30 June 2020

Books Completed Since June 1

book icon  The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson
I don't think I've read an Eric Larson book I didn't like, even if Devil in the White City was supremely creepy and I don't believe I'll be reading it again. This is one of those books I dived into and didn't come up until I was finished. It begins in May 1940, when King George VI requested Winston Churchill to start a new government and ends with the United States' entry into World War II, since Churchill realized early that Great Britain could not stand against the juggernaut German war machine and if the Nazis decided to invade, they would indeed "fight them on the beachheads, etc." but in the end would lose.

It's also a splendid portrait of Winston Churchill, warts and all, at his most resolute, and his family (including his disappointingly drunken and dissolute son Randolph, who was even disliked by his mother), and of a Britain mobilized into its now-classic "Keep Calm and Carry On" response. We're taken into 10 Downing Street, Chartwell (Churchill's "weekend home" in Aylesbury that became a second planning center), the bombed London streets, the crowded and dirty Tube shelters, Lord Beaverbrook's fruitless attempts to resign, and even into the plans of Rudolf Hess involving a trip over the English Channel.

As always Larson intertwines events, personalities, and places with absorbing ease. Loved this book—can't you tell? (This would be a good book to read along with the new Agents of Influence, about William Stephenson and the pro-British propaganda movement in the 1930s United States.)

book icon  The National Review Treasury of Classic Children's Literature, Volume 2, selected by William F. Buckley
This is the second of two volumes where the short stories were chiefly taken from "St. Nicholas" Magazine, and, seeing that I have this "St. Nicholas" fixation, it had to become part of the household. (Three stories exactly are from other magazines, including Ellis Parker Butler's hilarious "Pigs is Pigs," and the complete Tom Sawyer, Detective, which, unlike Tom Sawyer Abroad, at least as a beginning, a middle, and an end.)

Like in the first volume, Buckley seems a bit too fond of the fairy tales (sorry, not a fan of Burnett's "Queen Crosspatch"), but there's a fine assortment of other tales, including two selections from The Jungle Book/The Second Jungle Book, "Another Chance" about a girl given a chance to go to a toney school who almost ruins herself by getting in with a wealthy crowd, the medieval adventure The Boy and the Baron, Jack London's "Cruise of the Dazzler," and, probably my favorite in the volume, L. Frank Baum's "Aunt Phroney's Boy," about a wealthy young man whose automobile is stranded outside a country farm where an elderly woman waits for her husband to come home from the local fair (her thrifty husband explaining to her that it's "too expensive" for her to go). It's heartwarming and funny all at once. 

book icon  Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, Rhys Bowen
It's finally going to happen: Lady Georgiana Rannoch now has no obstacles in her way to marry dashing spy Darcy O'Mara, but as always with Georgie, there are problems to overcome. Her wedding's been turned into a larger affair, she's having problems communicating her ideas for a wedding dress to her best friend Belinda, and, worst of all, when Georgie and Darcy go residence-hunting, their meager incomes mean they'll be living in one-room walkups with insect infestations and mold. Plus Georgie's worried that her mother's intended German spouse is getting too pally with the Nazis.

Luckily Georgie's godfather (and first stepfather) Sir Hubert Anstruther comes to the rescue. Since Anstruther, an avid explorer, uses his estate Eynsleigh so little, he's willed it to Georgie, and wants her to set up housekeeping there; he only asks she leave him a few rooms in one wing to live in when he occasionally visits home. Georgie is delighted and heads to Eynsleigh to start prepping the house for her married life, only to discover the familiar butler and old staff are gone, to be replaced by a lazy, sullen butler, a chef who can't cook, a snooty maid, and two lazy gardeners. Plus, Plunkett the butler tells her Sir Hubert's elderly mother lives in one of the wings and is quite mad. Not able to contact with her godfather, who's on one of his exploring treks, Georgie tries her best to cope with the lazy servants, and soon realizes something is "really wrong in the state of Denmark."

Enjoyable as always, although Georgie seemed slightly naive about the servants. Would love to see Sir Hubert in another book, and glad Georgie's mother has taken a new tack.

book icon  Re-read: The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...okay, not that far. It's 1971. There's a new film at Garden City Cinema for Memorial Day: a scientific thriller called The Andromeda Strain. My best friend and I see this together. And boy, do we fall. Hard. We go see it again, although both our practical fathers are aghast at the idea of paying to see a film for a second time! A month or so later, I manage to see it a third time when I inveigle my parents with "But you haven't seen it!" When it played on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies some years later, I audiotaped it. And, of course, the moment we got out of the theatre the first time, I bought the book.

In The Andromeda Strain, a space satellite lands in an obscure corner of Arizona and kills all but two people in a tiny town: an elderly man and a small baby. These two survivors are brought to an underground lab in Nevada where scientists prepared for a biological crisis try not only to categorize and explain this new, deadly germ, but try to figure out what it was about the man and the baby that kept them alive.

Crichton fooled many a reader by almost making them think this (or a version of this) had really happened by citing scientific papers, referring to sober-sounding Government projects and teams, using known or realistic technology in the diagnosis—in short, making this like a memoir instead of like a standard thriller. There's no real fancy technology, explosions, or gore, just a realistic narrative about the relentless repetition of tests enable scientists to solve the mystery of a deadly disease. Action fans will certainly find it dull; I still find it absorbing and utterly realistic, if not terrifying. Still one of Crichton's best, despite the dating, since it's firmly grounded in its era and "could have happened."

book icon  The Andromeda Evolution, Daniel N. Wilson
One of the differences between The Andromeda Strain the film and Andromeda Strain the book was in the film they actually kill the virus at the end; in the book it mutates into a non-infectious form and they let it be. That decision comes back to bite them in the butt in this recent sequel to the classic novel: something dark and sinister is starting to grow in the midst of the Amazon rain forest. And nothing seems to stop its progress. Luckily Project Eternal Vigilance has never forgotten Andromeda, and when word comes, a new Project Wildfire team is assembled to investigate the Amazon growth: an Indian doctor, an African scientist, a Chinese pathologist, an American astronaut/scientist monitoring the situation from the International Space Station, and a last minute replacement, the son of one of the original Project Wildfire scientists, James Stone, son of Jeremy Stone.

The original novel was a taut, quiet thriller taking place in a laboratory. This story is what happens when you take the original story and graft on a half-dozen other Crichton ideas, including Sphere and Jurassic Park, add duplicitous military men, an Amazon native tribe, a "space elevator," and a woman who has a genius mind but whose physical problems really should have a deterrent to her being assigned to the Space Station in the first place. Elements of horror films creep in everywhere, whether in the jungle, in the installation in the midst of said jungle, and up on the space station. People get swallowed up, native Amazonians get massacred, and the space station sequences have elements of Alien and Doctor Who's "The Ark in Space." The result is a mess, and the only reason I kept reading was because I wanted to see what happened to James Stone. The most interesting thing in the story is the one other link it has to the original novel, which made did make me smile.

book icon  Game of Dog Bones, Laurien Berenson
Margaret Turnbull, Melanie Travis' renown and often annoying aunt, had been awarded the dog world's ultimate accolade: she's been chosen as a group judge at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Melanie accompanies Aunt Peg to New York City as assistant and companion, and must literally fend off an old "frenemy" of Peg's on the way to the hotel: Victor Durbin, whose questionable breeding methods and involvement in a dog café venue for adoptions have made him persona non grata with many people, but especially Aunt Peg, so when he turns up murdered Peg is the prime suspect. Naturally, Melanie throws herself into the investigation.

The mystery itself involves something in the news a lot these days and is suitably complicated for a cozy. The real strength with this book, the 25th in a series, is in the details: behind the scenes at august Westminster, Melanie's teaming with her sister-in-law Bertie, and the approaching wedding of flamboyant Terry and conservative Crawford (something happens at the wedding that made me cry). Davey continues with showing his poodle Augie, and of course there's kindergartener Kevin for comic relief.

By the way, I agree with another reviewer that we'd love to see Sam involved in a mystery!

book icon  A Question of Betrayal, Anne Perry
This is the second in Perry's newest series set in pre-World War II England and Germany, featuring Elena Standish, talented photographer and daughter of a former ambassador to Germany. In the first volume of the series, Elena discovered her beloved grandfather was the former head of MI.6, Great Britain's international spy network, and she had successfully completed an errand that sent her to Berlin and put her in great danger. In this outing, Elena has an even more difficult mission: extricate her former love Aiden Strother, a man who revealed himself as a traitor to the country and got her fired from her job at the British Embassy, from Italy, since it turns out he was a double agent all along. The man who customarily passed Aiden's reports to England has not been heard from in weeks and it may be that Strother, too, is in danger. Can Elena get him out of Italy while putting aside her personal feelings?

In a subplot, Elena's older sister Margot goes to Berlin to attend the wedding of a dear childhood friend, who she realizes is marrying a heartless member of the Gestapo. Margot wonders: is her friend just too besotted with love to understand the hate within the man, or is there something more sinister going on?

I probably would have been better off reading the previous book first so I would know the particulars about her grandfather and how losing her job affected her and her family, but this can be read pretty much stand-alone if you don't mind being missing some background information. There's the distinct Perry touch of two capable women surviving in hostile environments, detailed descriptions of the ladies' fashions at the time, and welcome detail to 1930s life, and there's a tense plot right until the very end. The buried sinister machinations under German bonhomie is especially well done, making for uneasiness in many chapters. However, I don't find I like Elena or Margot as well as her two other leads, Charlotte Ellison Pitt and Hester Latterly Monk; the sisters don't seem to have the depth that either of Perry's Victorian protagonists have.

book icon  How Did It Begin?: The Origins of Our Curious Customs and Superstitions, Dr. R. & L. Brasch
This is an Australian-published (since much of it is Anglo-Australian in focus) book of trivia that I picked up ages ago on a remainder table and have read in a desultory fashion for literally years now. Interesting facts about customs surrounding death, birth, courtship, drinking customs, homes, sports and other pastimes, religion, time, etc..Basically this is what I call "a bathroom book," something kept in the john to read during, as Frank Gilbreth called it, "unavoidable delay." Not true how much of these facts are true, as some of the word etymologies are iffy, but some trivia for your entertainment.

book icon  Tunnel in the Sky, Robert A. Heinlein
This is a Heinlein juvenile I had never read, and when a friend said she was reading it, I decided to try it as well. I have heard it described as Lord of the Flies-like, but it really isn't.

Rod Walker lives on a future Earth threatened with overpopulation and starvation. Luckily a scientist has invented a device that can teleport humans—the titular "tunnel in the sky"—to other planets to colonize. Rod dreams of being one of these colonists, and, in his final year of high school, he takes an elective "survival course," the final exam which is being teleported to an uninhabited planet to survive for a week before being retrieved; the choice of survival equipment taken is the student's. His older sister Helen gives him good advice on what to take, and he is able to survive the anticipated test period, even after most of his gear is stolen. But retrieval back to Earth doesn't come, and Rod finally partners with a friend from school and another student from a different school. When they become resigned to the fact that retrieval may never come, Rod and his friends find other students, both good and bad, and start building their own civilization.

It's a fascinating portrait of how villages begin and how teamwork provides survival, and also how the lazy or callous can erode the group's safety. The story works because Rod isn't a model teen—he doesn't want to play politics, but leaves that to another young man, only to find that costs and causes problems—and that things can go wrong simply from underestimating the local flora and fauna. It is very anti-Lord of the Flies because, despite problems from a few students who refuse to cooperate, the students do manage to found a thriving community instead of descending into barbarity.

When Heinlein wrote this book, he refused to use stereotypes to delineate his characters, and intended that his protagonist be a person of color. Although other POC are featured in the story, most notably Caroline, who is of Zulu heritage, his publishers in the 1950s were extremely reluctant to have a lead character who was black. Since then publishers have portrayed Rod as white (and even blond) on covers over the years. However, this book is notable for a 1950s book in that its lead character is black, and refreshingly non-stereotyped compared to most 1950s efforts. Old-fashioned (the colonists usually go to new planets in covered wagons drawn by horses or oxen, or riding horses), but food for thought.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters at Lizard Cove, Jerry West
A shipment of pineapples and the tiny iguana that stows away in it send the Hollister kids (12-year-old Pete; 10-year-old Pam; Ricky, age 7; Holly, age 6; and 4-year-old Sue) and their parents on not only a wonderful vacation but an interesting mystery in this entry in the series. Mrs. Hollister discovers the sender of the pineapples is an old school chum who married a doctor in Puerto Rico, and that she is in town with her two children, Carlos and Maya. The Villamils persuade the Hollisters to spend the week at their home at Lizard Cove, where the kids return "Lucky" the iguana to his native land, play in the surf, and explore. They discover an old stone with carving on it, and discover it may lead to a stolen Spanish relic. In the course of the story, they also help a boy named Manuel, who attends the local school for the blind, recover his stolen guitar, a memento from his grandfather. Would you be surprised to know that the stolen guitar and the two men trying to steal the stone the kids find are connected? Probably not, because this is a Happy Hollisters mystery after all.

This is part mystery and part travelogue, as the kids learn some Spanish and visit historical sites, plus learn what an infanta is (it's the 1950s, so Columbus is still treated in a positive way—time for a learning moment). Joey Brill, of course, mutters about "foreigners" when Carlos and Maya visit the Hollister kids' school, and gets set straight about them being Americans by one of their classmates, so apparently 1950s kids knew what a lot of modern adults don't understand. Contains a few 1950s gender-role stereotypes, but, again, all the kids go on the hunt for the thieves, not just the boys, and the girls are just as clever as the boys at picking up on clues.

book icon  Mousse and Murder, Elizabeth Logan
I tend to pick up my cozies by location—I admit, I favor New England-set ones, and ones not in warm places—and when I saw this was set in Alaska, I thought I might get a softer, gentler Sue Henry-like mystery story. Alas, not to be. Our heroine is Charlie (short for Charlotte) Cooke, who switched from law school to culinary school in San Francisco, and has been running the town diner The Bear Claw, since Mom retired to travel with her father, who teaches international seminars. So, protagonist now back in small town (Elkview, Alaska, near Denali National Park) after fiancee ran off with co-worker. Check. How about the rest of the stock cozy conventions? Cute pet? Check, an orange tabby cat named Eggs Benedict, Benny for short. Romance with cute guy? Check, newspaper reporter. (At least the romance is not with the town police officer, as in so many of these.) Best friend who runs local business? Check, Annie, who runs local, family-founded inn. Things that designate the location? Lots of snow, cold weather gear, tourists, and moose, alive and in the stew and meatloaf served at the diner.

Anyway, Bear Claw head chef, temperamental Oliver Whitestone, has an argument with Charlie over trying something new on the menu, and walks out in a tiff. Next thing they know, he's dead, and it's murder. In a little bit of a twist, since Elkview has a tiny police presence (one state trooper, his wife, and his deputy), newspaperman Chris and Charlie are actually deputized to help with the murder investigation (usually the characters investigate on their own). No dangerous stuff, just research and interviewing some family and friends. What time Charlie doesn't spend running the diner and going off sleuthing with Chris (who loves her car with the heated steering wheel), she spends using the "Bennycam" she has in her house to interact with the cat. (If all the Bennycam stuff was deleted, the book would be about twenty pages shorter.)

There's an iffy character from day one, once a clue shows up about halfway through the book you know who the bad guy is, Chris and Charlie actually go in Oliver's house and remove stuff without a warrant figuring it's okay because they're deputies, everyone else in the diner loves working there and will take over at a moment's notice when Charlie goes off sleuthing, and, goodness, she's obsessed with that cat. As far as I can tell, no Native Alaskans live in Elkview or go to Charlie's diner (unless assistant chef Victor and his sister are natives; they are described as dark haired).

book icon  Re-read: Life is a Banquet, Rosalind Russell, with Chris Chase
My mom picked this out of the book club back when it was published; at that point I had only seen Rosalind Russell in The Trouble With Angels, and knew only that she was a classic film star. But the first pages of the book looked so interesting I was drawn into it. Now it's one of my comfort reads; after you watch a few Russell films (for me, I cannot resist stopping and watching Auntie Mame any time I see it running, and love His Girl Friday and The Women) you can hear "Roz" talking to you as you read this book, starting with her active life with her siblings and parents in Waterbury, Connecticut, and the wonderful adventures she had with her Mame-like sister nicknamed "the Duchess." It is the greatest charm of the book, that it feels like she is sitting there telling you her life story. She covers her career and her personal life in a delightful, honest style, admitting when she made downright boners like acting snooty about parts or turning down lucrative ones, and she downplays a lot of her own personal tragedies, like having a nervous breakdown and the illnesses she contracted later in life (she became a spokesperson for people with arthritis and pretty much ruined the rest of her career because no one wanted to hire a women with arthritis). She talks about meeting the famous, but also wonderful stories about people she thought were courageous, like Colonel Hans Adamson and Sister Kenny (Russell played this Australian nurse who challenged the standard treatment of polio patients in a film). She talks so lovingly about her husband (they were married for thirty-five years) and her only son that I wish I could have met all of them, and you get some different views of celebrities like Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.

book icon  The Annotated Black Beauty, Anna Sewell, introductions/annotations by Ellen B. Wells and Anne Grimshaw
I love annotated books. Some friends of mine were thinning out their library on New Year's Eve (boy, if I known then what I know now...) and this is the book I found to take home with me. I have loved it since I was young and had the Whitman edition.

Though thousands think of this as "a children's book," it was definitely not written for children, but as a tract by the Quaker Anna Sewell, who loved all animals, but horses most of all; lame most of her life, she depended on them to get around to have any sort of life outside the home, and was cruelly grieved when she saw them mistreated. So she wrote the story of Black Beauty, the finely-bred colt brought up on a gentle farm and at first owned by the kind Gordon family, where he makes friends with the other horses, including the formerly mistreated Ginger and the pony Merrylegs. Alas, Mrs. Gordon takes ill, and there Black Beauty's perfect life goes astray, as the mistress of his new household believes in the cruel "bearing rein." As his fortunes ebb and flow, going from high-stepping carriage horse to livery horse to cab horse, Sewell talks about the sometimes brutal life horses lead.

The annotated edition adds so much information to the story; besides explaining now archaic terms and horse-care facts that would have been normal back then, the book is full of illustrations from just some of the numerous editions of the book, and indeed the illustrations of the terrible "bearing rein" (here in the U.S. called a "checkrein") make it horrifyingly obvious what horses rigged out in this cruel item suffered.

book icon  A Christmas Resolution, Anne Perry
Celia Darwin, who lost her cousin Kate to murder in the William Monk mystery Dark Tide, has married John Hooper, Monk's current assistant at the Thames River Police. Celia is looking forward to their first Christmas together until she finds out her closest friend Clementine Appleby is marrying Seth Marlowe, a new member of her church and the Reverend Arthur Roberson's former brother-in-law. Roberson is a shy, retiring man who preaches forgiveness while his brother-in-law is an unyielding, judgmental being who still has not forgiven Celia for perjuring herself at the murder trial, even though the court gave her clemency for her decision, and forbids Celia to speak to Clementine except for "matters of housekeeping and motherhood." Clementine believes her gentle love will change him, but Celia finds out Marlowe's wife, "a strumpet," he called her, committed suicide and his daughter ran away from home. Was it true? Were Marlowe's wife and child so deceitful that it's understandable that he's bitter? Or must further investigation be done so that Clementine does not suffer the same fate?

A thoughtful story and within the theme of Christmas about forgiveness—but about how with forgiveness must come acceptance that truths must be faced and corrected. This isn't my favorite of the Christmas mysteries—that's A Christmas Promise with Gracie Phipps—but Celia and John are fine characters I'd love to know and I appreciate the love Celia has for her friend that she dares Marlowe's wrath to assure Clementine is happy.

book icon  Tea & Treachery, Vicki Delany
Another advanced reader copy here, from NetGalley, the first in Delaney's Tea by the Sea mysteries set on Cape Cod. Lily Roberts is happy working in her new tea shop set on the shores of the Cape, in a converted gatehouse next to the Victorian bed and breakfast run by her grandmother Rose, a transplanted Englishwoman with an independent streak a mile wide. Lily helps make breakfasts at grandma's B&B in the mornings and then runs the tea shop in the afternoon, a stretch of kitchen work that makes me faint just to think about it. Next to Rose's property is another Victorian seaside home and property, this one crumbling and overgrown, and a local land developer wants to buy the property to set up a humongous hotel/golf course/resort that will, of course, destroy the tranquility of both the tea shop and the B&B.

And then the land developer meets his death falling off the sea wall near Rose's property. And of course the stupid chief of police suspects that this feisty, but 80+ year-old woman is the main suspect, although his new assistant from Boston doesn't.

I admit, I picked this to read because takes place "just up the road apiece" from my old home town. And yep, this one hits all the cozy cliches: talented protagonist who moved back home from the big city because her boyfriend was a louse; her quirky best friend Bernadette (call her "Bernie") who's a writer in search of a subject (and cute guys), a tea shop and a B&B with cute names, the standard stupid police officer who couldn't find a black cat on a snow field, a cute pet with a cute name (this one's a labradoodle named "Eclair"), the by-now requisite cute guy (the gardener, who—amazing!—also has baking experience so he can help Lily). And then there's Grandma Rose. I liked her the first few chapters and then finished the book being totally annoyed by her selfish, self-serving ways. It's not bad enough Lily works like a dog cooking breakfast and then making teas—Rose is "do this, check out that, make sure of this..." How annoying can you get?

The mystery was adequate, but Grandma Rose got on my nerves.

book icon  Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America, Jared Cohen
Eight men stepped from Vice President of the United States to the office of Presidency upon the death of their predecessor: John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. These are their succession stories.

This is a dense book, but the author does well in keeping the pace going even if the political machinations do get a bit deep at times. We discover that when John Tyler took over after William Henry Harrison's brief one-month tenure, there was not even a vehicle in place should the President be unable to serve. Much of Congress, who hated Tyler, thought the succession should go to the Speaker of the House or to someone in the Cabinet. Andrew Johnson, who was a Southerner who did not believe in slavery, changed his tune completely under power and completely sealed his fate. "Silent Cal" was so silent he was a "sea change" from Warren Harding; Theodore Roosevelt was, alternatively, so well known for being a maverick that Congress viewed with horror "that cowboy" becoming President. Chester Arthur was a product of machine politics, the complete opposite from the almost saintly James Garfield. Harry Truman was at the time of his succession so obscure no one knew what to expect, and he turned out to be a powerhouse. Lyndon Johnson, crude and bombastic, spent his presidency juggling the Vietnam war and the leftover remnants of the Kennedy White House. He lost such prestige over Vietnam that he really did not get to further work on what should have been the standout of his career: the Civil Rights Act. And really, how many books actually talk about Millard Fillmore? (Really, there should be a book out about "the unremembered Presidents" like Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Martin Van Buren, and Rutherford Hayes.)

The final chapter talks about Gerald Ford and things that didn't come to pass, either because the miscreant was caught (an attempt on George W. Bush) or because modern medicine saved the day, i.e. Ronald Reagan.

I enjoyed this volume about a little-known subject.

book icon  Life Among the Savages/Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson
One of the short stories I remember from my school readers over the years was the tale of "Charles," the story of a small boy named Laurie who goes to kindergarten and comes home with hair-raising stories about a schoolmate named Charles who does everything against the rules. This story is taken from Jackson's wry domestic columns in "Women's Day" and other magazines about raising four children in a rambling old house in Vermont while carrying on with her writing (including the disturbing The Haunting of Hill House and the startling short story "The Lottery," which "The New Yorker" reports was the feature that garnered the venerable magazine the most letters). Childish obsessions, frozen car radiators, missing boots, overflowing books, and the antics of Laurie, Jannie, Sally, and Barry fill the pages with eye-rolling exasperation and shaken-head laughter as Jackson juggles kids, home, professor husband, and her own errands against rain, snow, and neighbors who are either helpful or think them strange. (Jackson once said "The Lottery" was written as a small revenge at certain narrow-minded townspeople.) In the second book baby Barry comes into his own and they move to another home with a crooked gatepost, which obsesses almost everyone.

Amusing commentary on keeping house, working as a writer, and raising a high-energy brood in the 1950s.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters and the Scarecrow Mystery, Jerry West
In this fourteenth book in the series, when John Hollister's store "The Trading Post" is robbed, he's afraid the thieves have made off with his new creation, a lightweight collapsible canoe, but axes and geiger counters were stolen instead. When another businessman wishes to invest in the canoe, he suggests Mr. Hollister test out the canoe at Fox Lake, and camp on his lakeside property. In fact, Fox Lake has been in the news because there are rumors that uranium has been found there.

You've got this now, right? Yep, John and Elaine Hollister and the kids, 12-year-old Pete; 10-year-old Pam; Ricky, age 7; Holly, age 6; and 4-year-old Sue, plus Zip the collie dog, are off to camp, swim, and canoe—and are warned off the moment they arrive by a tricked-up "talking" scarecrow. Nevertheless, they persevere, and good thing they brought along Zip, because they are further threatened with notes, have their tires and camping gear and supplies stolen, and even approached by a frightened boy who pleads with them to get out of there. Plus there's wildlife, swimming, and lots of lessons in hiking survival, like blazing trails. (At one point Pam gets praised for not doing something that will later help corral a bad guy.) Does it surprise you that geiger counters are involved? Not me.

Ah, well, in this one the guys are the ones to test out the canoe in the rapids (although Pete and Pam do it together on the lake first) while all the girls do is do a clambake with beans, taught to them by the untidy older man who asks them to call him "Scarecrow." However, Pam does get the first few outings in the canoe, adorable Sue does discover two clues to the mystery, and Holly, already an expert swimmer at six, discovers where the bad guys have hidden the Hollister tires.

There's never a dull moment in this one!