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.


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.


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.

#TBRChallenge: Cinderfella

This is late. But this is also SEPTEMBER, and I feel like all I’ve done for a month is drive children to and from school and activities and registration for various things. So I’m happy just to be doing a TBR Challenge post at all.

September Suggested Theme: Historical

Does this fit the theme? Not in any serious sense, no. It’s set in Kansas in 1895, but the historical setting is never more than a mechanism that allows the story to gently mock a career-minded woman who disparages sex and romance (and, interestingly, romance novels). In a contemporary the fun the story has at the heroine’s expense might feel a little too pointed, but back in “long ago and far away” the jokes aren’t treading on any toes. Well, not treading as hard, anyway.

But the novel does manage to capture the flavour of early, enthusiastic feminism-and-sexual-education advocates, so there’s that.


Title: Cinderfella

Author: Linda Jones

Published: September 1998, Love Spell

By now its pretty obvious that my To Be Read pile is full of crack. In fact, it would be fair to wonder if I was actually stoned on something-or-other when I purchased some of these books. But I didn’t buy this one, I swear. My husband found it in a rack of used paperbooks, and thought it looked like something I needed to own.

He was right, too. Not just for that cover (although LOOK AT THAT COVER), but because this was a really enjoyable read. It is, as some snippy annotationist has written in the margins of my copy, a silly book, but it owns its silliness and has great fun with it.

As the title suggests, this is a Cinderella story, at least for the first third. Once the relatively poor Ash Coleman (savour that; he also has a godfather who owns a horse named Pumpkin) has been unmasked and forced to marry the heroine at gunpoint, the story shifted slightly. It owes more to Emma than anything else I can think of, although it’s painted in bolder, sillier, more neon strokes.

The hero and heroine learn to get along and to communicate. He appreciates her efforts on the farm, and acknowledges he prefers beautiful, argumentative, slightly clueless Charmaine to the practical farmwoman type he’d loosely envisioned marrying. She finds out how to cook, sew, and milk a cow.

Much more importantly, she discovers she hasn’t really understood people at all, in general or in particular, and that the tract-waving anti-sex brother-in-law she so admired is a) beating her sister and b) planning to marry her, Charmaine, once the divorce is through. It shocks her into seeing that her ideal sexless marriage isn’t ideal at all, just some second-rate philosophy from a rather nasty man, and that romance (and lust) isn’t some character flaw she needs to avoid.

Quotations always help:

There would be no seminars, no heated discussions of the latest manuals over coffee and cake, no theater, no concerts. Why, if she were to discuss the latest thoughts on women’s rights, she would likely shock all Salley Creek. If she were to discuss the latest findings on the more intimate aspects of marital relations, she’d likely be run out of town on a rail. (p. 19)

There is no railroad in my hometown, so I personally have no fears of ever being run out of town on a rail, because no one is so interested in my opinions as to suddenly start laying track. But I’ll tell you, if I were to suddenly burst into a lecture on marital sex during a visit home, people would undoubtedly find some less labour-intensive way of letting me know I was nuts. And if I started lecturing them on women’s rights, they’d fall asleep en masse.

But things like this are why I love this book. Charmaine is utterly ridiculous, and the book knows it, and pokes gentle fun at it. Her opinions on everything are as unsubtle and enthusiastic as every undergrad you have ever seen return home, newly bursting with all the “right” opinions and determined to re-educate the world, and it is so well done I cringed several times, remembering that period of my own life.

How could poor Eula be truly happy? She was a virtual slave to her husband’s whims, working in his store, keeping his house, bearing and raising his children. And yet she seemed to be happy, poor thing. (p. 26)

“Marital continence, for one.” She tried not to blush, but this was, after all, her father. “Contraception, if the more desirable self-restraint is impossible. The unhealthy influence of the bicycle and romantic novels on young women, for another. Then there’s the physical detriment of the corset, and the–” (p. 29)

And so it had fallen to Charmaine to stand at Howard’s side and do her part to convince the uneducated that a woman had more to offer this world than servitude to a man. That a pure marriage was a higher calling, and that baser impulses could and should be ignored. (p. 76)

The clock was pealing the last reverberating strain of midnight, as Ash limped on one booted foot and one in only a sock to the alley where he’d left Pumpkin. (p. 130)

Her heart caught in her chest, her blood roared, and reminded herself of everything that Howard and his manuals had taught her. Magnetic currents, that’s all this was. (p. 188)

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.

#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

TBR Challenge: Cherry Marbles by Shukie Nkosana

I’m doing Super Wendy’s TBR challenge this year, in part because my own to-be-read pile has engulfed practically an entire room of my house, and I needed some extra encouragement to get started on it.

This month is for category romances/novellas/short stories, so I chose Cherry Marbles, which is two of those things: a category romance and a novella. And I LOVED it.

The book: Cherry Marbles

Also shown: The Bridesmaid’s Lover.

The synopsis: Langa Buthelezi owns her own events company and lives in a fabulous New York-style flat in Quinn Street, Johannesburg. She is engaged to Richard, a cameraman for the SABC. One Sunday afternoon, on her way home from church, she has an embarrassing encounter with a handsome stranger–to whom she is very rude. During a major event proposal a few days later, Langa comes face to face with the very same handsome stranger–Regile Mabhena, owner of Mabhena Oil Limited, who will decide whether she gets the contract. It’s while organizing the event that Langa finds herself working intimately with Regile, realising at last what true love is…

How this ended up in my TBR pile: Last year I scooped up everything by Sapphire Press that I could get my hands on. They’re a romance imprint of South Africa’s Kwelo Books, and basically they do local (local to SA, I mean, not to me; I’m on the other side of the globe) romance novellas of about 30,000 words. I’d read a couple, liked them, and bought up all the others I could find. The ones I’ve read are making their way through my family, because even the non-romance readers (like my mother) are loving them for their setting. It’s impossible to explain how much these books give you a flavour of South Africa; it’s kind of like what old-school Harlequins tried to do, only instead of “exoticizing” the place these books give you a taste of insider-perspective that is just delicious.

Which makes it sound like this book was appealing mostly for its culture and setting, but that’s not true either: it completely holds its own as a short, hilarious contemporary romance, setting aside.

Opening paragraph: An unexpected case of inflamed vaginal thrush and the Sunday paper brought the two together in a Parktown pharmacy. Langa had burst into the pharmacy, fresh from church, the ailment in question behind the manic and illegal parking of her Volkswagen Beetle on the pavement. She cursed under her breath despite the holy anointing she had just received as she made for what she felt was refuge.

One more quote for the road: “I’ll have you know I’m engaged,” she said as she opened her car, uncertain why she felt she had to justify herself. Then Langa flashed her diamond ring at him before uttering, “I also recently found Jesus!”

Which, let’s be honest, sounds like exactly the sort of painfully awkward thing I’d blurt if I dumped two tubes of yeast infection cream at the feet of a gorgeous stranger. Langa is entirely believable as the successful-at-work but still easily embarrassed heroine. Her doomed engagement is treated sympathetically: neither of these people are a villain, they just don’t love each other enough to be getting married. And exasperating younger sister Nandi, and supportive best friend Naledi, make Langa’s life feel realistic rather than romance-land-y.

This is a book with homework, though, at least if you aren’t from South Africa and want to know who the pop stars, designers, brands, places, and cultural touchstones are. I personally enjoyed that part, and so do my footnote-loving family members (I started jotting my own notes in the book in case my aunts don’t feel like going on Wikipedia while they read), but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

New Year’s Resolutions

1. 2015 is going to be The Year of the To-Be-Read pile. Not only am I going to tackle and review some of the teetering towers of TBR books, but I’m not buying any NEW books for the first two quarters of the year.

That’s right: no book shopping. None. (Don’t worry, I am in considerable danger of being buried alive by the books already in the house. Also, I won’t cancel any of my pre-orders, so I’ll be getting new Kimani Romances for a few months.)


2. No blog posts about my own books. No tweets about my own books. No advertising except for the actual ads I actually pay for.

Why? Because the constant stream of thinly-veiled advertising on Twitter and elsewhere is driving me mad, and I don’t want to contribute to the clutter.


3. Speaking of clutter (and that seems to be the theme here, doesn’t it?), I refuse to do that thing whereby a single piece of “content” is blown up to appear to be a half-dozen things. You know what I mean: a blog post gets trotted out as a tweet, a Facebook update, rejigged slightly to be a guest post, and stuck in a bloody newsletter. By the end of the process whatever faint interest I had in the subject is long since dead and I’m filled with a vague loathing for the product or service or person being shilled.

So I won’t be doing that.

Happy New Year, everyone. May it be uncluttered and peaceful.