The Second Latchkey by Charles and Alice Williamson

The Right Way to Do Wrong

As a rule, I like romance. I enjoy the whole boy meets girl and the fall in love thing. So, when I came across a book styled as a romance mystery with intrigue, séances, jewel thieves and more, I jumped for it. (It was old enough that I didn’t have to worry about the romantic content.)

I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Well, OK, I could, but The Second Latchkey wasn’t all it was billed to be.

Let me be fair, it wasn’t a bad book and I can see why it was popular in its day, but it just wasn’t for me. The story revolves around a girl named Annesley, a browbeaten young woman who is a personal assistant/maid to a small-minded verbally abusive old cow. Desperate for change, Annesley answers an advertisement for a gentleman seeking a wife, because anything has to be better than this. And so the plot thickens….

There were several points that I disliked about the book. First, it really annoyed me when the first chapter told of Annesley going to do something. She was trying to get the courage to do it, but of course, the authors did not tell us what that thing was. Argg, that’s annoying. Second, there were several swear words.

What I considered the worst part (and it won’t necessarily bother anyone else) was the focus on Annesley’s emotions and feelings. Think Rebecca. Generally, the focus was passable when Annesley was reacting to a moving plot. At the end though, the plot almost stalls and the last few chapters focus on how she feels and her reactions to life around her.

The idea of the plot wasn’t too bad though. In the early twentieth century, a desperate young woman finds a man in need and marries him. Turns out the young man has wealth and he begins to take Annesley up through the social classes. There are burglaries and a fortune teller to mix things up a bit. Plenty of jewels and parties fill the story. But mostly, this is a story of love and redemption. Interestingly, the story covers about 15 months of their lives and Annesley goes from the pit to the palace to the pit in those 15 months.

If you enjoy romance, then pick this one up, but it’s probably not for most guys.

Buy it here
Read it here
Listen to it here


The Right Way to Do Wrong by Harry Houdini

The Right Way to Do Wrong

Yeah, that Houdini. Houdini was fascinating man and a great magician, but what made him famous was his ability to escape from every cage, cell, rope, and handcuffs. It was this later capability that birthed the idea for this work. Houdini became friends with police officer, investigators and jailors across the world and from those contacts, he compiled a book of true stories along with the correct way to commit crimes. As he wrote in the foreword, this book is not teaching people how to commit crime but to teach the public how to protect themselves.

Those in the “know” still debate whether people should be told how to commit crime. Yes, some good people will learn how to protect themselves, but some bad people will now learn how to commit crimes more effectively. We’ll come back to this debate later, but I think it’s plainly obvious on which side of the debate Houdini fell.

This book covers mail fraud, all-purpose scams, house breaking, safe cracking, and plenty of other nefarious deeds. Many of these schemes still make the rounds today. The name and faces might change but the methods still work.

Houdini spends much time covering the various techniques used to break into homes. Often, crooks will scout out a house and/or neighborhood for a while before they break into a home. In fact, Houdini argued that good criminals only robbed one home a month or so. He also points out that they usually get caught in the end. A major component to avoiding burglary is watchful neighborhood. If neighbors watch for people scouting out a neighborhood, they will protect others and themselves. Simply talking to those who appear out of place can scare away potential crime. Few criminals will return if a neighbor spoke with them for a while. Houdini also argues that homeowners should take simple precautions commonsense precautions: lock the doors and windows, keep valuables in a room other than a bedroom and so on.

Mail fraud you say? Whether it was in 1906 or 2007, mail fraud is the same and quite prolific. Mail fraud lures people with the hope of a free fortune or a fantastic deal. Its mail fraud because the victim nevery meets the crook; everything is handled by mail. Now, mail fraud takes place via e-mail and on the internet. Either way, the rules are straightforward. The crook will contact you and offer you the latest whizbang doodad or deal for a price way below cost. Or maybe you just won a foreign lottery. All you need to do is send the lottery a certified check for $200 for processing fees and they’ll send you $5,000,000. Sounds too good to be true? That’s cause it is.

The subject that interested me the most in this book was begging. In 1906 after traveling around the world, Houdini was convinced that <90% of all beggars were professional beggars or in begging gangs. Whether on the street or via mail, these professional beggars would plead for your hard-earned cash. Now, I have seen too many professional beggars (and known of a few confirmed cases); I don’t trust any beggars. A friend told me that he always gives and figures that God will handle the details. He says that we should give and God will take care of us. I see my position as a bit more frugal and I don’t want to support a slothful person. Oh well, you decide which way you handle it. 🙂

Houdini has a great story about a man visiting Russia who discovered that his coat kept accruing cash while he walked the streets. It’s worth reading the book for that story.

Overall, if crime interests you, then you’ll want to read this book. Despite having been published slightly more than 100 years ago, the principals are still relevant. And if you need a gift for that person who finds crime interesting (from an intellectual point of view), then this might be a great book for a gift.

Buy it here

The audio books is here

The text is here

Peter Pan and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry

Peter Pan and the Secret of Rundoon

The long awaited prequel sequel sequel! The basic idea behind the series is the simple question, “what happened before?” Where was Peter before he was on the island? How did he come to fly? If you haven’t read the first two books, head to the library at this point, or look up reviews on the first (also recapped by Matt) and second books. Peter Pan is still on Mollusk Island, but many unanswered questions from the last book remain. An interesting one, that I hadn’t thought of, is: how did the Starcatchers know ahead of time when the stardust was going to fall (so they could get to it all the other times) and why weren’t they in on it the last time, in Peter Pan and the Shadow Thieves
? They were warned it would come, by a group of people called the Watchers. And they have been compromised.

Plot: Nothing is as you expect it to be, and the first third of the book is exposition to catch you up to all the characters and plotlines. Molly and the Aster family are living in London and trying to figure out more about Lord Ombra and his organization. Peter has gotten over his ego, but with the other boys growing taller than him, life on the island is still getting harder. The Mollusks, our nice Indians, are about to be attacked by Scorpions (bad Indians. And I am pleased to say, the Indians are real people in this book, and I really like them now). Meanwhile, Lord Aster does his now-stay-here-and-I-MEAN-IT speech umpteen times (more on that in positives), Lord Ombra is injured but back (for reasons that, actually, make sense by the time this plotline is resolved), Lord Aster does his ‘Bout-time-you-kids-got-here-I-need-your-help speech a further umpteen times, and Molly and George have discovered why Peter was so oddly affected by the starstuff. Oh, and Black Stache is still trying to get back at Peter, and His Royal Highness III is being evil still.

Positive: Actually resolves plot issues from the last couple of books in an unexpected way, which I find very impressive. Most kids books that become serialized like this (and despite the trilogy bit, I want a prequel sequel sequel) have a TV series quality about them, and tend to create more open plot threads than they sew up. The most positive thing, I think, was the allegorical aspects of the story {SPOILER WARNING}. To defeat evil, Peter has to separate himself from his shadow (his naturally evil self) and its implied he couldn’t do this by himself. Peter’s father died trying to save Peter. Light and Darkness are shown to be in conflict, with light gaining constantly. For a couple of Atheists, the authors are almost exactly theologically correct on this one (although Lord Ombra makes a comment to trivialize the importance of earth in the cosmos, its implied he is trying to just discourage our heroes, and that the opposite is true). Some points of the allegory are more subtle than others, but the general idea comes through quite clearly; I won’t give it all away or it’ll spoil everything. Also, this was more of an adventure than the previous books, being funny incidentally instead of as a driving plot point. This made the characters more engaging, since they weren’t the objects of sarcasm as often (Tinkerbell, especially, won my heart this time. Oh, and George is just awesome). Speaking of which, the authors play on your expectations of children’s literature. The adults aren’t always wrong, and the girls aren’t always right (FINALLY!)

Negative: I had some pretty set expectations from the first two books, so the opening chapters were frustrating to me, since it wasn’t at all what I expected to find happening. So aside from my needing to put aside my expectations and let the authors surprise me… same as last ones. The entire book is written in a funny-drama way. But its more of campfire-side-oooh-the-bear-is-coming-bwahaha scary, with the exception of one scene that I really did not find necessary. As usual, it’s the bad guys and how nasty they are; Indians who go through painful initiation rituals, evil person gets a face full of unpleasant stuff, and Lord Ombra inhabits a couple of characters (one of whom scratches his own face until it bleeds, which is very out of character for this series, and the one paragraph that is not necessary to the plot, so why the editor left it in is anybody’s guess. It’s a paragraph I plan to blot out of my copy).

Overall: I really loved this book, and highly recommend the entire series. Its very creative in describing the origins of Peter Pan, and makes all our favorite characters lovable in the process. George is smart, Tinkerbell is hilarious as comic relief, and the other characters are all followed so satisfactorily that I can’t even begin to review them all.

You can buy it here.