Tag Archives: Juvenile fiction

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel by Lois Gladys Leppard

Image result for Mandie and the Secret Tunnel lois Gladys Leppard

Almost 20 years separates me from the first time I read Mandie and the Secret Tunnel. I loved this series growing up. I read every book and deeply mourned when Lois Gladys Leppard died before finishing the Mandie College Days series. I still remember the day my Mom took me up to the kids section of our local library and suggested I try the first book. I remember finding it slow at first, and then fascinating. I remember staying up till 9 pm reading Mandie books in the living room and feeling quite spooked when it came time to go to bed. I remember my joy when, after I thought I read them all, my library got Mandie and the Quilt Mystery (2002). I remember impatiently waiting for Mandie and the Missing Schoolmarm (2004) to get published. (Incidentally, I still own that one.) I remember reading New Horizons in 2010 and feeling such delight at being reunited with my old friends. For me, the Mandie series remains a dear, integral part of my literary childhood.

Heady with feelings of nostalgia, I picked up Mandie and the Secret Tunnel for a quick trip down memory lane. Unfortunately…or fortunately…well…see my reaction for yourself: (Spoilers to follow.) 

The story centers around Mandie Shaw, a 12 year old girl whose father dies and whose step-mother decides to quickly remarry. She then send Mandie to work as a nursemaid which prevents her from going to school. Finding this intolerable, Mandie decides to run away to the house of her uncle (whose existence she previously had no knowledge of) with the help of Uncle Ned – an old Cherokee Indian who befriended her father and vowed to watch over her. 

As a kid, this set up a fabulous adventure. Of course she should run away. What an evil family! However, as an adult, I sympathize with the step-mother. What do you do with a rambunctious 12 year old when you do not have food to go around? You send her to a place where she will get food and shelter and be useful. Maybe not kind by modern standards, but perfectly acceptable for the era!

Meanwhile, Mandie travels to her uncle’s home where she learns he is away traveling in Europe. The servants accept her with no questions asked (even though we later learn her uncle only recently learned of her existence, so how they know who she is I-don’t-know) and begin to spoil her. This includes making her fancy new gowns from a special sewing room in the house filled with silks and lace and buttons. (We never do learn why an old bachelor maintains such a glorious sewing room.) Unfortunately, a messenger then arrives to say Uncle John died in Europe and the lawyer cannot find his will. This leads to the crux of the plot, the search for Uncle John’s will. Meanwhile, various people show up claiming to be nieces and nephews of the deceased. Everyone knows they are phonies, but no one can apparently do anything about it. 

In fact, at one point, an old family friend blatantly informs one of the phonies that he knew the family for over 27 years and John never had a sister. Instead of kicking out the phony, the servants go, ‘eh, we knew it was smoky! Pity we can’t do anything about it.’ 

Exactly what these phonies hope to accomplish, especially if a will does turn up, never becomes clear. They really play almost no role in the plot. No one doubts Mandie’s claim as niece, so they don’t even serve to make her role more uncertain. 

Anyway, turns out Uncle John is not dead, but only pretending. Apparently he wanted to find out who was trustworthy to take care of his newly fatherless niece should anything happen to him. The niece, I might add, he completely ignored after her father’s death and left to become a drudge. As he could not know Mandie planned to run away to his house before enacting this scheme, and as the only people who appear affected by his death are his servants, I have no idea what he hoped to accomplish by his plan. Literally, it is the most convoluted, useless scheme possible. But it does create the necessary tension to keep the story going. 

This book did not age well. Uncle Ned speaks awkward, broken English that 90% of the time consists of the words “papoose” or “happy hunting grounds.” If I remember correctly, this does not change throughout the series. Joe – Mandie’s neighborhood friend who reached heights of romance in my eyes as a child with his repeated statements about marrying Mandie someday – informs her she can’t go to school for too many more years because he “does not want a wife who is smarter than him.” Also, let’s talk about the fact that he is 14 when he says this. What 14 year old thinks that far into the future? You say, ‘ah! They grew up faster then!’ I say, you can’t pick and choose when you want to be historically correct. The characters definitely use the word “boyfriend” – a phrase that would hold no meaning at the time. Finally, I’m not saying he is a gold digger, but I am saying he went from saying “I’ll take care of you” to “I’ll marry you” only after she learned she was an heiress…

Throw in several other slightly sketchy plot elements (like the way Mandie’s real mother kind of get strong armed into marrying Mandie’s uncle) or really off the wall statements (like Mandie’s mother telling her mother she could move away since she knew her mother “had the servants to take care of her”) and you get one weird book. 

But not a bad book. You see, I went in excepting a mystery novel. The plot elements baffled me because no mystery really existed, and the motives of the characters made no sense. I do not think this book ever intended to stand solely as a mystery novel, though. It resembles much more the genre of ‘adventure books for girls.’ 

From a writing perspective, it screams plot inconsistencies. From an adventure book for grade and middle school girls? Oh, it rocks. An orphan heroine, strong friendships, secret tunnels, missing wills, ghosts, wealthy relatives, fabulous dresses, a Cherokee spy network, long-lost relatives…this book contains it all! When you focus on the adventure, plot consistency matters less. What does matter is an exciting story with crazy twists and scary turns. And this book contains those elements in abundance. 

While this book lost some of its nostalgic glow (poor Uncle Ned), overall I am pleased with it. It remains a romping adventure for young girls. It made me wince occasionally, but it also reintroduced me to some of my favorite characters and awoke a bunch of dormant memories. I consider this re-read a success. 

 

 

 

And finally, to the person who told me it did not matter that Lois Gladys Leppard would write no more Mandie College Days because fans could write fan-made sequels, I’ve thought about what you said for 8 years and I disagree. It is not the same. 

Advertisements

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

I stumbled upon Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent while browsing at a local library and I am so glad I did. The book was surprisingly charming and adorable while also handling real life issues in a believable way. 

The plot follows 14-year-old Joseph Calderaro, Korean by birth but raised Italian by his adopted parents in New Jersey. He doesn’t fee like he belongs in either world. When his social studies teacher assigns an essay about heritage, Joseph struggles to merge his two worlds and discover who he truly is. 

The book’s main focus is adoption, but also balances the struggles of middle school, girls, and the meaning of family. I like that the ending doesn’t get corny and wrap up with a perfectly written essay or something. I really thought it would. While it has a “happy” ending, Joseph’s struggles are never underplayed or overplayed. They were realistic. He is a middle school kid who just wants to figure out where he comes from. 

I definitely recommend this one for older grade school/middle school readers and anyone interested in adoption, Korean/Italian culture, or just a good, “coming of age” story. 


Geek Girl by Holly Smale

I am kind of surprised Geek Girl by Holly Smale ended up on my to-read  list; generally, I don’t go out of my way to mark fluffy, Young Adult books as “gotta find this.” However, someone must have tipped me off, because this book ended up being a charming and hilarious read! 

Plot: Harriet Manners is a geek. She knows this because she looked it up in the dictionary that she keeps by her bed. Her fashion sense is non-existent and she has all of one friend at school. When a modeling agency offers to make her their latest star, she jumps at the chance to have a “Cinderella moment” and become someone new. Does she have what it takes to go from geek to chic? 

Thoughts: I giggled my way through this entire book. Harriet Manners is horrendously awkward, socially inept, and utterly fun. She is surrounded by a crew of quirky, fun characters. While this is a “typical” transformation story, it also isn’t at all. I expected angst as Harriet becomes ‘someone new,’ but Harriet basically remains herself throughout the story. The book has a great message about being yourself but isn’t heavy-handed with it. And did I mention Geek Girl was funny? (My disclaimer here is that every time I read something out loud to share my amusement, my sister just stared at me blankly…so it might not be quite as hilarious as I thought. But it probably is and she just didn’t have a sense of humor last night.) 

The book is clean and perfectly appropriate for the targeted Middle School readers (or, y’know, non-Middle School readers. Like me.) 

My only complaint is that there is this sort of half-developed romance that could have been a cute addition but falls flat. Otherwise, quite a pleasant, fluffy read.  


Tuesday Teaser #TuesdayBookBlog

Tuesday teaser is a weekly bookish meme hosted by http://www.booksandabeat.com

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two or three *teaser* sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers ~ make sure what you share doesn’t give to much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others.

Share the title and the author too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR list if they like your teasers!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I was twelve years of age when I chopped of my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.” (1)

 

Isn’t that a great intro? I’m only half way through but this book has been super charming and fun so far. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. When in a reading slump, it never hurts to head back to Juvenile fiction. 


Whatcha Reading…? 5/10/16 Book Update

It has been almost a MONTH since my last reading update! The problem is, I haven’t been reading much. I mean, much for me. What I am reading I tend to read at a slow, unfocused pace. My previous “Whatcha Reading…?” posts tended to mean ‘I’m reading this today but tomorrow I’ll be on something new.’ This post is more like ‘I was reading these last week and this week and maybe even into next week because work is busy and I’m not feeling a burning urge to knock every book off my to-read list.’

However, there are some interesting titles in the bunch so I figured I would share. I’ve been reading: Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, unPlanned by Abby Johnson, Grace For the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman, Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington, and of course that ever present audio book, Don Quixote.

Pictures of Hollis Woods is kind of a carry-over from my raid on the Juvenile Fiction section a few weeks back. It has been on my to-read list for a while and I am enjoying it.It is so thin I really should just finish it. I vaguely recollect the movie and I know it will be worth my time. I would normally lap it up as an enjoyable emotional roller coaster but I’m not focused enough to gain much from it. 

unPlanned is another book that has survived the to-read list for too many years. I love Abby’s story. She is very open and genuine and constantly repeats that people aren’t “all good” or “all bad” on one side or the other in the abortion debate. She offers a calm voice on a very heated topic. I’m about half way through. I look forward to continuing with this one. So far, highly recommended. 

A wonderful friend lent me Grace For the Good Girl and I love it. I’m not very far, but it is refreshing to read words of grace aimed at “good girls.” I might have to do a follow up post on this one. 

Finally, Breaking Busy. I heard about it on a podcast and found it at the library the same day. Alli is fantastic. She talks about how burnt out she got raising 5 boys, running her own business, and volunteering for good causes. This is a book about finding purpose and escaping “busyness.” Totally loving it. 

Feeling less love for Don Quixote. I’m trying…but not very hard. I just don’t find the story amusing. It is exhausting to listen to, exhausting to constantly be picking through the nuances of the story. I have have, like, 10 CDs to go which is rather disheartening. That is over 10 more hours with this guy!