Sweet Valley Twins #71: Jessica Saves the Trees

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School: soccer field

When are we? Hell if I know. It’s during the school year, and the boys’ soccer team has just made Division A because they were undefeated last year, and Aaron Dallas makes the team after the scrimmage in chapter one. So…whenever that happens?

Look closely: Jessica is CHAINED to a TREE.
Look closely: Jessica is CHAINED to a TREE.

Recap: Soccer is happening, and the boys get to “dedicate” their goals; Aaron scores three and dedicates them all to Jessica. He also becomes the first sixth grader to make the school team, apparently.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, gets chewed out by Mr. Bowman for not being impartial when she reported only one side of a story: Dennis and Alex told her they were unfairly kicked out of a candy shop, and she reported their side without checking with the shop owner, who has shown up at the school to complain. Wow.

Elizabeth corrects her story to include the shop owner’s side, but it still isn’t right, because it turns out the “food fight” that precipitated the whole fuss was two other boys from an entirely different school. Also, a rough draft gets printed by accident, and it includes Amy’s description of Dennis and Alex as “a pair of low-down, lying, slimy, food-fighting finks.” So this time it’s a parent who complains, and Liz gets hauled in and scolded again. They take the middle school paper REALLY seriously in Sweet Valley, apparently.

Some actress called Lois Lattimer appears on television to extol the virtues of activism, and since Jessica admires her she decides she needs a cause. Luckily for Jess, the boys’ soccer team might lose out on playing A Division games, whatever the crap those are, because their soccer field is slightly too small. Really? This is a thing in middle school sports? Anyway, she throws herself into fund-raising so the field can be expanded.

Led by Jess, the students raise $1767. Unluckily for Jess, Lila steals her spotlight by getting her father to donate the rest of the needed $5000. Jessica goes off to sit under the trees and cry, and feels a moment of kinship with a small brown bird.

Elizabeth drags Jessica along with her to interview the engineer who’ll be enlarging the field, and the girls learn that some of the trees are going to be bulldozed. At dinner Mr. Wakefield blithers on about old trees, and Elizabeth decides they need to find out how old the trees around the school are, so Mrs. Wakefield suggests she try the Nature Society.

The guy at the Nature Society tells them that some trees in the area are four hundred years old. He DOESN’T say that the trees around their school are that old, but since that’s what they ASKED him, I can’t entirely blame them for thinking that’s what he meant.

Naturally Jessica starts up a “Save the Trees” movement, and somehow the entire student body cares enough about this issue that they are all polarized, with the Soccer people and the Tree people flinging insults at each other. Janet throws a bitchfit and says anyone on the Save the Trees side can’t be a Unicorn. It’s a good thing Jessica, as a baby sociopath, is well capable of looking after herself.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, is agonizing over her efforts to stay neutral and report both sides fairly, which gets her precisely ZERO praise since everyone, even the teachers, has taken a side. People are coming up to her in the halls and telling her the newspaper needs to make a stand, and it’s cowardice not to, and other insane stuff that would maybe be understandable if they were debating war crimes but is completely nuts when applied to adding/not adding three yards to a childrens’ play space.

On the morning the demolition is scheduled to happen Jessica and her supporters bolt out of the school and chain themselves to the trees. Classic.

In the end Elizabeth borrows a stack of books from the Nature Society and stays up all night looking for that one crucial piece of information that will sway everyone to one side or the other. This is Sweet Valley, so she finds it: a picture of trees infested with bugs. The trees around their school have the same spongy patches at the base, so Elizabeth makes the Nature Society guy come out and look. He confirms that the trees will have to come down or else all the trees in Sweet Valley will end up infected, and also informs them that the school trees are only sixty years old. Oops.

So Jessica looks like an idiot, and it also looks like the school will have to spend the soccer-field-expansion money on cutting down ALL the trees. But then overnight Jessica realizes that, since the school is doing that to save the town’s trees, surely the school shouldn’t have to foot the bill. The city council agrees with her, and she gets acknowledged at a school assembly.

Also the Unicorns make up and start planning the next event: the annual school charity carnival, at which they “always” have the coolest booth, which makes precisely no sense because they are in sixth grade so surely they have only been at middle school for, like, less than a year.


Elizabeth on journalism:

“No, its not,” Elizabeth said with a frown. “That’s not being objective. That’s being emotional. We have to write the facts and let people decide for themselves that Dennis and Alex are a pair of low-down, lying, slimy, food-fighting finks.” (p.13)

The inside of Jessica’s head is an unhealthy place:

Two eighth-grade girls walked by with players from the soccer team. They were holding on to the guys’ arms, and it looked incredibly cool in a retro, nineteen-fifties kind of way. (p.21)

A Sociopath is Born:

“I’m through with causes that help people,” Jessica shouted back. “People are mean and selfish. But trees and animals are helpless and nice.” (p.65)

That is perfect 12-year-old philosophy, but I can’t make too much fun of it because some days I still feel that way myself.

reading: Sweet Valley Twins “Frightening Four”

I have stumbled across the most amazing of all the Sweet Valley things: this mini-series. It actually has a name (“The Frightening Four”) and consists of four titles: too scared to sleep

Too Scared to Sleep

The Beast is Watching You

The Beast Must Die

If I Die Before I Wake

The best part about this (well, aside from the only-vaguely-related-to-the-story Beast titles) is that somehow Francine Pascal pulled off the never before attempted feat of capitalizing on the popularity of Goosebumps and The Babysitters Club simultaneously. It’s glorious. Also probably dangerous; I’m amazed the fabric of the universe withstood this, to be honest.

A new family move to Sweet Valley. Mrs. Riccoli has five children, and her husband won’t be joining them for a few months, so she needs babysitters. Elizabeth, Jessica, Winston, Todd and Amy decide they can take turns sitting for her and split the money, and maybe put up signs around town advertising their services. (No mention is made of whose phone will be used on the posters. Alas.)

But the Riccolis’ new house is “the old Sullivan House,” which is apparently “creepy” and which causes Alice to act weird and bolt when she drops in to give decorating advice. All through these books its increasingly obvious that Alice knows somethe beast is watching youthing about the house, and eventually it unfolds that each member of the babysitting group has one parent who knows what happened at the house.

Sweet Valley is nobody’s idea of the go-to place to learn parenting skills, but this is a new low. Five teens were involved in a child’s death, and when their own offspring start babysitting at the house none of them mention this, or notice their kids are having nightmares, or…anything. Hasn’t anyone in Sweet Valley ever watched a horror movie?

Continuing the actual Babysitters Club tradition of twelve-year-olds somehow knowing more about childcare than I do, we get this wonderful scene of Winston babysitting a set of twins:

Actually, it wasn’t the first time he’d changed diapers in his life. He had done some babysitting before, and he had seen lots of diaper commercials on TV. It didn’t take him long to whisk the twins into new diapers. In fact, as he fastened the tabs, pulling them tightly so there’d be no gaps, he thought he’d done an even better job than the Karstens themselves. (TSTS, p. 73)

That conveys…precisely none of what it’s like to change diapers, particularly for two children at once. Maybe I didn’t watch enough commercials as a child, but my learning curve was a bit steeper than Winston’s.the beast must die

Anyway, so the gang continue to sit in pairs for the Riccoli children, who are having nightmares and sleepwalking and generally telegraphing as clearly as possible that we’re in horror-movie territory. When any of the babysitters fall asleep in the house they have the same nightmares, with a scary “faceless” girl wearing only one slipper and clutching an old teddy bear. This culminates in the entire group of babysitters staying there at the same time, trying to stay awake all night, because I guess the Nightmare on Elm Street movies also looked ripe for borrowing.

The best bits are, as always, the Jessica bits.

But whatever Steven was up to, it couldn’t be half as interesting as what was going on in Granville, the setting for The Guilty and the Glamorous. Jessica had been so busy baby-sitting, she’d missed an entire two weeks of her new favorite TV soap opera, which came on right after her old favorite, Days of Turmoil, which was extremely convenient.

Fortunately the plot hadn’t changed much in the two weeks since she’d last seen it. Everyone was still at the same fancy ball they’d been at the last time she watched. Only they seemed to be leaving the giant, fancy party, or at least starting to think about leaving. Coats were being discussed, anyway. (TBMD, p.41)

There is a ridiculous subplot in which Steven tries to earn money by mowing lawns with the Wakefields’ new ride-on mower. I’m sure it was meant to be page-filling hilarity, but it annoyed me so much I can barely even summarize it. If I had had a series of expensive accidents (shredding in-line skates and other people’s hedges and so forth), no one in my family would have just kept giving me further chances to cost them money. We couldn’t have afforded to have me playing around with the lawn mower, basically, and I kept wanting to reach into the book and shake Steven for being careless and Mr. Wakefield for continually enabling him.

I know: applying any kind of real life standard to Sweet Valley is pointless. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief high enough to get passed Steven failing to read the instructions (more than once) and still being allowed to drive the mower.

Yet I had no problem whatsoever with a vengeful ghost showing up in people’s dreams and then turning out to be (spoilers ahead) Continue reading

#TBRChallenge: Kiss of the Beast

August Suggested Theme: Impulse Read

Does this fit the theme? I guess so, if we count evil impulses. A year ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about an old category romance I’d read ages ago. But I also couldn’t remember the title, author, or which line it had belonged to. Helpful! Luckily the internet (in the form of SBTB) provided the answers, whereupon I basically did what I always do: bought it, put it on the virtual TBR shelf, and happily forgot it.

Continue reading

Reading “The Bee Theres” (as an adult non-Mormon)

You can just pick out "There's a Snake at Girls Camp" in my stack of summer nostalgia reading.
You can just pick out “There’s a Snake at Girls Camp” in my stack of summer nostalgia reading.

A while ago there was a piece over at The Toast by Diana Hurlburt about a book series called The Bee Theres. I won’t lie to you: I went a little nuts and instantly bought three of them. That wasn’t cheap, because while Amazon has people selling used copies for a penny, I live 1) in the back of beyond and 2) in Canada, and shipping charges are ridiculous. It would have been cheaper to buy a plane ticket for an actual Mormon and get them to bring the books as carry-on luggage. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but shipping charges really are the worst part of buying books.

(It still beats my childhood, when shopping online was not an option and going to a bookstore was a HUGE DEAL because there wasn’t one in my town. So my disgruntlement has limits.)

Anyway, dazzled by the news that there was a girls’ series I not only hadn’t read but hadn’t even heard of, I set out to instantly immerse myself (immersion to a depth of three books, bought in the wrong order).

ruby's ghostReading these as an adult who isn’t LDS (and hasn’t ever been) is about as “not the target reader” an experience as one can ever have, but I really enjoyed them. Possibly if I WAS the right age, and Mormon, I would have felt they were a little…not preachy, exactly, but proscriptive. But as an absolute outsider, what struck me most was how gentle these girls were as compared to, say, the characters in the Taffy Sinclair books (which I read and loved, eons ago). There’s no way Becca and Marybeth and Sunshine and Elena and Carlie would have dreamed up an “anti- some other girl” club. Even when they’re all feeling threatened by Ducky’s overachieving self, the most they do is have one single meeting (at McDonald’s! they go there all the time in these books) to discuss her, and when she walks in midway through they invite her to sit down.

bridesmaidAlso, these girls are BUSY. They attend something called Beehive, which I spent most of one book thinking was Sunday School but no: they also attend Sunday School, so this is something else. Also they do “service projects,” basically age-appropriate charity projects, AND they go to Girls Camp, AND they do fundraising for that, AND they design and sew bridesmaids’ dresses. Basically they make the Babysitters Club look like a bunch of slackers.

ALSO, and this stood out a mile, the girls in these books are openly interested in marriage. I mean, not right this second: they’re twelve, and make it very clear they can’t even date until they’re sixteen. But, like, they speculate about who they’ll grow up to marry, and play “who will I marry?” games at sleepovers. I only even know about “who will I marry?” games from my grandmother, and from reprints of books for girls from a century or more ago. We didn’t play games about, or openly talk about, marriage when I was twelve. I don’t know if my group of friends were singularly warped, or if it was a widespread cultural thing, but we would have been somehow embarrassed to simply admit we wanted to grow up and get married (even though we all DID grow up and get married, and in retrospect everyone else must have thought about it as much as I did, so…how did this end up being something we didn’t discuss? That’s really strange. We talked about boys, dating, sex, who had their period or wore bras yet…but not marriage. Were we all idiots?)

All the things I associate with Mormon culture show up here, more or less. Largish families; a sense of historicity and interest in ancestors (the girls don’t scrapbook, at least not in the three books I own, but they do presentations on their ancestors, visit a farm that Becca’s great-grandmother used to live at, are encouraged to keep diaries, and sew dresses using scraps of fabric that are meaningful to them); older brothers getting mission calls (okay, I only know that from the other side: youngish men showing up on my doorstep); a wedding at the Temple which the girls can’t actually attend (I had a family member who did this, and her non-LDS family could only attend the reception).

Also a few things possibly not as often associated with Mormon culture (by non-LDS people, I mean) are here: a single working mother (widowed maybe? I couldn’t tell); a mother of eight children who is rediscovering her passion for writing; a mother who teaches history at a university. No big deal is made of any of this (apart from the one who goes back to writing, but that’s only because there’s a bit of a mystery about what she’s up to until the end of the book). The mothers are just quietly there, being awesome in the background.

I am currently refraining from cornering one of the locally-assigned Mormon missionaries to ask all about Beehives, because I suspect that would be rude, but I’ve really enjoyed the books. It’s a pity the missionaries don’t hand THESE out, actually, because I bet it would make local people view them with affection even if they had zero interest in conversion.

TBR Challenge: June

I’m a day late with Wendy’s 2015 TBR Challenge, but I have been DYING to do this one since last month. Last month was the “Kickin’ It Old School” month, and I grabbed something at random from a stack of secondhand books; it turned out to be Colleen Shannon’s “The Tralayne Inheritance.” The front of it mentioned a sequel, “The Wolf of Haskell Hall,” which sounded so familiar I went back and dug through the stack again and sure enough: I own that too. I’m reading it now, in fact, but this post is about the first one I picked up (second in the series), which is so gloriously over-the-top it had me howling.

Suggested Theme: June 17 – More Than One (An author who has more than one book in your TBR pile)

Title: The Trelayne Inheritance

Author: Colleen Shannon

If you follow that title link, you’ll see the Kindle edition is listed on Amazon as “The Trelayne Inheritance (Shelley Holmes, werewolf detective Book 2).” Just…just take a moment and savour that. We not only have a Gothic-ish title, we have a female version of Sherlock Holmes and she’s a WEREWOLF detective.

I mean, you can tell this isn’t the “meticulously researched” kind of historical, right?

Even by paranormal romance standards this felt somewhat…goofy. It’s less a “set in an historical period” book than a “throw everything in here” book. It was fun, but if you’ve read a lot of any books from the Victorian era, this might have you drinking yourself into unconsciousness.

Not that I did that! Quite.

Here’s an example: I was nearly driven batty by the constant references to the hero’s family motto. The hero is Maximillian Britton, Earl of Trelayne, and the year is 1880, and OKAY, YES, he’s a vampire-hunting vampire (don’t ask), so maybe it’s unreasonable of me to expect his family motto to NOT sound like a Hallmark card, but here it is: Tomorrow is a gift, but today is a blessing. It first shows up on page 33, and it’s supposedly engraved on the silver-plated family shield. Silver-plated? How bloody cheap are these aristocratic vampires?

I ranted at everybody around me about the Hallmark-card family motto, and then went on Twitter and complained some more, and one brilliant person said maybe the vampires were really into cross-stitched pillows. Then I hit this, and officially died:

Tomorrow is a gift, but today is a blessing. That little homily had been embroidered on Angel’s christening cushion sewn by her mother’s own hands. (p. 47)

Angel’s mother is dead, by the way, and Angel lived in an orphanage in New York from the age of eight. Yet somehow Angelina Blythe Corbett is a lady scientist, because…that was an opportunity orphans had in 1880, clearly. She’s made her way to Oxford to stay with her uncle; she’s been supporting herself as a laboratory assistant, and wants to help him with his research into blood.

In the meantime Shelly Holmes, a detective and also a werewolf (I don’t know either; it happened in the first book, which I’m only now reading), is investigating a series of murders that are being committed by a vampire with one crooked fang.

Angel’s uncle, Sir Alexander, and his wife Sarina throw a ball, and Angel meets Max Britton, who responds…enthusiastically, first by licking her nipple on a balcony in full view of everyone, and then by leaping off the second-story balcony and running off with her. Angel doesn’t object because her uncle has drugged her, and Shelly Holmes is watching all this…you know what, I’m just going to throw a few quotations in here, because nothing I say is going to adequately capture the flavour of this.

From the second-story salon window she’d opened earlier, Shelly Holmes watched Maximillian Britton, Earl of Trelayne, carry poor Miss Blythe Corbett into the night. Her eyes glowed as they caught the light cast by the full moon. She felt the change coming over her and ducked back, whipping the thick curtains shut. The hairs sprouting on the backs of her hands disappeared, and the claws growing on the ends of her fingers were sheathed back into her skin. (p. 56)

Orphans working as “lowly laboratory assistants” led really full lives back in 1880:

She’d always been attracted to dangerous things. She’d experimented with opium, she loved to gallop full-tilt over stony terrain, and she’d even climbed a steep cliff once, just to see if she could. (p. 94)

Her foresight is as accurate as most people’s hindsight. It’s almost as though she can see into the future of SCIENCE:

She needed…blood samples. So many people died so needlessly. Once the mystery of blood typing was unlocked, operations could be performed safely, accident victims could be resucitated. (p. 135)

Also, and this is a minor point that barely stands out in the sea of improbable events, but I find it very mildly squicky that the hero, having loved (and killed) the heroine’s mother, should then end up happily-ever-after with the heroine. I mean, he’s a vampire, so it’s not like he’s been aging, but…would you really want to marry your mother’s old flame, even once he was cured of his vampirism?

But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the book. It was hilarious and entertaining, and I must have read nearly half of it out loud to people. Plus now I’m enthusiastically starting on the one before this one, because I can’t resist.



Summer! sort of

It’s actually cold and rainy here. Plus the local school year doesn’t end until the end of June. That sucks: when I was a child, we had the last two weeks of June off.

But it’s starting to feel summerish, anyway. Enough so that I’m nostalgia-reading summer themed kids’ books.

Why aren’t summer-themed adult books a thing? Or are they, and I’m just missing them? Is there a subset of, say, Harlequin romances set among camp counsellors? I bet there are “murder at the beach” books. I should go looking for those.

IMGP4886What I’m reading.

tbr challenge post: May

I’ve really fallen behind on Wendy’s 2015 TBR Challenge (which could be why my TBR pile is approximately ceiling high). But May’s theme is “Kickin’ It Old School,” and I have SO MANY vintage paperbacks on my shelves, so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Title: With Open Arms

Author: Kathy Alderling

Publication date: 1986

Line: Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme #111

barn elves
Locked in a passionate embrace, they failed to notice the tragedy that had befallen the tiny Barn Elves.

Reading something from the past is like time travel. There’s a clunky, clunky “to our readers” note at the beginning that talks about “the great romantic tradition you’ve come to expect only from Candlelight Ecstasy.” Wow, be less subtle. I guess the Romance Wars really were a thing.

Also, I don’t think Dell had worked out that romance readers were in the mood for romance novels, because the ads at the back not only include the order form for other Candlelight Romances, and a page devoted to some book called “How to Make a Man Fall in Love With You” (ugh), but ALSO something called “Victim: The Other Side of Murder” AND a book about a nine-year-old who died of leukemia. It’s like the marketing department launched a full-out assault on the happy ending by sticking their Ultimate Buzzkill Selection at the back.

The book is about grad student Ruth Mueller, who has been overworking herself as the assistant to a self-absorbed anthropologist she’s convinced herself she’s in love with. The rose-coloured glasses shatter when the jerk replaces her with a younger infatuated-assistant whose father chairs a private endowment fund–in other words, he casts away Ruth’s devotion for funding. She salvages enough of her self-respect to convince him she needs to go do independent research for her Ph.D., and he agrees to keep her teaching position open for the year she’ll be gone.

So she returns to her elderly aunt’s farm in Elkhart country, where she intends to study her Amish neighbours. Her aunt has gone into partnership with (and sold half the farm to, yikes; every nerve in my body was on edge about this EVEN THOUGH this is a romance novel, so of course it was going to work out. Seriously, though: don’t bestow major chunks of property on men you’ve known for three years.) Jacob Yoder, her formerly-Amish farmhand.

He left the Amish, was shunned for ten years, and is only now returning to a state of uneasy peace with his family and neighbours. Which leads to the book’s biggest conflict: he’s sleeping with Ruth, but won’t acknowledge her in front of anyone Amish because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the fragile ties he’s forming.

Which was just too high on the Jerk Quotient for me to overcome, even with the declarations of love at the end. I liked the book–I liked Ruth and her aunt, like the tiny glimpses of the Amish, liked the way Jacob kept reminding her that they were people, not just subjects for research–but I just couldn’t overcome my dislike of the hero.

Silently they drank their coffee and listened to the conversations around them. Once Ruth tried to start a conversation of their own, but Jacob shook his head. “Too noisy. Can’t hear you,” he said.

Ruth smiled and looked down at her cup. Don’t push, she thought, and tried not to feel too discouraged. (p.250)

It’d be one thing if he’d wanted to get involved with Ruth but didn’t, resisting their attraction because of his reputation among the Amish. Being willing to bed her but ashamed to acknowledge her? Yuck. A man who does that, for ANY reason, is not a Good Man.

Her voice smoldered with contempt. “You worked awfully hard at keeping our relationship hidden. Afraid, were you, that your fine Amish family would find out about us? Have you found someone more acceptable now, and so it’s time to break it off between us?”

Jacob looked away. His fear and confusion had been spent in a single burst of mindless retribution. Shamed by his own words, Jacob could not look into Ruth’s anguished eyes. (p. 253)

He doesn’t explain for another fifty pages, though. It was upsetting enough to me that even the happy ending couldn’t quite overcome it.  It was like a rerun of Ruth’s issues at the beginning, with Jerk Professor, only with sex added in to make the rejection more crushing. Jacob’s explanation–that because she didn’t tell him she’d accepted a job at a local college, he’d had no idea she was staying–doesn’t really help.

He was afraid to ask her to stay because it would be urging her to give up everything she wanted (except she’d told him all about her various disappointments with academia anyway, and he knew she loved the farm, so….couldn’t they discuss it?). She was afraid to tell him AGAIN that she loved him because she wanted him to be free to return to an Amish life (which was a reasonable assumption, given that he wouldn’t let her touch his arm in front of some Amish people, and yelled at her for attending a barnraising that literally everyone in the county went to).

Perhaps I am just Old and Cantankerous, but two people this afraid to impose on each other in any way should maybe just keep their clothes on and learn to use their words first.