Today’s the release of the first two e-book novellas in this summer’s The Sweet Life, the sequel to last year’s Sweet Valley Confidential. Let me point out that I don’t even have an e-reader (yet!) and I was still grateful to get my paws on these novellas for review, which I read on my laptop.
However, I have to first say that I’ve yet to read the first SVC book (I actually couldn’t believe it’s been out for over a year and I still haven’t gotten around to it; I hope to rectify that soon, but my to-read list is never-ending!) and wow, talk about some unexpected surprises that I think I missed out on in that first book. If you’re like me and have yet to read the first SVC book and absolutely don’t want to know any spoilers about it, don’t read on. However, I can attest that jumping straight into the novellas isn’t a problem. I also imagine if you enjoyed the first book, it’s a no-brainer that you’ll enjoy the novellas.
Novella 1: The Sweet Life
Okay, I haven’t touched anything Sweet Valley in about a decade and a half. Admittedly, characters and the who’s-dating-who are fuzzy in my mind. When I started reading, I knew only one thing was wrong: Jessica was married to Todd! Apparently it caused a huge blow-out between the girls in the first SVC book. (Well, Elizabeth was dating Tom when I last read the SVU books, so I’d actually long since thought of her and Todd as being over, but apparently that wasn’t the case, says some Wikis.) Oh, but married life isn’t going so great. They have a two-year-old now, but they’ve been separated five months. There’s no such thing as happy ever in drama-filled Sweet Valley! Still, the romantic tension between the two is palatable, and I’m actually hoping things will work out.
It dawned on me only after I looked up who Bruce was how odd it was for him to be living with Elizabeth. But the idea of the two of them together grew on me, which is why I felt the drama central to the slowly-emerging strain on their relationship intriguing.
I think both Jessica and Elizabeth grown up are exactly how I pictured them: Jessica intensely focused on her glamorous job (a PR job that shows she’s not as dumb as her popular reputation sometimes made her out to be), which she pulls off in style (literally), and Elizabeth as an investigative journalist who knows precisely how to follow every lead to get the story she needs—even when that story proves to be pretty personal.
I felt a little disappointed with Jessica’s relationship with her son on the page. It’s great that she’s the first of the twins to be a mom (especially considering Elizabeth was always the more motherly type), and I agree with her that she should be free to focus on her career as well as motherhood (and I wasn’t too happy to read that Todd sort of condemned her for it), but little Jake is almost like a prop, a cute little thing in the background of crazy relationship drama happening left and right. Even when Jessica is home, he spends a lot of time with his nanny instead. It’s clear the twins are both crazy about the boy when they do interact with him, but he hasn’t seemed to have made much of a dent in Jessica’s lifestyle.
The subplot I liked the least was Lila’s appearance on a reality TV show about rich housewives, but maybe just because I can’t stand that kind of TV show myself. At the same time, I liked the tongue-in-cheek take on each woman on the show assuming a “role” (like “the bitch”)—and I liked how Lila’s focus on her “role” led her to be in hot water. Still, it felt out of place. I was left at the end of the first novella hoping that her subplot would become more important to the plot of the e-series as a whole. Then again, maybe that’s how the SVH subplots always were—their own thing—I honestly don’t remember…
Novella 2: The Sweet Life: Lies & Omissions
Another fast-paced addition to the unraveling story and my favorite of the two. Some of my same concerns with the first e-book apply here (mostly Jessica’s son being a prop), but for the most part, I felt more drawn into the story and didn’t even feel as out of place in Lila’s subplot this time. I loved Elizabeth’s inner conflict, and I’m almost as conflicted as she is.
And I remembered something from my days of reading SVH/SVU: I don’t like Todd! He’s supposed to be goody-goody, but he has some warped points of view, and he’s quick to anger and jealousy. Then again, I still think Jessica is better suited to him than Elizabeth, since she’s more likely to stand up for herself… But she doesn’t this time around. (For sort of a good reason. I’m sure that will change before they can actually be happy together.) It’s all coming back to me… I think I remember hating Todd and Elizabeth together because Todd was such a “nice” jerk. I preferred reading about someone like Bruce, who was at least open about being a jerk back in the day!
One drawback was that in telling the story from a different character’s perspective each chapter, Bruce inevitably gets a turn and the issue of his innocence or guilt when it comes to the accusations he’s facing is pretty clear. We don’t know how or why this situation is occurring, but we do know whether or not Bruce knowingly committed a crime. That’s kind of a shame because, like Elizabeth, I’d been full of doubt, and I’d have loved to have that drawn out some more. The end of the novella ensures that the drama will be drawn out, but the reader will know the entire time whether or not Bruce is innocent, and that sort of kills our empathy with Elizabeth’s confusion.
More to Come
The third novella, The Sweet Life: Too Many Doubts, comes out July 22nd. It’s good that the wait isn’t too long because they definitely feel like parts of a whole, and I’m eager to see where the intertwining stories go from here. They’re fun, really fast reads, and certainly worth $2 a pop, but be aware that to get the full story, you’ll need all six novellas. (And there is a printed version of all six-in-one coming out in October.)
I’m not sure if anyone but the nostalgic fan would be eager to pick them up, but maybe that’s not the case. It is a bit reminiscent of some of the chick lit I’ve read with a more soap opera-like flavor—but I haven’t read much chick lit, to be honest. I think if younger readers are looking for an introduction to the series, they should start where it all began with Sweet Valley High. The characters’ thirty-something problems likely won’t be that appealing to the average teen, unless, like the rest of us, they’re drawn to these e-books simply because they’re curious to know where these characters wind up long after they leave the drama of high school behind them. The answer? The drama of glamorous, and I do mean glamorous, fictional style California adult life. And we wouldn’t dream of it any other way!