Posted in Geek Out, Reading

To E-Read or Not to E-Read?

VMG 002

Perhaps you can tell from the odd extra spacing, but that’s my manuscript cover page on my new Kindle.  My manuscript looks so… real! (Like it wasn’t real before? Well, you know, it’s nice seeing it almost book-like in any format outside of Word.) I finally joined the digital book world and got an e-reader as a gift this week, and I love it even more than I thought I would!

Let me back up. I’m not a huge digital gadget person. Cell phones don’t interest me, and I pretty much only use mine for calling people, and not that often. Reading books has always been a nice way to escape the endless LCD- and backlit-screens I stare at all day while working, surfing the web, watching TV and playing games. The idea of staring at yet another screen to read just wasn’t appealing since reading was one of my last hobbies left that was screen-free.

That’s not to say I poo-pooed anyone else who wanted to read books on e-readers! It doesn’t bother me at all how people choose to read (or “hear” books like radioplays via audiobooks, as my sister loves to do!); I just love that they’re reading. My mom got a Kindle a few years ago, and it’s made reading easier than ever for her, and she’s become an even more avid reader. I just never could think of a reason for me to get one. But when I saw my mom’s Kindle in person, I was surprised how paper-and-ink-like the screen was! Seriously, I’ve never seen such a beautiful, glow-free digital screen with such crispness and clarity.

Last summer I was invited to review some e-books in the new Sweet Valley adult series, The Sweet Life, but I didn’t have an e-reader. (And my mom couldn’t lend me hers. She seriously reads too much to part with it for too long!) So I read it on my laptop. My eyes went googly. I saw a cheap brand e-reader on sale for like $30 one day and thought I’d get it just to finish the e-books on, but it was terrible. It was an LCD screen (so it felt just like staring at the laptop screen anyway), and the e-bookstore was terrible, and it was hard to navigate, and yeah… You get what you paid for. Luckily I was able to return it even though I’d opened it and tried it out! I knew then I’d wait and save up or ask someone for a Kindle.

So I got it last week and I uploaded my manuscript to it right away to check it out. I also bought an e-novella and got the first five chapters of Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm, which are currently available for e-readers for free. (And which only serve to make me more anxious about waiting for the release of the rest in a couple of months, but I’ve been reading it anyway!) I got a few more free e-books I haven’t really touched yet. I’m scared of having too much to read because there’s a lot available for free!

But I’m still reading traditional paper books. I have nine on my to-read shelf (six of which have been there for way, way too long and keep getting pushed down the priority list) that I vowed to finish this year. I love being surrounded by shelves full of books, and I think I will buy Siege and Storm in print instead of electronically to finish reading. But I’ve been surprised how little reading the first few chapters on my e-reader has bothered me.

I have decided that whenever the next A Song of Ice and Fire book comes out (years from now…), I’m going with the e-reader since I realized with the last book that it’s a bit of a pain to carry a 1000+-page hardcover around. And it’ll be great for the dozenth time I read a manuscript, when I’m just looking for little tweaks (and then can run to the laptop and make them, without having stared at the laptop screen for hours and hours).

Do you have an e-reader? Which one? Do you prefer reading books electronically, on paper or both?

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 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?