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.

normal_TheTrelayneInheritance1_ColleenShannon

 

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.

March 2015: romances read

This is really a “just for me” post. I’m trying to ease back into my regular reading habits, after a period of distraction, so I’m flailing around a bit grasping at possible motivating habits to keep myself on track.

Romances this month:

best friend to wife

Best Friend to Wife and Mother by Caroline Anderson. I hate the title (so much so that I’m puzzled as to why I pre-ordered it, actually), but I ended up liking the book quite a lot. The relaxed visit with a large Italian family did wonders for my nerves (and filled me with envy tbh), and the baby was neither an annoyingly precocious moppet nor one of those “wonder babies” that show up in books needing no care whatsoever. I mean, she was still a terribly GOOD baby, but not inhumanly so.

a pregnancy a party a proposal

A Pregnancy, a Party & a Proposal by Teresa Carpenter. Did someone else pre-order a bunch of books for me? Because these titles are really, really terrible, and don’t appeal to me personally at all. Although I suppose this one has the virtue of announcing its contents precisely, because that’s exactly what happened. This was nice and readable, and kept me up an hour past my usual bedtime because I was in the mood to gulp down a romance in one evening (which hasn’t happened in a long time), but I’ve forgotten the details already.

mother by fate

Mother by Fate by Tara Taylor Quinn. Ha. That title’s not just bad, it’s threatening. Like children might just start SHOWING UP in your life because you are FATED to be a mother and that’s all there is to it. But the book itself was wonderful. This is easily my favourite of the romances I’ve read in the last while (not that I’ve been reading many. *sigh*), and I can’t even explain why without getting mildly incoherent with enthusiasm. The heroine works at a women’s shelter, and I SO WISH that The Lemonade Stand was real so I could volunteer or donate or something, because it’s wonderful. A well-funded, well-run, perfect-in-every-respect shelter is a nice bit of fantasy. The heroine is also admirable, and appears to have swallowed The Gift of Fear at some point, because she has way better self-control and gut instincts than many heroines (or actual people–I was nowhere near as careful and self-possessed when I was younger). I want to shove the book into people’s hands and say “This. This is what I mean” during conversations about being careful and taking precautions. She’s also dealing with a horrible ex, and yet dealing with him in an adult, appropriate way that avoided that “Saint Doormat who lets horrible people treat her horribly” standard of behaviour still found in way too many romances.

Sweet Valley Twins Super Chillers, OMG

Wow, February was pretty much a total write-off for me. All I did was shovel snow and read children’s books. For a variety of reasons I won’t bore you with (they boil down to stress and busyness) I couldn’t concentrate on anything any more demanding than Sweet Valley Twins.

They are SO CUTE. Okay, I never actually read any of these before now, but I recently binge-purchased a whole stack of them, and February being what it was (dreariness and suckage, though also thankfulness for my family and my neighbours) I finally tackled them. So far I’ve read five Super Chillers. (Eventually I will track down the four I’m missing, but right now I’m sticking to reading the stuff I own already.)

ghost in the graveyard

In The Ghost in the Graveyard a second set of twins–separated as babies–are haunted by the ghost of their grandfather, and eventually they prove their ownership of a huge old house. I’m making that sound boring, I know, but that’s because it was. The actual haunting all happened to Sam and David, not to the Wakefields, so though it was a comfortable “let’s escape reality for an afternoon” read it wasn’t terribly compelling.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_04_the_ghost_in_the_bell_tower

The Ghost in the Bell Tower was much more fun, possibly because it felt like such a classic “children and ghosts and summer vacation” kind of story. I would have loved this to bits when I was a kid. I kind of still did.

The Curse of the Ruby Necklace was actually the one I read first, because even when I have five clearly-numbered paperbacks in my hand I can somehow manage to read them out of order. Oops. It featured the twins acting in a movie, a thing I feel like I have read a thousand times. The movie is based on an old murder curse of the ruby necklaceso of course the Wakefields solve it, finding the true killer with the help of a ruby necklace that Jessica finds on the beach, because if you’re a perfect, perfect Wakefield twin haunted jewellery just washes up out of the ocean for you.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_07_the_haunted_burial_ground

The Haunted Burial Ground annoyed me at first, with its conveniently-visiting Native American girl who gets befriended by Elizabeth just in time to be part of events surrounding an obviously-this-will-turn-out-to-be-a-Native-burial-site. But it was as respectful as it could be, given the time and the age range of the intended readers, and Mr. Fowler gets a chance to be unexpectedly awesome.

Evil Elizabeth was like Dear Sister, only instead of a head injury there’s an evil sweet_valley_twins_chiller_09_evil_elizabethmask, and instead of glomming onto rapetastic Bruce Patman she starts hanging out with Betsy Martin. Jessica gets to look on in horror as her twin turns into a living embodiment of her own worst impulses. I guess this was kind of a practice session for later.

Which brings me to a very important question: why don’t the Wakefields remember any of this stuff? I mean, why don’t they ever reflect on how, when they were kids, they encountered ghosts? How come they never discuss that time Liz was evil? (Okay, I know the Doylist explanation is “because the SVH books were written first, so the ghostwriters had no way of knowing what would be in the spin-off series that didn’t even exist yet,” but what’s the Watsonian answer?)

Goosebumps S01 E04: The Girl Who Cried Monster

So for reasons I won’t go into I’m having a month of “no ability to concentrate,” which means my reading time has been devoted entirely to Sweet Valley and similar fluff, and I’ve been watching television.

Well, actually I’ve been watching DVDs and Netflix, but in my head it’s all categorized under “Watching Television,” that faintly forbidden time-wasting activity I wasn’t allowed to do much of as a child.

As a result all sorts of stuff everyone else has already seen and practically memorized is brand new to me, and I actually get excited about it. It’s fairly pathetic, but at least it keeps me entertained.

I shamelessly love the opening credit sequence.
I shamelessly love the opening credit sequence.

So I’ve started watching Goosebumps. I literally had no idea this had ever been a show until about a year ago. Netflix starts off with what wikipedia swears is episode four. I won’t argue. Continue reading