reading: Pool Pranks

pool-pranks

Title: Pool Pranks

Author: Paul Phillips

Back cover description: Cahlee Daniels and her friends break into the local swimming pool to party. But the evening ends in tragedy when one of the group falls off the diving board and dies. Since they’re underage and have been drinking, and fearing for their futures, they remove all evidence of alcohol from the scene and lie to the police about what really happened.
One year later, they are all trying to move on. However, somebody out there isn’t willing to let them do that. Somebody out there seems to know what really happened that night, and wants to make sure they never, ever forget. One by one, Cahlee’s friends are targeted and victimized, the crimes usually taking place in or near a pool – with Cahlee as the final prize.

I filed this under both “vintage YA” and “Current YA,” because while it’s a recently-published book, this definitely belongs on the same shelf as vintage Stine or Point Horror. It requires the same suspension of disbelief: these are horror-movie teens, not quite like their real world counterparts. You just have to go with that if you’re going to enjoy this book on its own terms.

It’s a self published work, and has a few of the minor weaknesses I associate with self publication (and I see the same weaknesses in my own self-pubbed work, believe me, so I’m not trying to be super critical). There’s one point when Sabrina is following Cahlee home and ducks into some bushes, and we get this line: “After a few minutes, Cahlee poked her head out form behind the bushes.” (loc 845) A good editor would have caught that, although even large publishing houses are putting stuff on the shelves with that kind of error present, so indie authors aren’t the only ones having trouble finding good editors.

I was also a little confused as to which continent the town of Howlett is meant to be on. Cahlee is casually planning to go to Harvard without any mention of relocating to another country, which suggests we’re in the USA, but the language slips into Britspeak (or possibly Aussie speak, since it sounded like my husband). “The boot was filled with alcohol” (loc 86) and “Soon it would be collected by the council and taken to the tip” (loc 426) definitely aren’t Americanisms. There are a few of those, and a few more instances where the author over-explains slang (“cutting his grass”) that’s obvious from context.

But those are extremely minor quibbles, and didn’t detract from an enjoyable read. The plot and characters were a lot of fun (the characters were at least on par with, and sometimes better developed than, most of the population of the Point Horror series).

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reading: American Girls

american-girls

Oh, God, this book. I loved every minute of it, yet spent most of the time I was reading it utterly enraged by the adult characters.

Being 1) ancient and 2) on the internet, I can’t help but notice there are a lot of underparented young people around. I don’t mean that as some sort of criticism of feral youth; I just mean I keep meeting people online who’re in their teens and twenties, and they’re practically having to figure out the world from scratch, because the adults in their lives are too busy FUBARing their own lives to be of any help.

Anna, the main character in American Girls, has two biological parents, plus a stepmother (her mother’s girlfriend) and by the end a second stepmother (her father’s very young new wife), and I hated them all. Hated. Wished they were real so I could call CPS on them.

And the worst part is, I don’t think the book is particularly unrealistic.

None of Anna’s parents are abusive (other than emotionally, because blaming your daughter for your having cancer is, yes, actually abuse), and they feed her, but…they’ve checked out of her life in a big way, more concerned about their own lives, and getting validation for their dumb choices, than they are with her. They’re self-absorbed assholes, and the mother has some kind of personality disorder (Anna reflects, more than once, on how her mother can say something and then later pretend that she didn’t say it at all, leaving you questioning your own sanity).

Towards the end Anna’s sister advises her not to expect more from people than they’re able to give you. She’s not wrong, but it’s a damned bleak kind of wisdom to have to hand out to a high school student.

reading: A Dark and Stormy Murder

I’ve discovered that you can sell me just about any cosy mystery that features a large Victorian house on the front cover. This one (unlike many, many others) was absolutely worth buying and reading. I loved it, largely because it was geared exactly towards my interests: Gothic novels and drug smuggling. No, kidding: just the Gothic novels.

dark-and-stormy-murder

Title: A Dark and Stormy Murder

Author: Julia Buckley

Series: Writer’s Apprentice

Sleuth: Lena London, assistant to author Camilla Graham (who also does some of the detecting).

Setting: Camilla’s huge, secret-passage-containing house on the shore of Blue Lake, Indiana. The house is straight out of innumerable Gothic novels (or Old Dark House movies), and is perfect.

Animal: Lena has a cat named Lestrade, and Camilla owns two German Shepherds, Heathcliff and Rochester.

The elderly author in this book, Camilla Graham, writes the literate, far-flung Gothic novels that were all the rage in the sixties. Hers, I gather, are meant to be from the literary end of the Gothic spectrum (think Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart), rather than the trashier “there are devil worshippers in my bedsit” kind (although those are still amazing and I love them).

So the backdrop to this book is an author-worshipping book lover getting her dream job as an assistant to her favourite author, who turns out to be sensible and smart. And the foreground is a major mystery (involving what looks like murder, and turns out to be kidnapping) that won’t get solved until later in the series, and a minor mystery surrounding the sort of sordid drugs-and-murder crime that happens in real life all the time.

reading: We’ll Always Have Parrots

You know how sometimes you love a book too much to review it well? This book is like that for me. I unabashedly love it, and I’ve reread it twice. It’s a comfort read that I rely on to make me smile.

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Title: We’ll Always Have Parrots

Author: Donna Andrews

Series: Meg Langslow Mysteries

Sleuth: Meg Langslow, blacksmith

Children: Meg’s ten-year-old nephew, Eric. Her mother and father are also very much a presence.

Setting: The fandom con for (fictitious) television show Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle. held in a hotel in Northern Virginia. Meg’s boyfriend Michael acts on the show, and she’s accompanied him to the conference and is selling  swords in the dealers’ room.

Animal: Meg’s parents have brought along a dog, Spike. More importantly, the Friends of Amblyopia (that’s the fan club for the show) have tried to re-create the jungle setting of the show by bringing parrots and monkeys to the hotel, all of which have escaped their cages are are hanging out at roof level.

It’s the insanity of low-budget cult television, and the fandoms that support it, that really makes this book. The mystery is satisfying, and nicely grounded in the supporting characters’ past, but it’s the atmosphere that keeps me rereading this. I will never not find it funny when someone discovers slashfic for the first time; I am incapable of reading about filksingers without being charmed; and I would really, really be into a show where all the places and characters have been named out of a medical dictionary.

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reading: Let’s Play Dead

let's play dead

Title: Let’s Play Dead

Author: Sheila Connolly

Series: Museum Mysteries

Sleuth: Nell Pratt, president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society

Setting: Philadelphia, specifically the (fictitious) children’s museum, Let’s Play

This was an excellent cosy, complete with diva children’s author (she created Harriet the Hedgehog, damn it, show some respect!) who is like the mean-world version of Beatrix Potter. The mystery was solid enough, and the characters were excellent.

I’ve never worked in a museum, but if you’ve ever done volunteer work, or worked at any large public institute with a shoestring budget (libraries come to mind) you’ll recognize many of the issues Nell deals with. Not the murders, I hope, but the other stuff: the struggles to manage staff and funding, and stay relevant to the public, and try to keep an elderly building staggering along while you scrounge up money for repairs. It’s all portrayed really well, enough so that the setting is definitely part of the charm.

This actually sums up so many workplaces it made me groan in sympathy:

“Maybe. There’s always somebody whose nose is out of joint about what’s being done, or what’s not. Look, Nell, you’re in a position to know something about all of this. You’ve worked at several different places, and you know people at others. Isn’t there always some malcontent on the staff, someone who thinks he or she got passed over or isn’t getting enough attention? That kind of thing can fester. Maybe that’s what happened.” (p. 145)

When you put it like that, it’s almost amazing there aren’t more workplace murders.