Posted in Reading

My Reads for 2012

It’s a little early, and if I find the time, I may finish the book I’m currently working on (and another… probably not, but you never know), but I thought I’d list the books I read this year! I’m a little excited because last year I barely read any books. I got a lot more gaming done, though. Sometimes it seems like I have to rotate my hobbies if I ever want to have time for it all.

This list is nothing compared to some of my friends’, who single-handedly keep the library open or the e-bookstores in business (I kid). But there are five 1000-ish-page books on this list, so that’s got to count for something, right?

2012 was a pretty awesome reading and writing year for me. I got into one of my favorite series (a few years behind most fans), which in turn inspired me to get back into serious creative writing, and I finally finished my first manuscript. (I’ve gotten close with a second one, but we’ll see if I can finish its first draft within the last few weeks of the year or not!)

This list covers novels only, no graphic novels or manga, of which I read plenty this year:

  1. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (I’d started it in 2011, though)
  2. Mr. Monk on Patrol by Lee Goldberg (I was a big fan of the show, and some of the books continue on from where the show left off–too bad they’re ending in a few weeks!)
  3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  4. Catching Fire  ditto
  5. Mockingjay ditto (this was the new favorite series–I read books 2 and 3 over a weekend)
  6. Fire by Kristin Cashore
  7. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (because it was about time I read a work by the third Bronte sister, and I’d enjoyed the TV production)
  8. The Girl Who Was on Fire collection of essays (still obsessing about Hunger Games at the time)
  9. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (I got into the show a year late)
  10. A Clash of Kings ditto
  11. Mr. Monk Is a Mess by Lee Goldberg
  12. The Sweet Life ebooks 1 and 2 by Francine Pascal (since I got the ebooks for review–I still haven’t finished the saga, though; as long as I wasn’t reviewing, I was waiting for the print version)
  13. Sweet Valley Confidential ditto (another book for review)
  14. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (my favorite of the series by far)
  15. A Feast for Crows ditto
  16. America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t by Stephen Colbert (it has pictures, but it counts, right?)
  17. A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont
  18. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (my least favorite of the five–it took me three months to finish, as I kept getting distracted. The others took me about a month each.)
  19. Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket (yay for more Snicket!)
  20. Divergent by Veronica Roth (a really addicting read I got through in three days; I’m going to read the next one soon, I hope)
  21. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (still working on it–I wonder if I’ll finish by the end of the year?)

Here’s to more good reads in 2013! What did you read this year?

Posted in Reading, Sweet Valley Confidential

Sweet Valley Confidential Review

I know it’s a little out of order, and it’s been more than a year since its release date, but I was lucky enough to get a copy of Sweet Vally Confidential for review this week. This is the book that started the all-grown-up Sweet Valley High franchise that continues with The Sweet Life, the brand-new e-series that just started coming out this past weekend. I thought I would share my thoughts on the book to go along with my reviews of The Sweet Life.

Find out where to order SVC here.

The Wakefield twins are now 27 years old. Elizabeth lives in NYC and works as an Off-Broadway theater reviewer, and Jessica is back in Sweet Valley working for a “green” cosmetics PR firm. They aren’t speaking to one another anymore–or more accurately, Elizabeth isn’t speaking to Jessica. She ran off to NYC to deal with what she feels is an unforgivable betrayal, and she’s probably right. This time, Jessica’s selfishness has gone too far! But the situation is not as black and white as it initially seems.

I loved it! To be honest, I’d read a number of negative-okay reviews of the book online (but about as many positive reviews as well), so I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be similarly disappointed. I think what made me enjoy it was that I’ve actually forgotten a lot about Sweet Valley, other than the very basics. (It’s been so many years since I was into it!) Most of the complaints were about continuity errors or how characters acted differently than they used to. Since I didn’t remember enough to notice any errors (assuming they weren’t corrected for my edition anyway), and I didn’t notice characters acting “differently,” I was able to read it with a fresh pair of eyes for the most part.

Elizabeth and Jessica are certainly as I remember them–with a certain amount of changes (Elizabeth more aggressive and angry, Jessica more subdued and quiet) that I thought were only natural given the circumstances. I loved the personality changes given that their relationship has been torn asunder.

It took me a little while to get used to it, but I loved the narrative format. Rather than each chapter belonging exclusively to one character’s third-person POV, the narrative skipped from the present to the past and back again. The past scenes build up the context of Jessica’s big betrayal and are told in first person (from different characters’ POVs, depending on the scene), which I thought was a fun choice. The scenes are clearly delineated, so it’s easy to follow along. I do remember, though, that toward the end, during a party with many characters, the POV seems to shift between multiple characters (in the third person) every few paragraphs. This is the only time the POV gets a bit muddled, in my opinion.

I agree with some reviews that point out that Jessica’s Valley Girl-like use of “so” and “like” in her narratives and dialog gets distracting. I don’t think it was necessary to portray her as the more popular, shallow twin; she’s supposed to be almost as smart as Elizabeth, in a different way. This seemed to have been rectified for The Sweet Life. At least I didn’t notice it.

Some of what happens is a bit over the top–particularly the recap of what every character had been up to since their high school days (I don’t remember a lot of the characters…)–that appears at the end. But Sweet Valley has always been as zany as a soap opera to me, so this wasn’t too hard for me to swallow.

But as far as the plot of the book, SPOILER ALERT (if you’ve read my The Sweet Life review, you’ll know this spoiler, though), I really did not mind Jessica winding up with Todd, although I certainly agree with Elizabeth for getting angry about it. I don’t think I ever liked Todd that much, as explained in my last review. This reminds me of my thoughts on the Archie Comics love triangle. Betty (whose actual name is Elizabeth, what a coincidence, she’s the Elizabeth in my Sweet Valley comparison!) is sweet, beautiful, and selfless–and yes, she deserves happiness. Veronica (Jessica) is gorgeous, spoiled and moody, and she plays the field, although she has her moments in which she demonstrates a heart of gold and love for Betty. Archie (Todd) is supposedly this “great” guy, but he’s kind of a jerk, in my opinion. He’s quick to anger and moody, although he can be loyal to his friends. Frankly, Betty may deserve the man she wants, but Archie doesn’t deserve her! So don’t Archie and Veronica seem more like they deserve one another? Especially considering how Veronica is more likely to stand up for herself than Betty? Betty will be brokenhearted, but in time, she ought to find someone more deserving of her. (And if you’ve read the always fun but very bizarre Life with Archie series, you realize how appropriate it is that I could compare Bruce, SVH’s resident playboy, arrogant jerk, with Reggie, Riverdale High’s much the same. They become kinder, nicer men and they wind up with ladies who deserve someone who truly treasures them.)

Anyway, I apologize for the segue, but my longstanding view on the Archie triangle explains why I was totally fine with the events of SVC! If you love Sweet Valley, definitely catch up with Sweet Valley Confidential. I may not remember SVH completely, so that may affect my view on SVC, but this does give me the same fun, fast, frothy feeling, so I couldn’t ask for more!

And a side note, this isn’t the cover I have (I have the sexy modern cover above), but I found this (UK?) cover on Amazon that’s supposed to look retro, like the original covers. How cute!

Posted in Reading, Sweet Valley Confidential

The Sweet Life 1 and 2 Reviews

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.

Read excerpts, hear audio and buy the e-books here.

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!

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 1

Since I’m an aspiring YA (and maybe MG) author, I want to cover some of the books I loved when I was in middle school or high school. (We’re looking at the 1990s here for the most part.) The list would be far too long to cover in one post, so how about a couple of books per entry, with updates from time to time?

Perhaps these books won’t be among the most well-known books in the modern genre. I like those, too. But so many of my favorite YA and MG books were books I read when I was a bit out of the intended targeted audience age range. I didn’t give Harry Potter a chance until I was 19. I know A Series of Unfortunate Events is aimed at middle school kids, but I was cracking up over Lemony Snicket’s strange prose and stranger plots while in college.

Please comment with your favorite MG and YA books from when you were actually in middle and high school!

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

I have school to thank for this one. One of the optional summer reading books in 5th or 6th grade was The Black Cauldron. Yes, that’s the second and not the first book of the series. My guess is the Disney animated version—as virtually unknown as that movie was even by the 1990s—being named The Black Cauldron even despite combining books one and two was the reason the teachers chose that book. It took particularly dedicated readers to opt to read it for their assignment because you really ought to have read The Book of Three first, which meant another book to read. (And yes, at the urging of several of us, the school eventually recommended that one rather than the second book in the series.)

Well, skip having to read one extra book. I was hooked and I read all five books that summer. (In addition to whatever other summer reading book I had to read for school—whatever it was, you can tell it didn’t much impress me.) I can’t remember, but I think these books were responsible for my love of fantasy thereafter. I know one of my dear friends at school also got immersed in them, and we loved dwelling in fantasy worlds, even co-writing a little journal of letters between two medieval maidens. (Which was an assignment for school, but we had a blast!) I wrote a hilarious fantasy story I thought was the shiznit that I entered in some kids’ writing contest. I didn’t win. Perhaps because it’s incredibly hilarious but actually was intended to be taken quite seriously. (I have half a mind to share it here someday. I can’t read it with a straight face.) I have to mention that it involved a wizard named “Googan” (initially named “Hoover”), a hero named “Dwycin” (pronounced with a hard “c,” which no one seemed to know until I told them!) and a wonderfully stereotypical villain who so graciously consented to fight the hero in a “non-magical fight” so things would be fair for the both of them. He lost.

I re-read The Chronicles of Prydain a few years ago, and I still loved them, even if I didn’t have the same passion for them that I did as a child. I loved how the characters evolved over the course of the series, and I was surprised to find that my least favorite in the series as a child (Taran Wanderer) was one of my favorites as an adult. The villains still felt actually scary and threatening. (The Disney adaptation still leads much to be desired, even if I bought the DVD nonetheless. For starters, when a character is known for being “of the red-gold hair,” you don’t make her a total blonde…)

Sweet Valley High/Sweet Valley University by Francine Pascal (/team of ghostwriters)

My best friends in middle and high school were named Jessica and Elizabeth, and both were blondes. And no, this isn’t some snarky comment about how the SVH twins were my best friends, I’m actually serious. I just thought it was a weird coincidence at the time. (That, and they had a friend named Amy—that’s me! I wasn’t blonde, shallow or boy-crazy, though…) My life in high school was nothing like SVH, and my Jess was a million times sweeter than the one in the books. The book Elizabeth was pretty nice and sweet, though, just like the Liz I knew.

I’m not sure why I found these books so compelling in middle school. I think a friend showed me one in the school library that had a “naughty” bit we found so salacious, I had to pick the books up. (I think it was simply a dating couple kissing, but you know, we were 10…) Over the course of a few years, I think I read every SVH and SVU book out there (at the ripe age of 10, I felt so much more mature than those who would read Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley Kids, so I never got into those) and I felt a special attraction to the side books in which really weird things happened. (I was teased when caught with Return of the Evil Twin before class, but I actually managed to grab the girl’s attention when I explained that the book featured the long-lost identical twin of a homicidal maniac teen girl who just happened to be a dead-ringer for Elizabeth and Jessica in the first place—all she needed to do was dye her hair blonde and even the girls’ family was fooled!—who had intended to secretly kill Elizabeth and take over her life and was presumed dead, but actually wasn’t dead, you see, and now wanted her twin sister to help her take over both twins’ lives… Only now they were arguing over who got to be more popular Jessica for some reason.)

I don’t know what it was about these books: a glamorous take on school life (but I’d rather have that crazy drama in my imagination than in real life), a TV show tie-in I enjoyed, or just how they sucked me in from start to end, but I was a SVH addict for a number of years in middle school. I once impressed the whole family by reading a 400-page one in a single day. My mom literally bragged about it to my extended family! (I’ve read books of length in a day since to fewer accolades, of course, but this was the first time.)