Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.
1930 Chs 17-22; 1959 Chs 18-19
FINALLY we get to the hidden staircase, and the pace really picks up as all the random plot elements start to converge. But not before we spend a lot more time in 1959 with Nancy and the police tracking down the men who kidnapped her father. Acting on clues that Nancy gave them, they’ve picked up one of the men, but can’t get a confession from him. So naturally (?!?), they ask Nancy to do the interrogation. She is of course successful, by using her feminine wiles to appeal to his sense of decency and shames him into cooperating because he’s really just a good guy who fell in to bad company and is now heartily ashamed of himself.
1930 Nancy, convinced that Gombet is her “ghost”, decides to confront him directly, but conceals her plans from the frightened old ladies. After they fall asleep, she sneaks out of the house through a window, armed with a flashlight and her gun. Gombet is leaving his house just as she’s getting there, so she decides to break into his house and explore rather than questioning him. She sees a “surly-looking creature” (Gombet’s servant) through the window and avoids the kitchen, then tries all the windows until she finds one to the cellar that’s open. Excitement ensues as she sneaks around, trying to avoid getting caught by the servant, until she accidentally falls through a hidden door in an upstairs closet and all the way down a hidden staircase.
1959 Nancy, having spent all the valuable page space dancing, cooking, cleaning, eating delicious meals, and investigating her father’s disappearance, doesn’t get to have fun sneaking around a house that she’s broken into, avoiding detection by a scary servant. Partly because the later revisions deal with the earlier racist stereotypes by just making all the characters white, and partly because 1959 Nancy is too virtuous to engage in illegal breaking and entering. Instead, she wheedles a realtor into giving her permission to explore, despite the house already having been sold to (surprise!) Nathan Gomber. Once again, Nancy lets other characters engage in the shady ethics while she profits from it. She’s like a mob boss keeping her hands clean by letting lesser people do her dirty work. Anyway, similar to 1930, Nancy finds the hidden door upstairs and falls down the staircase, then she and Helen go exploring, eventually coming to another stone staircase, but are confronted by a man telling them to stop.
1930 Nancy’s time in the tunnel is a lot more fun, because she’s down there alone at night and nobody knows where she is, and it’s dank and smelly and there are rats, and her flashlight battery is fading, but she bravely marches on until she comes to another stairway that takes her up to… a trapdoor in the attic floor at The Mansion! Nancy sleeps in the next morning and wakes to find that the sisters have finally caved to Gombet’s demands and have verbally agreed to sell the house, but Nancy reveals that Gombet was the ghost and shows them the hidden stairway. They all go exploring together, and discover all the hidden entrances to explain all the ghostly happenings. Then Nancy and the old ladies pile into her little roadster and roar off into town to report to the police.
Dated Plot Points: Nancy is trapped in the hidden passageway with no way to call for help, so I’m not sure how this would work in a modern adventure story. I suppose their mobile phones might get no cell reception underground, or maybe Nancy’s phone could have smashed when she fell, and Helen could have forgotten to bring her phone? Also, I loved that the 1959 girls would go exploring a dilapidated old mansion wearing skirts, and even more so that those skirts would have pockets AND those pockets would big enough to carry their flashlights in. I don’t believe they had mini maglites in those days, so these would have been bulky, heavy devices.
Considerations: It has always bugged me, and still does, that the books use a single “p” spelling for kidnapped. “Kidnaped” instead of “kidnapped”, although apparently either spelling is correct. Doesn’t make it right though.
Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:
Update to our sidebar conversation under Tannat's book update yesterday: I don't know what this translates to in Celsius, but no matter what your relative comfort level with temperatures, it was freakin hot last night and I thought I was going to die. I must have sucked down a gallon of ice tea and it's not even July yet. Notice in the pic (taken before first pitch, tbf) that nobody is stupid enough to be sitting in the sun. But we won the game, so it was worth it!
NOTE: game photo stolen from the Max Faulkner, who is an amazing photographer, because I have no idea how to embed something from Twitter in a BL blog post.
A Land More Kind Than Home is wonderful storytelling, dark and tragic, with delicious atmosphere. Much of the mystery derives from the non-linear structure and the reveal coming in slow dribs and drabs from the point of view of three different characters of varying ages and levels of involvement. This adds to the tension and the fun, but ultimately was a little unsatisfying as I didn’t feel fully connected to any of them, although there were moments that were deeply touching.
This is the second book I’ve read by Wiley Cash, and I’ve enjoyed both. I’ll keep looking for books from this author.
Audiobook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive. The audio used three different performers to represent each main character and all were terrific, especially the voice for the sheriff and the old woman.
6/24/18 – 25%
The changing artwork is part of my fun in collecting these books. Although there are two text versions, the illustrations were updated three times, with the quality deteriorating each time.
Russell Tandy did the first two versions, but the second revision, to save costs on the printing, only included a single frontispiece in a plain paper rather than glossy page, and he kept essentially the same design, but updated the hair and clothing styles. The book in my collection with this illustration was printed about 1954, but based on Nancy’s hair and clothes, I’m guessing that this illustration was revised in the 40’s.
The illustrations were revised again for the 1959 revised text, but this time by an uncredited artist who had little of Tandy’s talent, and by the 1970’s (for the later volumes in the series) the illustrations look like they were pulled from a reject pile of scribblings. The revised versions all have 6 plain paper line drawings. These revised text illustrations don’t attempt to mirror Tandy’s original work, although they sometimes show a similar scene.
And last, here’s an illustration of one of those random scenes inserted just to have an end of chapter cliffhanger and artificial drama, but don’t actually have anything to do with the mystery. In this scene, the ceiling collapses on Nancy and Helen because the old ladies neglected to repair a roof leak. This is never referred to again during the book, not even to discuss the cleanup, despite the author’s zeal for detailing the dusting and tidying and dishwashing, so I guess everyone kept stepping around the pile of rubble and not bothering to get a contractor out to fix the giant hole in the ceiling. I guess the Cult of Domesticity includes ladies engaging in housework, but not actual home repairs or maintenance. All I know is, 1930 Nancy would never have let a collapsed ceiling go unfixed. All 1959 Nancy did about it was change into clean clothes.
Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:
(note: sorry about that previous post - I had last posted these before my dad passed away and lost track of where I was, so ND2.12 was a duplicate)
1930 Chs 13-16; 1959 Chs 9-17
1930 Nancy is now so worried about her missing father that she doesn’t have much heart for solving the mystery anymore, but soldiers on for the old ladies’ sake. She’s certain that Gombet is behind the “haunting”, to try to force the Turnbulls to accept his lowball offer, and she’s determined to expose him. She decides to confront him, and is surprised when she finds out that he lives in the next house over. The sisters explain the history of the “twin” houses, which is similar in both versions, except that in the original, Gombet lives a miserly existence in the decrepit twin house alone with just a servant, but (how’s this for random) raises birds and has a taxidermy hobby, which somehow conjures images of Norman Bates, and now every time Nathan Gombet/Gomber is in a scene, I picture Anthony Perkins.
In the first and only scene without Nancy, we get the backstory on what happened to Carson Drew. He is met at the train station by Gombet, who claims Nancy is at his house, so badly injured in a car wreck that she can’t be moved. Mr. Drew is so distraught that he just goes along with it, and doesn’t realize he’s been tricked until he’s been locked in an upstairs bedroom. After hours alone, unable to find a way to escape, Gombet tries to coerce him into signing a check for $20,000 and a promise not to prosecute. When Drew tries to go on the attack to escape, Gombet pulls a gun on him and has his (servant? Co-conspirator? Lackey?) tie him up. Gombet threatens to starve him until he signs, then when Carson remains resolute, he threatens to dope and kidnap Nancy. Carson calls Gombet a “reprobate” and a “fiend”.
This servant is the next major example of character cleanup in the Nancy Drew series. This 1930 character is so awful that she is removed entirely from the 1959 update and the story entirely re-written so that Gombet/Gomber has landowner Willie Wharton to be his evil sidekick instead. No name is given to this woman – she’s just “the colored woman” or “the negress”, who is described as fat, slovenly-looking, clumsy, sullen, and looks as though she were an ogre. Gombet is as mean to her as to anyone else, so there’s no indication of why she’s even helping him.
1959 Nancy finds out that her father had called Hannah a few days earlier to let her know he was on the way to Cliffwood, so the “unavoidably delayed” telegram was a hoax. Nancy begins investigating her father’s disappearance, calling Chicago and transportation companies, and finally driving to the Cliffwood train station to interview employees and cabbies. She finds nothing useful until one of the cabbies is shamed into admitting that Carson Drew had passed out while riding in his taxi with some strange men, who then transferred him into another car and threatened the cabbie’s family if he told.
Nancy finally reports her father’s kidnapping to the police, who tell her that they’re on it and to leave it to them and to stay home where she belongs. Nancy promises to be a good girl and let the menfolks handle it, but internally is already making plans to continue investigating on her own. Which she does, picking up clues and telling the police what to do with them. The police seem to take this remarkably well, and readily share their findings with her.
Meanwhile, there is something exciting happening at Twin Elms in every chapter, and the clues keep piling up. Gomber finally catches Aunt Flora alone and bullies her into signing papers to sell the house, causing her an hysterical attack that confines her to bed after she refuses to go to the hospital.
Considerations (1): The differences in writing styles is more apparent in this second book in the series, since the story was extensively re-written in the revised edition. The 1930 author created tension with atmosphere & description. The 1959 author created tension with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, but most of it is totally manufactured drama that isn’t relevant to the story.
Considerations (2): At one point, 1959 Nancy gets a frantic call to come back to Twin Elms right away, she doesn’t really put the pedal to the metal, but drives “as fast as the law allows”, meaning that she’s just driving the speed limit. I guess that means that she normally drives slower than the speed limit, like an old grandma. Very different than 1930 Nancy, who regularly pushes her roadster so hard that even the police can’t keep up with her.
Dated Plot Points: Related to my DPP from my ND2.3 post, the scene where Nancy is beginning her investigation into her father’s disappearance by calling Chicago and transportation companies and hospitals, I had a happy moment of nostalgia when she had to leaf through various phone books kept by the Turnbull’s phone to get contact information, and even to find out what hospitals were nearby. I had forgotten what it was like before Google, when you had a different paper phone directory for every city and they were all piled up by the main phone in the house. Nowadays, Nancy could have been searching and calling and investigating from her convertible as she drove into town, although the 1959 virtuous and law abiding Nancy probably wouldn’t do websearches while driving.
Also: Lunch at a drugstore food counter, with a flirty counterman and nobody is staging a sit-in. I wonder when drugstores stopped having these in their stores? I can only remember one, in my grandmother’s tiny rural town that was too small to even have a Dairy Queen, and that would have been before 1975.
Cult of Domesticity: In an oddly random scene, everyone tries to distract Nancy from worrying about her missing father by having a costume party (?!!), which gives them an opportunity to be super girly by dressing up in colonial era clothes (of course Nancy gets the ball gown while Helen has to wear the men’s duds), playing music, and dancing the minuet with a modern twist. More domestic details describing the care the girls take of Miss Flora, although why an attack of the vapors should require her to have a dinner of bouillon, dry toast, and plain gelatin, I don’t know. By “plain gelatin” I’m assuming they mean regular fruit flavored jello without (warning, don’t click the link if you’re hungry) bits of fruit, vegetables, or meat floating in it. There are more scenes of the girls doing housework and cooking and descriptions of meals. Drugstore lunchcounter: Hot split pea soup, declined the pie for dessert.
Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:
ND2.4 (current post)
Starting over. I started this book back in January and never got past the first couple of pages. Not because the story was terrible, but because reading in the ebook format feels like trying to make myself like brussels sprouts. Keep trying different recipes, I tell myself. You just haven't found the right one yet, and think of the benefits if you can like them!
Anyway, I've finally decided that I really can't keep 3 books (1 audio, 1 bound, 1 ebook) going at once, and my rationale for trying to do it is invalid. After all, whenever I expect to have time to read when I'm away from home (waiting at doc office, DMV, etc.), I pack a real book, and when I don't expect it, I read my Twitter timeline or news articles on my phone instead.
So from now on, I'll read only 2 at a time - 1 audio, 1 bound *or* ebook. That should help me get whittle down my TBR mountain a little better, and relieve the sense of guilt over books started and left hanging.
It's hard to be patient with the nonlinear storytelling, because it feels like wasted energy trying to figure out which parts have already happened vs. what's the current story and whose story this is. But the voices are interesting and the audio performances are very good so far.
The Cypress House is my first Michael Koryta novel, but likely won’t be my last. I’m not even sure why this one was on my TBR list, as I added it years ago, long before I started keeping notes as to why I put books on the list for management/periodic TBR purges.
It was an odd mix of thriller and romance with supernatural elements, and I almost DNF’d it because it took the full (self-imposed) minimum 50 pages to engage my attention. Pacing-wise, it dragged in places with long chunks of exposition, and I felt emotionally disconnected from all the characters. The supernatural story elements served more as a convenient plot-device than interesting twist. However, the story was still interesting enough to keep me going and had a satisfying ending.
Hardcover, borrowed from my public library.
Another fun collection of essays by Sedaris. I think my favorite, and most relatable, was the story of his mother locking the kids out of the house after days of being shut up together by snowstorms had driven her a little crazy. The author certainly doesn’t spare himself in examining the failings of human nature, but read in his own deadpan voice is somehow funny even when people are behaving very badly.
Audiobook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive. As always, the reading by Sedaris is terrific.
I suspect that this is probably a very interesting read and it would likely be fun to follow along with the revelation of clues and Victorian-era detective's investigation of this true crime. However, this book is only available from my library on audio, and I'm finding it a real snoozer. I'm not sure if this is due to Simon Vance's performance, which isn't bad, or if the narrative style is just a bad fit for the audio format. Either way, I'm not finding it compelling enough to knock any other books off my To Buy TBR list, so I'll just abandon the book at this point. I'm not assigning a star rating, since I think my dissatisfaction has more to do with the format than the quality of the writing or audio performance.
DNF at 14%. Borrowed from my public library via Overdrive.
The best and worst of SK: Great characters to invest in, author violating your trust and investment in those characters, awful events fantastically described, wildly uneven pacing, strangely dissatisfying ending. Subtract a star for placing at least part of the events in some bizarre version of Texas where entirely distinct geographic regions are mishmashed together in a way that is completely unrecognizable. Add a star for(show spoiler)
Add another star for an outstanding performance by Will Patton.
Audiobook, purchased via Audible.
6/3/18 – 2%
6/3/18 – 17% (pause)
6/17/18 – 34%
This is just not grabbing me. I don't know if it's the writing (I've never read Koryta before) or the story, but it's not a good sign that I'd rather watch and read about my last place Rangers playing mediocre baseball than read this book. I'll put some effort into it later today and power through to my minimum 50 pages before I decide whether or not to DNF.
Dot’s pretty salty about the new interloper in the family, but in the end discovers something common to most big sisters: He might be a wolf in bunny clothing, but he’s still YOUR wolf in bunny clothing. Loved Dot’s sass, and her voice was fun to read aloud. Not a huge fan of the illustrations, though.
Hardcover, borrowed from my public library
I don’t know if my library copy was missing some pages or if the author is trying to introduce preschoolers to non-linear storytelling, but I found this disjointed and hard to follow. Plus, I didn’t like the blobbly scribbly illustrations.
Hardcover, borrowed from my public library
Boy and Robot find common ground and friendship. Cute story, love the illustrations. I especially liked the juxtaposition of Robot power switch : Boy sleep time and how they tried to take care of each other.
eBook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive
Cub will put up with almost anything to eat cookies, but he can’t suppress his essential bear nature forever. I’m not sure what the moral is here, or if there is one, but poor little Cub is so relatable, and the illustrations are great.
Hardcover, borrowed from my public library