alphabetical order, so the BSC members would go Logan, Claudia, Stacey, Dawn, Mary Anne, Abby and then Kristy. Yet, in the book, Abby is somehow interviewed before Dawn and MA.
This was actually funny. Victoria wants some ‘cool American clothes’ so she buys an outfit that hadn’t been cool since 1991. But the funny part was when she called them authentic American clothes and Karen pointed out that the shirt was made in China.
The ending to this book is dumb and unrealistic. The counselors are chosen, and Logan, Mary Anne, Claudia and Dawn, who all weren’t going to Europe, were the winners. As soon as that happens, everyone makes up, with no hard feelings. Yeah, right. If Kristy’s that quick to get snippy, I can’t imagine she’d really be that quick to get over it.
Victoria: t-shirt, jeans, red high tops; jean shorts, Mets t-shirt, no shoes; hot pink shirt, pink and black leggings, pink sunglasses

Next: Mystery #36

“You guys wouldn’t mind if I did a little embezzling, would you?” BSC Mystery# 35: Abby and the Notorious Neighbor (1998) AND BSC Little Sister #111: Karen’s Spy Mystery (1999)

Oh, holy hell. I haven’t read this Abby book, but I have seen it summarized and nitpicked on a couple other blogs. So while I was picking up Little Sister books for my niece a year or so ago, I found this Karen book. And realized, “Hey, wait a minute…isn’t this the exact same plot, only simplified for younger readers?” And it so is. Heck, look at the covers:

Different angles, but almost exactly the same. Karen’s obviously taking notes, while Abby, being Abby…has a box of tissues so she can blow her nose. Oh, and Abby has Anna hair, but that’s another story.
Let’s start the book summary by saying how jealous I am of Abby. I watched America’s Most Wanted for years, wanting to recognize and catch a criminal. Abby’s home with bronchitis, and while watching hours of television, catches a show with wanted fugitives. Later, when she gets super bored, she starts spying on all the neighbors and realizes that one of her neighbors, Mr. Finch, looks exactly like an embezzler she saw on the show. She and Kristy begin spying on him, looking at his mail, and peeking in his windows. They get some proof that he’s actually the embezzler by digging in his trash.
Meanwhile, all the kids are building go-karts for a soap box derby. There’s a few little dramas, like the triplets not wanting to let Nicky be on their team, and a girls team (Vanessa, Charlotte and Becca) and a boys team (the Rodowskys) copying each other. At the last second, the race is won by a ‘secret’ team that Abby learns about by spying.
Interesting Tidbits
Before I get to the books—I will comment on the Karen Krap at the end of this blog entry—let’s talk about Karen’s glasses for a moment. Or rather, the one time in my life I made a Karen-related comment that wasn’t mean, and nobody was around to appreciate it. I was once glasses shopping and, as usual, hated every pair of frames. I finally found a pair I didn’t hate, and considered getting two pairs of that frame. As I was making up my mind, I realized that they had the same pair, in another shade. I ended up with two pairs of glasses, same frames, two different colors. I said, “Just like Karen Brewer! She’s my role model, after all.” And of course, no one got the joke. Maybe that’s why I’ve never bought matching frames like that again….
We first meet Mr. Finch when he’s mowing his lawn. At eight o’clock. On Monday morning. Mrs. Stevenson decides she should go talk to him, because that’s just too early. Two comments to this: a) Someone in Kristy and Abby’s neighborhood actually mows their own lawn?!? b) They should meet my old high school teacher. He lived in the school district, and his neighbors reported that he would mow his lawn at six am on a Saturday.
The title quote is from chapter two. (See, sometimes it pays to read chapter two.) Stacey says there’s enough money in the club treasury for a leather jacket she’s been eyeing. This is even funnier, given the comments about Stacey’s dad in last week’s entry.
As Abby is flipping channels while home sick, she watches a snippet of soap opera: “Oh Jose, I never knew love could be like this—or perhaps I did, before I was kidnapped and developed amnesia…” That’s kinda funny. My favorite moments on soaps have always been the ones where a) they insert random comedy and b) they acknowledge the absurdity of their situation. For the former, there was a scene between a father and son (Luke and Lucky, General Hospital) who are doing the bachelor thing. Lucky doesn’t have a napkin, so he says he’ll wipe his hands on his shirt. (He’s about thirteen.) Luke tells him to wipe his hands on the dog instead. For the latter, there was a wedding on As the World Turns years ago. A woman was sitting in the pews and muttered, “I’m the sister of the groom and the mother of the bride.” And she was completely accurate, yet no laws had been broken! Ahh, soaps.
Abby calls her mother Ma at one point. That actually sounds pretty New England. My dad called his mother Ma, and so do a lot of my cousins in Rhode Island.
Apparently, three different buses drop off elementary school kids in Abby’s neighborhood. And they conveniently all arrive at the same time…. Abby already has binoculars out, for some innocent bird watching, so she starts watching the kids instead. She doesn’t want to call it spying, but that’s just semantics. Even if she calls it looking or watching, it’s still spying. I mean, she’s observed the fact that Scott Hsu’s underwear is sticking out of his pants, for crying out loud. If that’s not snooping, I don’t know what is.
Heh. When Mal and Stacey are supervising two teams of go-kart builders, the girls—Vanessa, Charlotte, and Becca—stop for a candy break. Becca squeals and Mallory’s first response is…to ask if she needs the Heimlich maneuver. Abby says the BSC all know how to respond to choking. But if that’s true, shouldn’t they know you never do the Heimlich on anyone who can make noises, like Becca was doing? I think the funniest part about that is that, to me, that was more of a Mary Anne, worry-wart type of response.
The BSC doesn’t believe that Abby actually spotted a wanted criminal, but Kristy is especially dubious. Later, Abby is ‘watching’ Mr. Finch again, and becomes convinced she was right about him. She calls Kristy, who is so ridiculously sarcastic about the whole thing (and I can’t blame her). She suggests Abby saw him holding a machine gun, and then after finding out he was just eating dinner, says, “Oh my lord! How suspicious can you get?”
Abby calls the Mystery Trackers hotline to ask some questions about the two men she saw, trying to sort out details she was only half watching in a feverish haze. She talks to a summer intern, who is completely clueless and says something like, “Oh, cool, you spotted one of our criminals? Should I call the authorities?” I never called America’s Most Wanted, but I imagine that they have a script they would have to follow, and it never includes saying how cool the information is.
Ooh, Mary Anne goes to talk to Sgt. Johnson. He gives her a ‘Look’ when he suggests that there’s no harm in checking into Mr. Finch as long as he doesn’t know about it. Not only does that sound so wrong—like he’s giving the BSC permission to spy—but I totally read that Look as a sexy Look rather than a ‘don’t go spying’ Look. Now we know why Sgt. Johnson takes the BSC so seriously: it’s not because they’re good detectives, but he and Mary Anne have a little thing on the side. (Later, Abby says that he’s good looking.)
Claudia and Stacey do some cyber-sleuthing for information about Mr. Finch and the two criminals he might be. Janine helps them use the computer. Not only is it so far too modern for the BSC, but it’s also hilarious now. First, there’s the squeal of dial-up. And then when they search the criminals, they decide to print out some pictures of them to compare to Mr. Finch. And only ten minutes later, they have their pictures! It’s so technological!
Abby finally convinces Kristy she’s right about Mr. Finch, and they discuss the fact that Arthur Maguire—the embezzler they think is Finch—abandoned his kids, who were ‘about six and eight.’ Kristy says that all six year olds draw houses with smoke coming out of the chimneys, and all eight year old girls draw horses, while all eight year old boys draw rocket ships. First off…the hell? Really? That is the most ridiculous generalization ever. Let’s assume for a second that it might be true. Even if all eight year old boys do draw rocket ships, they probably also draw aliens, robots, cartoon characters, and all kinds of other objects. We all know, of course, that not all six year olds draw houses. I’ve never drawn a horse in my life, for example. At age eight, I was more into ‘fashion’ design.
I love that they actually built a ‘don’t try this at home’ into the plot, right before Abby and Kristy do something stupid. I have no idea what, as I haven’t read it yet. But the BSC are always doing things in these mysteries that are supremely bad ideas. When they’re not chasing counterfeiters down the street, they’re chasing dogs into suspect’s houses…
Kristy goes and peeks in Mr. Finch’s window, looking for proof that he really is Arthur Maguire, and almost gets caught. First Kristy called and made up a story to get him out of the house. I misread the part when he comes back, and thought he’d used *69 to call back whoever had pranked him. Instead, Abby actually hit redial to force him into the house, and it worked!
Claudia spelling! There was actually a brief moment of it earlier in the book, when she wrote serfing and awsome. This time, we get waching and curiose. She also uses sped for speed, there for their and herd for heard.
Okay. Now that we’ve learned all there is to learn about Abby spying, let’s talk about Karen. In Karen’s Spy Mystery, the Dawes family, who live across the street, go on a business trip to Seattle. A family friend, Bill Barnett, is going to be housesitting, and Karen is supposed to give the family kitten eye drops in the middle of the day and watch the house while Bill is at work. Karen starts spying on the house because she doesn’t like Bill. (He finds her annoying and slams the door in her face, and that’s all it takes for her.) She sees some mildly suspicious behavior and jumps to the conclusion that Bill is trying to rob the Daweses. Hannie tries to talk her out of it, but Karen follows him around and even puts a tape recorder in the Dawes house to try to catch him doing something bad. She records him admitting that he stole money from Nancy’s father’s bank, and the police take him away.
Let’s compare here. Each story features a young female who becomes convinced that a neighbor is doing something illegal. They both have a friend they can’t convince of that fact, until they do some serious spying and get a small amount of evidence. The two friends then do something unethical and probably illegal to get enough proof for the police. Not only do the police accept the tip solely on the basis of hunch and illegal evidence, but each girl gets reward money for her bad behavior.
So what did we—and the preteen girls who read these books—learn? Always trust your instincts when it comes to your neighbors? I think the message is more like “Spy on your neighbors and you will reap in moola.” I’m suddenly glad we didn’t own a pair of binoculars when I was a kid, and that the houses in my neighborhood were far enough apart to not be able to look in windows.

Next: #120

“You’ve been watching too many daytime dramas or something.” BSC #119: Stacey’s Ex-Boyfriend (1998)

I’ve never read this one before, and I’ve kind of been dreading it. Teen/pre-teen literature has a very hit or miss history with the subject of depression. Most of the books either come across as preachy, and/or feature someone who attempts suicide and is saved at the last second. (As much as I love the California Diaries, they fell straight* into that trap.)
*No Ducky-is-gay pun intended, y’all.
Stacey notes that Robert’s been depressed for months and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. He hits every stereotype for depression, from pushing away friends to giving up previously loved activities. Stacey tries to fix him but finds she’s just dragging her own emotions down. Finally, she asks an adult for help, and gets told that she can’t handle Robert’s problems on her own. She urges him to seek help himself, and he does.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover. Robert looks like he’s about twenty. Also, I know depression is hard to draw, so to speak, but his emotionless, blank stare isn’t too terrible at expressing it.

I know I sorta made fun of the foreshadowing of this book in M#33, but I’m actually glad they did that. It allows Stacey a chance to point out that Robert has been down, out of sorts, and bored for at least three months at this point. (They keep describing him as being ‘bummed,’ which is making me picture Robert as a surfer for some reason.)
Claudia’s outfit is so bad, I have no words.
Stacey’s shocked when Claudia suggests Robert could be using drugs. I know from an article I recently read that AMM wanted the series to be more edgy but the publishers wouldn’t allow it. (She said she wanted all the BSC members to have a secret—MA’s mom was dead, Kristy’s dad took off, etc.—and she wanted Stacey’s dad to be in prison for embezzlement. When that was denied, she gave Stacey diabetes instead.) I think this is the closest that the BSC comes to someone having a drug problem in the series. There’s #87, where the ‘bad girls’ are drinking, and #74, where some of Kristy’s teammates smoke, but nobody tries pot that I can recall, or any other drugs.
When Robert says that he doesn’t see the point of everything, Stacey tries to force him. Because, you know, that works so well. He says life’s just the same old, same old. Be glad you figured that out at thirteen, kid. At the time, the baseball team (starring both Logan and Robert) is gearing up for ‘the big game,’ and Robert quits just days before the game. If that’s not a giant warning sign, I don’t know what is.
Seriously…Mr. and Mrs. Pike drop five of their kids—everyone but the triplets—plus all three Ramsey kids off at the strawberry picking place. They give Mal twenty dollars, but make no other instructions to the children (except, don’t eat too many…which Claire ignores. She throws up on Mal’s shoes.) It would have made more sense to find out approximately how much a ‘little green basket’ of berries costs and then tell them how many baskets they can pick. Instead, the kids go overboard, challenging each other over who’s going to pick the most, and throwing berries around. They end up picking thirty dollars in berries and needing extra money. No adult ever comments on the fact that Claire was eating as she’s picking or that the others are wasting berries, and you know they didn’t pay for the thrown/eaten berries.
I like how insightful about people this book makes Claudia. As an artist, she’s naturally observant about the world around her. She points out how Robert is trying to alienate Stacey like he has all his other friends. Stacey hadn’t even realized that Robert didn’t talk to anyone else anymore.
Robert is a textbook case of depression: in addition to quitting the baseball team (giving up activities he previously loved), he lost all his friends, only focused on the negative (how pointless everything is), and is flunking out of school.
To this story’s credit: Most television shows showing a depressed character follow a very simple format: everyone ignores/misinterprets all the symptoms of an unhappy individual and only sees them after the person is dead/attempting suicide. (Facts of Life, Beverly Hills 90210, even Degrassi High**) For example, a girl who shows up for the first time in that episode gives Tootie a necklace and tells her how much she’s appreciated Tootie making her feel welcome at the school. She then goes back to her dorm and swallows a massive amount of pills, killing herself. Tootie wonders how she didn’t know the girl was depressed. But Stacey, although she’s not sure how to help Robert, keeps trying. She won’t let Robert push her away, like he’s done everyone else in their lives. It starts alienating the other members of the BSC, but like she did with Tess in #111, Stacey is convinced she knows best and is going to ‘save’ Robert. She takes on his problem as her own. It is a lot less cringe-worthy this time and a lot more noble, because, unlike Tess, Robert actually does need help.
**Regular readers of this blog know how much I love Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High. I will give them some extra props because one girl actually did notice something was off about the boy who committed suicide. Oh, and unlike the other two shows I mentioned, the character was a familiar one whom the audience knew, and the repercussions of his death played on through pretty much the rest of the series.
So, after nearly every family in the neighborhood has picked more strawberries than they can eat (and Linny, in addition to Claire, ate so many berries he was sick), Kristy decides that the best solution to strawberry fever is…a strawberry festival.
OMG…Kristy goes into a CHAT ROOM to look for strawberry-related ideas, with Linny helping her. Not only does that bring this book into the digital age, but this was obviously before all the warnings to kids not to post in chat rooms and other places without an adult. I can picture Kristy posting something like this:
           Hi, I’m Kristy Thomas, president of the Babysitters Club in Stoneybrook,
Connecticut! I’m with one of my favorite babysitting clients and we want ideas on how to have a Stoneybrook Strawberry Festival. What do you recommend?
PS For a great babysitter, call KL5-5555!
Great idea, no? Well, great idea for calling out child predators to her whole name, location and phone number, at least. (Can’t you just see a modern version of the BSC advertising on Craigslist?)
Stacey’s supposed to be writing her ‘self-portrait.’ Didn’t she already do that? The BSC has been in eighth grade for so long, they’re repeating assignments now.
Stacey calls a radio show, asking for help with Robert. Of course, Dr. Gupti gives her all the right answers, but best part about it is this: She changed her name, and Robert’s, and the sport he’d quit, so that no one will recognize the situation. The phone rings a moment after she hangs up and it’s Claudia, laughing and calling her by her fake name, but agreeing with the advice. (Janine apparently enjoys Dr. Gupti’s show, although it’s largely relationship advice and doesn’t sound like something she’d like.)
The title quote is part of Robert’s rant when Stacey tells him he needs to ask for help.
YES! Claudia spelling, to lighten up the Robert drama! Toosday, nevur, meny, strabarries, shure, agian, festivul.
So Robert talks to his baseball coach, and he’s magically improved? To be fair, he isn’t 100% back to the way he used to be, but he actually goes to the damn ‘strabarry festivul’ and then has a good time at a random dance with Stacey. I guess it could be worse; no one died in this book.
Claudia: zebra striped leotard, leopard spot overall shorts, tiger stripe scarf, lizard scrunchie, giraffe earrings
Next: Mystery #35 and an extra-special extra book. You all seriously owe me for actually reading this crap.

“Am I getting old, or is very noisy in here?” BSC Mystery #34: Mary Anne and the Haunted Bookstore (1998)

I want to point out, before I begin, that this is the most Scooby-esque title of them all in the BSC mysteries series. Maybe if they’d kept going, there could have been a “[Insert your favorite babysitter] and the Mystery of the Abandoned Amusement Park”, where in there’s a monster. Stacey rips the monster’s mask off and discovers it’s really the groundskeeper, and then Shannon the dog and Logan have some Scooby snacks and eat everything in the kitchen at the Spier-Schafer house. Possible, but let’s move on.
A new, mystery-themed bookstore is opening in town. It’s called Poe and Company, and the building it’s housed in had a Poe connection: allegedly, the original owner of the house, Benson Dalton Gable, either was an admirer of Poe’s, or Poe stole his best work from Gable (depending on whom you believe.) There’s even a rumor that Poe killed Gable. Weird, Poe-related things keep happening in the house, and the BSC moves to figure out who’s behind them. It turns out that the owner, Mr. Cates, and his assistant, Ms. Sparks, did everything as a publicity stunt. Then the BSC and the kids discover hidden compartments in a desk and reveal the true relationship between Gable and Poe.
In the B-plot, Mr. Cates uprooted his two children to open the bookstore. His wife recently left the family, and no real reason is ever given for why. However, Kristy helps his two kids realize that it’s not their fault and that they shouldn’t be angry with their father or his potential new girlfriend, either. Then the BSC helps them feel like they fit in.
C-plot: another ridiculous festival.
Interesting tidbits
Heehee, Mary Anne’s wearing a tank top! Oh, and that’s clearly a wig, see?

The story starts with a pretty detailed retelling of Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart,” which MA is reading for English class. (I never liked Poe’s scary stories, and would never read them voluntarily myself.)
Sharon-itis: work papers in the fridge
Okay, so the whole plot of this book revolves around a niche bookstore, right? This was 1998, so maybe it was before online shopping started killing even large box stores. But why create a bookstore that focuses exclusively on mysteries? It cuts down your choices of titles, and it cuts down your customer base. I like some select mysteries, but I wouldn’t set foot in a store like that.
Since I haven’t done this in a while: when the triplets are first mentioned in this book, it’s done alphabetically.
You know it’s been raining a lot in Stoneybrook when all the BSC members are tired of rain jokes and puns…even Abby.
“Here’s the office where the old guy wrote stuff.” You can tell Tom Cates really loves living in a historic building and hearing about it all day long.
Mr. Cates and his coworker/possible girlfriend, Cillia Sparks, keep making Poe jokes all the time. It makes me want to retch.
Haven’t even gotten to the mystery yet, but here are the suspects so far: Ms. Sparks, a big Poe fanatic who is helping Mr. Cates open the store; Alex Gable, descendent of Benson Dalton Gable, and his father; a construction worker who seems to do more eavesdropping than working*; Ramona Kingsolver, a professor from Stoneybrook University; and Mr. Cates himself. Kingsolver expresses that she believes Gable admired and respected Poe and initiated a relationship with him. Alex, on the other hand, believes that his ancestor was a superior, more popular writer, and Poe stole ideas from him.
*At this point, MA is supposed to be painting, but she’s doing more eavesdropping than painting. She really shouldn’t judge anyone.
You know it’s important that Ramona Kingsolver is superstitious, because she’s completely nuts-believes-every-ridiculous-story kind of superstitious. She freaks when Alex walks under a ladder, goes ballistic when he opens his umbrella in the house, hates Pluto the cat simply because black cats are unlucky, and wears a rabbit’s foot and four-leaf clover.
Some real (non-Poe) books mentioned for the bookstore: The Westing Game and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Both of those are actually awesome books. (The former was the first mystery I actually loved and, at least partly, solved prior to the big reveal at the end.)
Mr. Cates and Ms. Sparks leave the house, but need someone to stay behind and accept a delivery. MA and Logan volunteer. Maybe Mr. Cates doesn’t know they’re dating, but to me, leaving two teens, one of each gender, alone in your house—especially teens that aren’t related to you and you aren’t legally responsible for—sounds like a horrific idea. (Interestingly, when Mr. Cates comes back with his kids, Gillian says bye to MA and MA’s boyfriend. Claudia told her who Logan is. Mr. Cates still seems unconcerned. I guess coming home and finding them still clothed probably helped.)
Caludia speling! Do’nt, annother, Saterday, was’nt, teling, wurest (worst), everybudy, werld, geting. Also, she uses there for they’re, wurst for worst and hole for whole. She also spells Gillian as Jilian, but a) she’s never met her before and b) Jillian is more common than Gillian, so I’ll give her a pass.
Claudia and Stacey take the Cates kids and Charlotte to see Star Wars. Tom says everyone’s seen that movie before. I’m pretty sure all three Star Wars movies replayed that year or there abouts, leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace. That was actually the first time I’d ever seen Star Wars. So, shut up, Tom.
Mrs. Pike says the title line at Pizza Express, right after she gives the triplets money to play video games. Look, lady. You’re the dingbat who took five of your kids out for pizza…right after a very crowded movie…on a day when it’s too wet to play outside. Take some aspirin and get over it.
This is pretty funny, though. When Claudia loses Tom in the bathroom at the movie theater, she runs into Alan. She asks him if a boy named Tom is in the restroom, and Alan says he’s alone. He then laughingly suggests that Claudia lost her date, even as Claud explains that she’s babysitting. Later, he runs into Claudia sitting at the table and asks if her new boyfriend ever came back.
Vanessa even writes a poem about her pizza. I fear for the Pikes when she’s old enough to discover Poe and his ilk.
Ha ha! Alex meets Stacey and starts flirting with her. He says he thought she went to SHS with him, but Stacey confirms she’s in middle school. All I could think was that he must not be that cute, or Stacey would have pretended to be older (like she did in the BSC movie.)
So apparently, since Gable’s grave has never been found (WTF? How do you lose a grave?), Alex believes that Poe killed Gable and walled him up in his own house, and then stole his ‘missing documents.’ (For those not up on Poe, he references “The Tell-tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” both of which involve burying someone in a house.) Someone is behind the wall, but it’s the cat, just like Poe’s “The Black Cat.”
Alex claims that the Gable house was the inspiration for Poe’s “The Raven” because there are ravens carved in to the fireplace (or something lame like that). Then MA finds words from the poem carved into a shelf in Gable’s bookcase. Ooh, and then Mr. Cates drops a paper that is signed Annabel Lee, like the Poe poem, and tells MA not to tell anyone else. It’s all so mysterious! (You should hear my sarcastic happiness in that statement.)
Mistake! In Kristy’s notebook entry, she writes ‘Aunt Cecilia.’ Jessi’s aunt’s name is spelled Cecelia. Prior to these books, every one I’d ever known with that name spelt it Cecilia, which is the original spelling. (It’s the feminine of Cecil). However, I’ve since met a real-life Cecelia, and I’m assuming her parents chose that spelling for the nickname Celia, which is indeed how she’s known.
Maybe we were weird little kids, but when we used to play hide and seek, there was no base or home. You stayed hidden until you were found; you didn’t try to escape from your hiding place and race around the house. Anyone else play like that?
Tom has a theory, which is probably at least partly true: he thinks his parents only got married because his dad is obsessed with Poe, and his mother’s name is Annabel Lee. That’s probably what got his attention about her in the first place, but hopefully not what caused him to propose or anything
I keep trying to type Pow instead of Poe. Honestly, this story would be a lot more awesome if Mr. Cates and the rest of the characters were all obsessed with the Pikes’ dog.
Ms. Spark keeps calling Mary Anne Dupin, which I assume is a Poe reference I can’t immediately place. Logan and Claudia suggest calling in the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew to help solve the mystery, but Ms. Sparks says the BSC is better. (A reporter came to interview Mr. Cates about the bookstore, and the random reporter actually recognizes MA from earlier mysteries.)
After someone lets a raven into the building, MA decides to check everyone’s shoes to see who was outside (and would therefore have muddy shoes, since it had been raining for weeks straight). You’d think EVERYONE in the building would have muddy shoes at this point. This doesn’t seem like the best way to make a determination of guilt. So much for MA being Dupin…
I love when AMM and her ghostwriters throw little tidbits about not trusting media coverage. This time, it stems from something Poe wrote (from Dupin’s point of view), but relates directly to the newspaper article posted about the bookstore.
Ha! Remember the reference to The Westing Game earlier in the book? MA goes to a pet store and finds out they ordered a raven for a woman, whom the clerk couldn’t describe. MA says she found a raven—which she sort of did—and gives the clerk her name. Only she writes Marie Roget, a character in one of the Dupin mysteries. It reminded me of a plot point in another of Ellen Raskin’s books, The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. The main character, who has the improbable name of Dickory Dock, claims she’s a famous poet to hide her identity, only to have that be more disastrous than if she’d just given her own name.
The BSC continues to believe there’s actually a ghost until they find definitive proof that someone’s been creating these situations as a hoax of some kind. (They find the Cates’ missing stereo in the basement, with a ‘beating heart’ tape still in it, explaining the sounds MA and Logan heard while alone in the house.) I love how these teenaged girls, very much old enough to know better, keep believing in ghosts over and over again, despite Dawn and her ghost stories leaving town.
You know the BSC is getting desperate when they start borrowing detective tools from the triplets…
Claudia spelling, part two: furst, pikture, mach (match), difrent, smal, difrences, desine. She also uses its for it’s and to for too.
My only comment on the ‘sunny day festival’? I can’t believe that Stacey would voluntarily make a mud pie, but it’s actually all her idea.
In the end, Mary Anne, with Gillian’s help, finds a hidden compartment in Gable’s desk. Inside is a lap desk, full of the letters between Gable and Poe. There are a lot of unanswered questions though: whatever happened to Gable’s body? What did MA do for her Poe English project? And what kind of name is Cillia, anyway?
Oh, and the last page of the book—before the preview for mystery #35—notes that Benson Dalton Gable was not real and didn’t exist, but Poe did. Well, duh.
I also just realized that MA has #34 and M#34. I wonder if that happens any other time? I can't think of one, but I'm also not trying to hard either. :P
New characters
Tom and Gillian Cates (10 and 7)—28 and 25
Mary Anne: yellow slicker with navy lining
Claudia: jeans painted with raindrops on the legs, long white shirt, gray vest painted with umbrellas, parasol earrings
Stacey: navy rain hat, navy miniskirt, white ribbed turtleneck, white ribbed stockings, navy nail polish; turquoise sundress, white sunglasses with turquoise polka dots, denim jacket
Jessi: t-shirt with shiny gold sun

Next: #119. Can’t wait! (There goes that sarcasm again.)