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, Sweet Valley Confidential

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 2

My Big Sweet Valley News!

Since I started this series just last week, I have some exciting news to announce! I was contacted by the PR team for Sweet Valley Confidential, the re-launch of the Sweet Valley franchise, to see if I’d be interested in reviewing the brand new The Sweet Life novella ebooks coming out this summer. Since I’d been meaning to check out the re-launch for some time now, in a sort of nod to my childhood self, this is the perfect excuse to see what the Wakefield twins are up to now that we’re all about 30. Wow. I feel like I won some sweepstakes I didn’t know I even entered! Who knew nostalgic posts about books I loved as a kid could prove so worthwhile?

Watch for reviews in the upcoming weeks, then! And be sure to check out the books yourself if you were a fan as a kid like me.

And speaking of sweepstakes I didn’t even know I entered, this brings me to the first series I’ll talk about loving in middle school today:

The Baby-sitters Club by Ann M. Martin (and ghostwriters… What, I didn’t even realize a man wrote over 40 of them!)

The Baby-sitters Club was my pre-Sweet Valley obsession, which actually began when I was in elementary school. Unlike with Sweet Valley, I started with the younger reader spin-off books, Baby-Sitters Little Sister. (I’m looking at Wikipedia here for all of the odd grammatical choices in the titles, by the way!) And it was this book series that must have prompted me to enter a fan contest through the publisher, although I don’t remember doing so. I do remember that in autumn of one year, I got a huge box from Scholastic saying I had won the “Birthday of the Month” honors or something of the sort for fans… But my birthday was in April. In the included letter, they explained an oversight had resulted in the delay. My prize, though, was worth the wait: box sets of the entire Baby-Sitters Little Sister series out thus far, in addition to an autographed copy of the first book in the series. (Some of that may have been a bonus for the delay, if I recall.) Wow! The package definitely made my belated-by-half-a-year birthday!

I don’t remember precisely when I “graduated” to The Baby-sitters Club, but I was definitely into it by 5th grade, as I remember reading one of the books for a book marathon after school. I loved every girl in the series—whether because I felt similar to them (Mary Anne’s shyness, Kristy’s tomboyishness, Mallory’s geekiness, Stacey dealing with a medical condition) or because I thought they were radical and fun to read about (Claudia, Dawn and Jessi all had confidence and style). I actually never babysat a day in my life (unless you count helping a grandparent babysit a younger cousin… But on second thought, I was actually being babysat, too!), but I doubt it could have lived up to the adventures these girls had. I loved the (albeit short) TV series so much I could practically quote it. I enjoyed the movie version, too, but maybe not as much. I stopped reading sometime in middle school, but I have to admit I picked up the last book in 2000, despite being a senior in high school by then, because I never really stop loving the things I loved in my childhood!

I love all of that crazy ’80s and ‘90s fashion and lifestyle, too. I specifically remember that the girls met in Claudia’s room because she was the only one with her own phone line. Her own household phone line! It was a big deal. I imagine the updated version (which apparently exists? I did not know this) would have all of the girls with cell phones…

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

Goosebumps. If you know me, you’d know how odd it is that I was ever into a horror series, however tame it might be. I avoid horror movies because I don’t like being scared or grossed out, thank you very much. I only recently sat down to watch the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and discovered they were pretty awesome (the second movie excepting…) and not terrifyingly scary like I was afraid they’d be. But tell that to my middle school self who couldn’t even look at Freddy Krueger without shuddering or who was haunted by a billboard of Chucky she saw at night while on a trip to New York in the ‘80s, and it’s a wonder I ever gave Goosebumps a chance at all.

The first one I picked up was Attack of the Mutant because the premise (it featured a comic book fan and a supervillain who comes to life) was right up my comic book-loving alley. I remember writing in my diary how surprised I was that I read a “scary” book without being too scared, as if this were something to document for perpetuity. (It wasn’t at all scary, now that I think about it. Hardly worth congratulating myself over!) I liked it enough to go back and pick up earlier books, and I spent a year or two reading the books in the series that struck my fancy. I particularly liked the Choose Your Own Adventure-style ones called Give Yourself Goosebumps. (And I admit. I’d “cheat” and go back and choose a better ending!) My love for the series led me to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon back in the day, and yes, I watched some of the Goosebumps series too. (They did Attack of the Mutant! It was so cheesy…) I never really “graduated” to more sophisticated horror books, but the thrills and chills I got from these tame versions were just enough for childhood me.

Were any of you fans of Goosebumps or The Baby-sitters Club?

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.)