BSC Super Mystery #4: Baby-sitters’ Christmas Chiller

What the heck did I just read?

baby-sitters-christmas-chiller

Before I started this I unfairly assumed that “chiller” was a bit of an overstatement. But no: the New York subplot involving the crazy ex-girlfriend was genuinely creepy, especially the gift of a jack-in-the-box with Stacey’s face. Yikes.

I worry about the BSC kids sometimes. They prematurely responsible mini-adults at the best of times, and now I find out that they already (in the <i>eighth grade</i> no less) have to worry about being stalked by crazy people who’ve dated their current boyfriends? That’s, wow…that’s a lot more than I had going on in my life in the eighth grade.

The break-ins plaguing Stoneybrooke are fairly typical series-book fair, although the idea of a vengeful former employee is scary (possibly this reads a little more “sinister” now than when it was written).

The third plot, with a hugely pregnant amnesiac, is practically reassuring compared to the rest. It feels very “Hallmark Christmas movie,” and let me catch my breath in between the other bits.

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.

 

#tbrchallenge: October. Death is a Red Rose.

death is a red rose
Is anyone else having an overwhelming urge to go shopping for nightgowns right now?

Title: Death is a Red Rose

Author: Dorothy Eden

Published: 1970, Ace Books

October TBR Challenge theme: Paranormal or romantic suspense

Does this fit the theme? Hell, no. I have read some romantic suspense lately, but since it’s October I thought this might be a good time to clean out some of my backload of Gothics.

death is a red rose 2
My copy has this cover.

Summer before last (so, the summer of 2014, when neither of my children had yet started school but kindergarten for the eldest was looming over me like a storm cloud of hormones and sentimentality, threatening rain and tears every time I thought these are his last months of real freedom and babyhood) I went on a gothic-novel binge. I’m sure a psychiatrist could unearth a lot from that statement. Anyway, September rolled around and I got frantically busy, and then moved on to other things, leaving me with twelve or fifteen paperback Gothic romances still in the stacks.

Reading these does nothing to reduce the crowding on my shelves, because I can’t bear to get rid of them. I’d actually like to find some way to frame them, because the covers are amazing. But at least I can shift them out of the TBR column.

The book opens with an elderly lady named Arabia Bolton. You know the gently eccentric, meddling old ladies of Small Town romances? Arabia is their polar opposite. She’s had a long, eventful life; alludes to past lovers, including a sheikh; lies and exaggerates; manipulates people into arguments when she gets bored; and keeps secrets, including some pretty dark ones. I can’t say I liked Arabia, exactly, but she’d definitely be interesting to know.

She misses someone called Lucy, so she places an ad saying she has a ground floor flat, but it’s only available to someone named Lucy Cressida. (She has other tenants, as well, but when the book opens she’s feeling bored with them). The heroine, Cressida Barclay, is actually named Cressida Lucy, and she needs a place to live (and a job) because she’s had a fight with her insufferable fiance, Tom. I can’t do justice to him, so I’ll quote a bit:

“Oh no. We’re only engaged. We’re going to be married on the twelfth of June in 1957.”

“A long-term plan?” Jeremy put down his glass and picked up a pipe. “Do you mid if I smoke?”

“Not in the least.” Pipe smoke, drifting fragrantly about, would add to this pleasant illusory sensation. “Tom’s very cautious,” she said.

“I gather he must be. How old is he?”

“Thirty, but I’m only twenty-two. He says twenty-four is a better age for me to marry, and by that time, of course, he’ll have paid for the house and furniture. We bought a bedroom suite the other day.” (p. 16)

The whole engagement to Tom sounds so stifling I almost asphyxiated every time the book mentioned him. I mean, it all sounds very safe, but when I was twenty-two I don’t think I wanted that much safety. Or that much furniture.

The pipe-smoking Jeremy, by the way, is the ground-floor (basement, that is) tenant in Arabia’s house. You can tell he’s the hero because he argues with Cressida, and helps her solve the mystery of what happened to Lucy. but he doesn’t actually profess his love until the ending. There are hints he finds Cressida attractive, but they’re mostly buried in affectionate arguments.

The other people in the house are a violin player named Vincent Moretti; a widow named Mrs. Stanhope who has something wrong with her throat and can’t talk; Mrs. Stanhope’s fifteen year old son, Dawson, who is obsessed with chemistry and murders; Miss Glory, a plain and plainspoken woman whom Moretti flirts with; Arabia herself; and above all else, Arabia’s deceased daughter Lucy, whose room has been left untouched because Arabia claims it makes her feel as if Lucy isn’t dead, but merely late getting home from her last dance.

The whole thing is divinely morbid and creepy, and [highlight for SPOILER] as it turns out, Lucy wasn’t really Arabia’s daughter, and isn’t really dead. Far from being an innocent girl who died tragically, Lucy is a murderer, and she’s still in the house.

So basically this was perfect Halloween reading. It had that vaguely-familiar feeling that all 70s Gothics do once you’ve read a few of them, but this was memorable both for being well-written and for genuinely giving me the creeps at a few points.

Sweet Valley Twins #54: The Big Party Weekend

big party weekendWhere Are We? The Wakefields’ house, mostly.

When Are We? A five-day period when the Wakefield parents are in Mexico without their children. At the end of The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley they were discussing maybe having a party while their parents were away, so yay, continuity!

Recap: Jessica thinks they’re going to have five days of freedom, so at school she starts inviting people to a party on the weekend. Steven is doing the same thing, so they agree to combine parties.

Elizabeth asks if their parents have any chores for them to tackle while they’re gone. They suggest the kids clean out the garage and have a yard sale, which they agree to because they need money for party supplies.

They night before they leave the Wakefield parents reveal that someone called Mrs. Brown will be staying with the kids.

I don’t object to having someone stay in the house while the parents are out of the country, but Mrs. Brown is so awful I could barely finish this book. I don’t know, maybe target-age readers are able to enjoy wallowing in the fantasy of being sorely mistreated by an adult, but reading this AS an adult was horrible. How could they leave without setting ground rules like, “Do not make up a bunch of house rules that aren’t ordinarily in place, and here are the usual things we eat”?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jessica makes Liz promise not to tell everyone at school that they aren’t having a parent-free bash after all, because she’s embarrassed.

At home, May (Mrs. Brown, the babysitter) has set a new bedtime, a new limit on time spent watching television, and won’t allow after-school snacks. Because that is a totally reasonable way to approach a babysitting job: change all the house rules, and then yell at the kids for “having no manners” when they object.

Jessica puts purple dye in May’s shampoo, and I don’t actually blame her. I mean, it’s horrible, but so is cooking stuff people hate and forcing them to eat it. Bodily integrity: it’s a thing. She’s also waking them up at 5:30. I’d run her over with a truck.

Elizabeth sets May’s clock radio for 3:30, and tunes it to “the station that played the loudest and most obnoxious heavy metal music.” I can’t believe this ghostwriter has written an adult so awful I’m siding with the kids on this. Well done, ghostwriter. Or Francine, if this was in an outline that she wrote.

Steven makes her coffee undrinkable by adding garlic powder and stuff. May won’t let them use the phone.

On Thursday afternoon they have their garage sale, and they earn a lot of money but Jessica accidentally sells a carved wooden rose that belonged to their mother’s great-great-grandmother, so Elizabeth starts trying to track it down through antique dealers.

Meanwhile in the background of all this, Amy has been warping her personality out of shape over some guy she likes named Rob.

Jessica has a plan for getting rid of May on the night of their party, and Steven goes along with it. At dinner Elizabeth is confused that her siblings are trying to be polite and agreeable.

Elizabeth has a “setting up the next book” conversation with someone named Brooke who has divorced parents; her mother might be coming to visit, all the way from Paris.

Amy talks Elizabeth into bringing Todd along to Casey’s so he can meet Rob. They do, and he’s obnoxious.

Elizabeth talks to a man named Martin Hannaford at Valley Antiques; he hasn’t seen the wooden rose, but offers to call her if it turns up. She has to tell him not to call until after Sunday (because she’s not allowed to answer the phone in her own house while May’s in charge). Later she has a conversation in which May obviously doesn’t believe she stayed after school to work on the newspaper; it’s patently obvious to the reader that May has seen her at the antique shop. She sends Elizabeth to her room, and Elizabeth tells Steven and Jessica that she wants in on whatever plan they have for getting rid of May.

The night of the party Steven takes a backpack and pretends to run away, and a few hours later calls, saying that he’s at a convenience store near a friend’s house in Palilla Canyon. May leaves to pick him up, and apparently this will keep her away from the house for long enough to have a party.

The party is a disaster: people they don’t even know show up, there are food fights, the house and pool get trashed, Rob is obnoxious and tries to steal CDs, and May shows up before it’s over.

She’s so mad at the kids she packs to leave, which is a completely sane adult reaction! No, I’m kidding: it’s nuts and wildly irresponsible, and she could probably be charged with something (child abandonment?) for walking out of a house before the parents have returned from another country.

They apologize, she blows her whistle and drives all the horrible party guests out of the house, and then she has a heart-to-heart with the Wakefields and confesses  she’s never looked after older kids before so she thought she had to “keep them on their toes” right from the start. Because “make the children hate you” shows up in so many guides to childcare, I guess.

May offers to help them clean the house, but the children insist on doing it themselves. Well, Elizabeth insists, but the others agree.

The next day after they’ve cleaned May shows up with the antique wooden rose. The guy from Valley Antiques called, having seen the rose at an auction, and after he told her the whole story May drove up and bought it back for fifty dollars (Jessica had originally sold it for seventy-five). I think we’re supposed to applaud her “toughness” now that it’s being used for good, but honestly I haven’t forgiven her yet for being the least responsible, self-controlled adult I’ve yet encountered in Sweet Valley. And that’s saying something, I know.

Quotes:

Jessica threw up her hands. “Those rules are unbelievable! Why did Mom and Dad pick this woman for us? Do you think they’re mad at us about something?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m sure they didn’t know she was like this. When they met her, she was probably nice. She just forgot to tell them that she hates kids!” (p. 31)

Super adulting from both the Wakefields and this woman, there.

May frowned. “Honestly, I don’t know why you have to look so much alike.” (p. 55)

Idk, genetics?

“That depends. What music do you like?” Elizabeth asked.

“Everything except the Emerald Girls, or whatever they’re called,” Rob said, naming one of Amy’s favorite groups.

Any giggled. “Oh, I hate them, too.” (p. 59)

Sigh.

“It worked on ‘Days of Turmoil,'” Jessica said. (p. 70)

Words to live by.