SVK #67: The Secret of Fantasy Forest

94420fa86b0ca0f819522006368dcadcAs with the original series, the Sweet Valley Kids books seem to have gotten less realistic the longer the series went on. Plus there are spin-offs where the “Super Snoopers” solve mysteries, and while I personally have read about a gazillion junior mysteries, as an adult the concept always makes me laugh. (See also: The Babysitters Club Mysteries.)

In this one Jessica and Elizabeth go to “Fantasy Forest,” along with their parents and Steven and his friend Joe. I was hoping for something really way out there, with unicorns and stuff, but it’s just a theme park. Not the same theme park they get all excited about when they’re twelve, though.

I was almost ready to give the Wakefield parents credit for actualy parenting, as dragging two seven-year-olds and two nine-year-olds to a theme park is a serious investment of energy. But the Wakefields were not doing it the way you or I might do it, with the “keeping an eye on the kids” part:

Then Dad gave us a wink. “Since both groups want to do different things, we think it’s OK if we split up,” he announced. “After all, Fantasy Forest is supposed to be the safest amusement park around. Steven and Joe, you can explore the park by yourself.”

“Us too?” Jessica demanded.

“Yes,” Mom said. (p. 12)

You’d think since there are two adults there, each one would stick with one set of children, but no: they just arrange for the children to meet them for meals. Awesome. The parents are going to shop for souvenirs.

I briefly held on to the hope that maybe this was a really small, local theme park, but when Jessica and ELizabeth line up to see the Enchanted Castle they’re next to the ONE HOUR FROM THIS POINT sign, and later on Steven and Joe say they’ve spent two hours and forty-six minutes in line for a ride. So I think the Wakefields are just basically letting seven year old twin girls roam a Disneyland knock-off alone. It’s amazing Elizabeth wasn’t kidnapped more often.

Anyway, Elizabeth and Jessica befriend a mysterious boy named Billy, who has a red day pass that allows him to cut to the front of lines and play games for free. He gives the girls red passes for the day as well. They notice a muscular guy follows them everywhere, watching them. He’s clearly Billy’s bodyguard, because this is Sweet Valley and not any place even a little bit like the real world.

I thought (or hoped) Billy would turn out to be royalty, but alas, he’s only theme-park royalty: his parents own Fantasy Forest and their home is inside the Enchanted Castle (in the parts off-limits to visitors, of course). At the end the entire Wakefield family (and Joe) get invited to dinner there, and Elizabeth solves everyone’s problems by talking Billy’s parents into shifting Butch the Bodyguard to running the Screaming Squall, so that Billy can wander the park without a bodyguard while still not having to worry that Butch is out of a job. Awww.

I would say this is the most unrealistic of the non-supernatural kids’ books I’ve read, but I just remembered that when I was eight I not only read The Bobbsey Twins and the Doodlebug Mystery but completely, unquestioningly believed that it could happen, because naturally there are such things as private collections of clockwork whatever-those-were and six year olds absolutely solve mysteries, why wouldn’t they? So I don’t think I have a leg to stand on, criticism-wise.

 

SVK Super Snooper #3: The Case of the Haunted Camp

Jessica and Elizabeth are attending day camp at Camp San Benito, because God forbid the Wakefields look after their own kids for the summer. 94420fa86b0ca0f819522006368dcadc

Unlike the day camps I’m familiar with, which run for an hour or two each day, this one seems to literally go on all day every day, plus one night they get to have a sleepover.

Elizabeth loves day camp and being a porpoise (the name for the seven year olds at camp), and Jessica hates it because she doesn’t like being in the hot sun, playing sports, getting messy, or carrying her damp swimsuit home at the end of the day. Wow, even as at seven she was the living embodiment of first world problems.

Anyway, they belong to a “mystery club” called the Snoopers; the other members are Todd, Winston, Amy, Eva, Lila and Ellen. What, no Bruce? Although it’s cute to think of a time when Lila and Jessica would have voluntarily hung out with Winston.

They get caught in the rain with their counselor, Jennifer, and take shelter at the San Benito mission museum, where they hear a ghost story. Apparently the bells ring if trouble is coming, though Mr. Sanchez (the museum director) assures them there are no longer any ringers inside the bells (I assume he means clappers).

Then the camp starts being plagued by minor acts of theft and sabotage, and the twins overhear a man arguing with Mrs. Branson, trying to get her to sell the camp even though it’s been in her family for forty years. Anyone who has ever watched Scooby Doo understands the relevance of this. But the Snoopers spend the second half of the book tracking footprints and hearing the bells ring and finally, on the night of the sleepover, catching the man and the camp cook, Joe, with a tape recorder of ringing bells.

As far as children’s mysteries go it was brisk, cute, and as plausible as these things ever are. Plus it had hints of ghostly monks, and a camp setting, both things my own seven-year-old self would have adored.

SVK Hair Raiser Super Special Edition: A Curse on Elizabeth

a curse on elizabeth This is written in the first person (from Elizabeth’s point of view), which confused me so much I had to go back and check the last one I read. (For the record, that one was third person). So…okay. We’re in Elizabeth’s head. I suspect most of the readers of various Sweet Valley series were more Elizabeths than Jessicas anyway. I know I was, until I got in touch with my inner Jessica and stopped trying to please everyone.

Anyway. I would have loved this SO MUCH if I were the right age for it. Even the cover is wonderful, with embossed hieroglyphs along the edges. Plus, mummies. I wish I could mail this back through time to my younger self. Instead I’ll have to hang on to it until my own daughter is slightly older.

Unfortunately, since I’m not in first grade, the “it was all a dream!” explanation stood out a mile. But it was still adorable, and I bet it would have been exciting if I were young. Half the pleasure of series books is seeing familiar tropes deployed, anyway.

So the book opens with the twins learning about King Ramses the Thirteenth, because Mrs. Otis is going to take them to the Los Angeles History Museum to see his mummy and grave goods. Man, the Sweet Valley school system is amazing. Lila wants to see the mummy’s jewellery, which makes me laugh, and Jessica wants to see the coffin. Elizabeth finds the whole thing creepy. Andy, Elizabeth’s partner for the research project that goes hand-in-hand with this, is most interested in the actual mummy. A college student named Henry who was part of the expedition that found the mummy comes to speak to their class, but rushes off in a hurry.

Naturally Elizabeth and Andy find out about the Curse of the Pharaohs and conclude that Henry is cursed. Andy’s mother is a librarian, which is cool, but I do wonder why she was letting two seven-year-olds scare themselves witless. (Although…my own kids also gravitate to anything creepy/disgusting/completely unsuitable for their age, so perhaps it is beyond the power of librarians to do much about that.) Also naturally they share all this “information” with the other kids on the bus en route to the museum.

The bus gets a flat tire, which they take as further proof of the curse. That’s too cute. When they finally arrive they pass by some armour (which Jessica says is scary…this from a kid who wants to see a coffin, mind you) and a mammoth (which they all find scary, and which none of them can identify until Mrs. Otis tells them what it is).

They visit the mummy exhibit. There are a lot of snakes in glass cases; Andy likes the snakes. Andy is slightly creepy. Two classmates waiting their turn to see the mummy, shove Jessica and she bumps the coffin, and then all the lights go out suddenly.

Jessica thinks the lights went out because Ramses is mad at her for bumping the mummy case. Awww. That WOULD be scary if you were seven. The museum guide brings flashlights and leads the kids safely to the bus, except Elizabeth can’t find Andy. She was his partner and feels responsible for losing him, and also doesn’t want to admit to the teacher that she lost her partner, which honestly is the sort of thing little kids do all the time. This is why you have to WATCH THEM constantly, which no one is doing here because in Sweet Valley minimal standards of childcare don’t exist, so Jessica agrees to sneak back into the (dark, scary) museum with Elizabeth to look for Andy.

Elizabeth runs straight into a suit of armour, hard enough that it falls on top of her.

Then a bunch of scary things happen. They find Andy. Andy loses his glasses. They get variously lost, trapped, beset by mysteriously-escaped snakes, chased by a mammoth, nearly suffocated, chased by a mummy, and discover Henry is a thief planning to rob the mummy’s tomb. None of this is real, of course, but the reader doesn’t find that out until the last chapter.

Elizabeth wakes up, still confused, and it takes her a while to work out that she’s dreamed the whole thing. Andy was on the bus the entire time; they just didn’t see him. Jerk. Jessica ran and got Mrs. Otis right after Elizabeth knocked herself out (yay Jessica!). The lights were out all over Los Angeles because of the storm, although Elizabeth spookily remembers that the same thing happened the night Lord Carnarvon died. Elizabeth’s jacket is missing, and she remembers that she stuffed it under the door to keep the cobras from chasing them. So was it all a dream, or did it really happen? DUN DUN DUN.

Okay, that was seriously cute, and a nice retelling of pop culture mummy mythology. I honestly love it when familiar characters (from books or television shows) do their own version of familiar stories or tropes. See also: every “A Christmas Carol” episode ever, including the Sweet Valley Twins one.

 

 

SVK #6: Lila’s Secret

lila's secret Elizabeth and Jessica, twins and best friends, decide to have a sleepover in their backyard.

At school Eva, Amy and Ellen are enthusiastic. But Lila first claims she might not be able to go because she’ll be visiting her grandmother (unconvincingly making this claim before she knows which night theyre talking about) and then says her parents are strict and might not let her go. Ha.

The next day at the dance studio she tries to hijack the party and get everyone to stay at her house instead. Jessica’s having none of it. Elizabeth thinks something is going on.

At school in the cafeteria Todd Wilkins and friends (Winston, Ken, and Charlie) threaten to raid the sleepover. Also, they tease Lila about her reluctance to attend, suggesting she’s afraid of the dark, or ghosts, or wetting the bed. One of those is foreshadowing.

Todd and Steven get into trouble for spraying the tent with a hose when the girls have gone to bed. I would put Steven up for adoption if he were mine, I swear to God. Ellen cries and wants to go home, but changes her mind after talking to her mother on the phone. As a parent, I can attest this is a pretty accurate depiction of little-kid sleepovers. Except the hose part; I’ve never known that to happen.

All the girls have stuffed animals to sleep with except Lila, who claims she’s too old for that, then gets caught by Jessica sneaking her blankie out of a paper bag. Awww.

Later that night Elizabeth is woken by the sound of someone crying. It’s Lila, and her big secret is that she still wets the bed sometimes. Again: awww. Also, why didn’t her parents just pack some overnight pull-ups? They make them for big kids now. Maybe they didn’t when this was written, I guess.

Elizabeth promises to never tell anyone, and all is well. The book ends with a set up for the next book: Elizabeth’s favourite author is coming to Sweet Valley! In second grade her favourite author is apparently someone called Angela Daley, author of the gripping work Rabbit’s Strange Visitor.

 

Sweet Valley Twins #78: Steven the Zombie

steven the zombie
This cover is AMAZING.

Where Are We? The Wakefield home; Sweet Valley Middle School, Mrs. Arnette’s social studies class; a daycare where Elizabeth is volunteering.

When Are We? Whenever their social studies class project on the Antebellum South is going on.

Recap: Jessica and Elizabeth have been studying “the Old South” in social studies class, and everyone has to do a project. Steven teases Jessica, making her feel stupid because she usually doesn’t read books and because she likes parties and clothes. She swears revenge when she finds out he used magic marker to make her Johnny Buck poster look cross-eyed. She’s reading a section called “Voodoo in Creole Society,” which is so fascinating she stays awake until two in the morning reading. So when she discovers her poster’s been ruined she decides her reading might be the means to make Steven sorry. I hate to agree with Steven, because I don’t like him, but poor Jessica’s not exactly a brain trust in this one.

Naturally Jessica cuts up Steven’s lucky shirt and makes a voodoo doll of him, and equally naturally Steven spends the book pretending he can’t help spilling things/standing on his head/writhing around in pain. Plus her social studies class is going to be on voodoo.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Todd are preparing an authentic antebellum meal for the class, because this is completely absolutely a thing that you’d ask two twelve year olds to do for social studies. These books are set in some parallel universe, I swear. Todd volunteered for this, and Elizabeth agreed for complicated reasons that boil down to “she is a doormat who feels responsible for other people’s happiness.”

Lila’s project for the social studies class is throwing an antebellum-themed party. Ha. I love how the Sweet Valley school system doesn’t make even the faintest pretense of fair treatment. Ellen is doing a presentation on the movies stars who acted in Gone With the Wind, so this isn’t exactly a rigorous class I guess.

And now for the part of the book that made me cringe: Benjamin. Benjamin is “the sweetest kid” that Elizabeth met at the daycare centre, who has to walk with a cane and has constant pain in his right leg and no one knows why. That is literally how the book describes him, all in one paragraph, suggesting maybe his “sweetness” can be boiled down to whatever’s wrong with his leg (or perhaps, if we extrapolate using the usual ghastly motifs found in series books of the era, he’s sweet because of how bravely he endures his mystery illness).

Jessica decides to use voodoo to cure him.

Even by the standards of 80s/90s childrens’ book series, that is a really, really strange use for a text to make of a character’s disability.

Todd keeps screwing up their practice meals, so Jessica tells Elizabeth to switch stuff around in the kitchen to compensate for his mistakes–like, if he uses sugar instead of salt, switch the labels. That is a terrible idea and would only work if the person was making the exact same mistakes every time, which Todd isn’t doing. Elizabeth listens to her for some reason and the final meal they serve the class is a disaster. She confesses to Todd and all is forgiven.

Jessica wins “best Scarlett” at Lila’s party by getting Elizabeth to help her fake a dress (using safety pins) with their living room curtains. I bet everyone who watched Gone With the Wind as a child wanted to try that. She also temporarily ruins her hair with dye, but it’s washed out and properly blonde again by the end.

Steven pretends to be really sick, and Jessica spends several days worrying that she’s killing her brother before becoming hysterical and confessing everything to their parents.

Steven and Elizabeth confess to Jessica that Liz told him about the voodoo doll and he faked his reactions. He buys Jessica a new Johnny Buck poster and she buys him a replacement lucky shirt. She also promises her parents to stop messing around with voodoo, but she crosses her fingers.

Quotes:

“Would y’all be kind enough to save some of that meatloaf for little ol’ me?” Jessica Wakefield asked her family in a heavy Southern accent at dinner on Sunday night. (p.1)

That’s the actual opening sentence of this book. I can’t stop picturing Gideon Gleeful.

And the truth was, Todd had gone through a hard time recently. He’d gotten interested in writing, and his father had put a lot of pressure on him to quit the writing class and concentrate on basketball. Things were much better now, but still, Elizabeth didn’t want to make Todd feel bad. (p.7)

That’s horrible of the dad, and it’s a grim look at Todd’s life, but Elizabeth: none of that is a reason for you to agree to do a project you don’t want to do and don’t feel capable of doing.

“Speaking of legs,” Elizabeth continued, trying to change the subject, “I met the sweetest kid today at the day-care center. His name is Benjamin and he has to walk with a cane. Nobody really knows what’s wrong with him. He has terrible pain all the time in his right leg. It’s so sad because he’s only eight and he can’t run around and play with the other kids.” (p.21)

She quickly made a special potion out of rose petals, perfume, crushed vitamin C, milk, and honey. She boiled it all together on the stove, then brought it upstairs in a bowl to her room. She spread the potion all over the doll’s right leg with her lucky rabbits foot. (p.38)

If I had done any of that when I was twelve my parents would have sent me to therapy. I kind of love how girly that potion is though.

ElizaTodd Relationship Status: They know each other well enough that he volunteers them both for the cooking project, and after she confesses to switching ingredients he hugs her, because he’d been feeling responsible for getting them both a bad grade.

Supernatural Jessica: For most of the book she thinks she can do voodoo. Also, we’re never given a reasonable explanation of what healed Benjamin, so there’s nothing to contradict her belief that she did it. He no loner needs a cane, his pain is almost gone, the doctor doesn’t know why, and Jessica is convinced she healed him.

Sweet Valley Twins #102: The Mysterious Dr. Q

mysterious dr qWhere Are We? Sweet Valley Middle School, the Wakefields’ house, and Dr. Q’s office.

When Are We? The book opens on a Tuesday, and Dr. Q visits the school on a Thursday, but otherwise we’re just floating in Sweet Valley timelessness.

Recap: Mr. Bowman (the faculty adviser for the Sweet Valley Sixers) asks Elizabeth what she knows about hypnosis, because Dr. Q, “a hypnosis as well as a psychic,” is going to be speaking at the school assembly. Elizabeth immediately plans to expose her as a fraud and have that be the front-page story of the next issue.

Todd, Ken, and Bruce play basket ball while Bruce expounds on how girls are inferior and dating is a waste of time because they only try to change you. Todd mentions that Elizabeth is one of the smartest kids in school and he wants to get to know her better, and Bruce wants to know why he’s never asked her out then, so Todd is basically pushed into saying he was going to ask her out next weekend. Okay, I am completely confused. Not by Bruce being a jerk and the whole scene being weirdly homosuggestive, although there is that, but: this is book #107. I’m pretty sure Elizabeth and Todd talk, hang out, flirt, and generally think of themselves as almost kind of paired off in previous books. Now he’s suddenly too shy to talk to her and doesn’t know her that well?

He asks her out by leaving a note in her locker. She walks up to him in the cafeteria to tell him “The answer is yes.”

At the assembly Dr. Q invites children up on the stage to be hypnotized. None of this would be allowed at any school I went to: not the psychic hypnotist, not the “sending kids to interview her at her office later,” and definitely not the hypnotizing them on stage.

She picks Jessica (who fervently believes in her powers), Elizabeth (who doesn’t), Bruce, and three kids Jessica claims not to recognize.She gets the twins to swap personalities (foreshadowing! of…something that was written first), and Elizabeth fakes it, but Jessica doesn’t (and insults Elizabeth hilariously by saying things like “Sorry, I have to go feed the poor and homeless” while she’s being her). She also gets Bruce to do something out of character for him, which I guess is why he asks Elizabeth out? Except that’s also foreshadowing, really. (It must have been fun for the ghostwriters of this series to stick in things that related to SVH.)

There’s a boring subplot in which Amy Sutton’s mother gets to do an interview in a helicopter, and Amy’s allowed to go along and interview the pilot’s daughter, but Amy doesn’t want to because she’s scared.

Friday after school Elizabeth goes to interview Dr. Q, and Amy and Jessica tag along. But first, Bruce invites her to an action movie; she says no and he ends up calling Todd Wilkins a wimp. She makes it clear she hates “Arnold Weissenhammer” movies and wouldn’t go out with Bruce if he was the last man on earth, so you can guess what’s going to happen, right?

The interview consists of Elizabeth being confrontational (over possible trickery, then over personal gain, then over why Dr. Q didn’t make Bruce Patman less of a jerk while she had the chance. Ha.), Jessica desperately trying to pick up tips on hypnosis, and Amy timidly trying to find out if hypnosis could rid her of her fear of flying.

So naturally Jessica invites everyone over to try to hypnotize them. And she actually can hypnotize them, except things go wrong. Bruce is listening to a baseball game, and shouts out stuff about “the Twins;” she tries to make Liz love and admire her, but someone shouts out “Bruce Patman!” right before she can say her own name. The only thing that doesn’t get ruined is her plan to make Lila quack whenever she sees the principal.

Janet and Amy think they’re twins, and are unbearably smug about it. Elizabeth thinks she likes Bruce, and goes with him to his stupid movie. That part is actually pretty disturbing. She keeps denying her own feelings of boredom and annoyance, erasing the thoughts by reminding herself how special Bruce is, and it’s like a glimpse into the mind of someone who’s been indoctrinated into an icky cult. Todd drags Jessica along to spy on them, which is oddly touching under the circumstances, but is also a little “they will sneak around behind your back constantly, Liz” hint of things to come.

Lila gets in trouble for repeatedly quacking at the principal in the cafeteria. I feel sorry for her, but ten year old me would have found that scene hilarious.

Jessica now wants Dr. Q to undo her hypnosis, but she can’t find her, so she drags everyone back to her place and tries again. Great, Jess. Steven is blaring a baseball upstairs. She reminds Elizabeth she can’t stand Bruce, and un-ducks Lila. Janet and Amy start mimicking baseball-game stuff, and in frustration Jessica yells that they’ve never even heard of baseball.

When she wakes everyone up they’re fine, and Elizabeth likes Todd again, but none of them remember what baseball is. I would honestly call that good enough, and so does Jessica, but then the doorbell rings and it’s Dr. Q.

She tells off Jessica for treating hypnosis like a toy, and then fixes everything, including Amy’s fear of flying. Elizabeth is left with horrific memories of having gushed over Bruce Patman, and I’m left wondering if post-hypnotic suggestion is to blame for the eventual end of this series.

Quotes:

8:45 Wed., homeroom

Dear Elizabeth,

Hi. This discussion is kind of boring. Don’t you think so?

Well, I was just wondering if you wanted to go to a movie. With me, I mean. Saturday night. We could go see the Eileen Thomas movie if you wanted. Or if you didn’t want to, we could do something else. Like I don’t know what, but maybe we could think of something.

My dad and me can pick you up.

But if you’re really busy I understand.

Yours, Todd

P.S. Wilkins, that is (p. 27)

That is painfully dumb and kind of sweet, but honestly, the sixth graders I’ve known would have thought “maybe we could think of something” was suggestive. Also they would probably have pretended to find “my dad and me can pick you up” suggestive. Either I know peculiarly horrible pre-teens, or this is just another instance of Sweet Valley innocence failing to line up with real life.

“Listen well,” the hypnotist said in a low voice that seemed to rumble across the stage. “Neither of you respects the dangers of the unknown.” She lifted an arm and pointed accusingly at Jessica, then Elizabeth. “The forces of the universe cannot be controlled,” she said. “But they are there all the same.” (p.42)

Lady, please. In this series Jessica is one of the forces of the universe.

After all, she liked Brice, and Bruce liked this kind of movie, so she must like this kind of movie too. Right? (p. 95)

Disturbing. I wish I could say no pre-teen girl ever thinks this way, but sadly, I’ve seen stuff nearly as bad in terms of suddenly adopting some guys taste in music/movies/whatever.

ElizaTodd Relationship Status: Todd likes Elizabeth and wants to get to know her better, so he asks her to a movie. She says yes. He calls her at home to remind her, and he’s so shy he can barely speak to her on the phone.

Supernatural Jessica: Uses Tarot cards to accurately predict Todd’s note (well, an invitation from an admirer); hypnotizes everyone.

reading: A Dangerously Sexy Christmas

Title: A Dangerously Sexy Christmas

Author: Stefanie London

dangerously sexy christmasHarlequin Blaze November 2015

Reasons I might actually remember this one: Certainly not the title, which I managed to forget several times while reading it. But the heroine’s self-confident ability to shrug off her clothes and enjoy sex (even while angsting that the hero, like everyone else in her life, would leave her when it was over) was enviable and well-written. Also, the happy ending puts her down in Australia after 24 hours of travel; I am a sucker for all Australian settings, but even more so for the realistic acknowledgement of the travel hell that it takes to get there.

Active Ingredients:

nearly-orphaned heroine

shady father

large diamond

hunky security guy

former cop

dead partner

Australia

Christmas