January 16, 2018

SVT Super Edition #12, Good-bye, Middle School!: What’s a Better Twist Than Ghosts? Twin Ghosts!

Posted in books tagged , at 4:53 pm by Jenn

Why does the twin in pink look two years younger than the other one?

Summary: Okay, this is confusing, so bear with me. There was a Unicorn Club series that took place during the twins’ seventh-grade year, and this book, while considered an SVT book, takes place after that series. So the twins are about to start eighth grade, which means we’re more than a year in the future after No Escape! Amy has moved away, and there’s a new Unicorn named Rachel, but pretty much everything else is the same.

There are too many students at SVMS, so the district is opening a new school. No one’s sure who will be going to which school yet, so some of the kids are worried about being separated from their friends. At the same time, Elizabeth has been accepted into a program she applied for that will have her building houses in Costa Rica for a month during the summer. Jessica is upset that they’ll be apart that long, because they’re still co-dependent. Then she hallucinates a Native American woman’s face at the bottom of Lila’s pool, so I guess the Unicorns have started doing drugs.

The Unicorns decide to have a big end-of-summer cookout at Secca Lake. Jessica starts worrying that she’ll be separated from them at school and won’t have any friends. She decides to invite the whole grade to the cookout, so they’ll see how cool she is and want to be friends with her. It’s not the best motive, but her desire to want to make more friends is pretty admirable. Winston is worried about hanging out near the haunted burial ground, which makes Liz a little nervous, too, but no way are they going to miss the big bash. Then Liz hallucinates a Native American mask with a scar. So maybe she’s on drugs, too.

Alice tells the girls that there’s a rumor that the new middle school will use an accelerated curriculum. Elizabeth loves that idea, but Jess doesn’t want to do any more studying than she has to. She thinks they might not end up at the same school. They fight, and this kicks off all sorts of angst about how they’re not as close as people think they are. Like it would be a fate worse than death for them to go to different schools and not spend 24 hours a day together. Girls, you’d still live together. Chill.

Jessica’s next hallucination is a voice at Secca Lake telling her to listen. There’s more fighting between the twins, and more angst about growing apart. They shut up long enough to plan the cookout with some of the other kids. Elizabeth, Randy, and Cammi go to the Bread Basket Bakery to buy dessert for the party, and the owner, known as Bakery Lady, mentions eerie stories she’s heard about Secca Lake. Later, Jess stops by the baker and meets the Bakery Lady’s sister. She repeats what the voice at the lake told Jess, warning her to listen.

Everyone has a great time at the party…except the twins, who keep moping about their bickering. The kids have all agreed to play Truth or Dare because there are some secrets being kept that others want out in the open. Each twin is asked why she’s moping, but neither wants to talk about it. They accept dares instead, and are sent off to creepy places alone. Jess has to go to a place called Echo Ledge and yell, “Listen!” so the other kids can hear her. Liz has to go to the burial ground and bring back a flower.

Both twins complete their dares but realize they’re not alone. The Bakery Lady has followed Liz and wants to tell her a story. Meanwhile, her twin, the Basket Lady, has a story for Jessica. The older twins reveals to the younger ones that they ran the bakery together until the Basket Lady decided she wanted to make baskets instead. They fought, and the Basket Lady left. She went to Secca Lake to gather reeds to make a basket, but she got sick and later died. The twins never spoke again and were never able to make up.

Jess and Liz realize that they need to reunite immediately, before one of them dies. Liz falls in a hole, and Jess starts to worry. The other kids note that she can just use her psychic abilities to find her sister. Apparently it hasn’t come out in the past year and a half that that was all a scam. Also, for some reason, no one’s worried that Liz is in danger. Jess has to guilt them into helping her look for her twin by reminding them of all the nice things Elizabeth has done for them.

Elizabeth hallucinates the Bakery Lady and Basket Lady’s fight, then wakes up and hears Jessica searching for her. She finds Liz, not because she’s psychic but because she knows her sister so well. It’s really because Jessica remembered what she kept hearing about listening, and heard Elizabeth in the dark. Also, I’m not sure how knowing Liz well would make Jess figure out that she was in a hole.

The next day, the twins go to the bakery to see the older sisters, but they’re told that they’re the real owner’s great-grandmother and great-aunt. Ghosts! Of course! Sigh. Also, their names were Bessie and Jessie. Double sigh. And yes, they were Native American, which just makes the whole thing feel offensive. But I guess if it makes Jessica and Elizabeth get along again, we’re supposed to be grateful.

Thoughts: Steven: “Ever convince kids a place is haunted? No? You really should.” Heh.

Lila likes chicken wings? Not a chance.

Randy wants Lois to teach him how to do the twist. IT IS 1998. I won’t miss this kind of ridiculousness from the ghostwriters.

So…that’s it for Sweet Valley Twins. And, at least for now, that’s it for me with books. I’ll be adding a new TV series to the lineup, so stay tuned…

October 17, 2017

SVT Super Edition #9, The Twins Go to College: This Isn’t the Kind of Pot I Expected Jessica to Do

Posted in books tagged , at 5:01 pm by Jenn


Summary: Jessica’s ready for a mindless summer of shopping and tanning, but when she and Elizabeth get accepted into a two-week study program at SVU, Ned and Alice tell her she’s going. They’ll be vacationing in Grand Canyon, no kids allowed, and Steven will be at basketball camp, so Jess has no choice. She’s devastated, and it doesn’t help when the Unicorns amusingly throw her a mini-funeral to mourn the loss of her summer. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is excited to take one class for two weeks, live in the dorms, and basically get a taste of what college will be like (minus the love triangles and attempted murder).

Ned and Alice take the girls to SVU and proceed to talk nonstop about their time there. The twins try to rush them along so they can sign up for their classes before all the slots fill up. Elizabeth will be taking a course on Romantic poetry (that’s Romantic with a capital R, as in odes and nature and stuff, not love), while Jessica has settled on ceramics, since she thinks it’ll be easy. Thanks to a broken clock tower, the girls are able to get rid of their parents an hour ahead of schedule.

They get the classes they want, then meet their roommates. Elizabeth’s is a girl named Marion whose parents are both detectives. She’s learned her parents’ tricks and become a master of disguise and observation. I kind of love her. She’s taking a criminology course, which I think I would choose if I were in this program. Jessica’s roommate, Susan, is AWFUL. She’s a snob from L.A. who thinks Jessica’s beneath her because she wears jeans and T-shirts. She’s Lila cranked up to 11, without the class.

The girls meet a guy named Mike who’s at SVU for a few days before he and his fellow Nature Scouts go on a canoe trip. Jessica likes him, but Susan quickly steals him, so now Jess hates her even more. Elizabeth is next to meet a guy, encountering a kid on a bridge and quoting poetry with him. She doesn’t get his name, but she’s in luuuuuuuuuuuv.

Jessica’s hopeful about her ceramics class, thanks to all the cute guys there, but when she starts actually working, she realizes it won’t be as easy as she’d hoped. Just making a clay pot takes a lot of concentration and control. She ends up covered in clay and embarrassed in front of her new classmates. Liz, meanwhile, gets a shock in her poetry class – it’s taught by her poetry buddy. His name is Ethan, and he’s a student and TA at SVU, which means he’s too old for Elizabeth.

Jessica comes across a gallery on campus and chats with an old woman who tells her about a curse pot. To mess with someone you hate, you can make an imperfect pot with the face of your enemy etched into it, along with some symbols. Firing the pot will trap the person’s spirit inside it. As she’s leaving, Jess runs into a guy transporting her classmates’ work and accidentally breaks some of it. So far, this summer isn’t going great for Jessica.

Inspired by Marion’s skill with disguises, Elizabeth decides to try to land Ethan by pretending to be someone else – specifically, someone older. She calls her new alter ego Geraldine and decides she talks like a southern belle from a few decades ago. She’s supposed to be 18, by the way. I would love to know how the characters in Elizabeth’s stories talk.

Jess decides she’s done with the study program (wow, she almost lasted an entire day!), so she packs a bag and heads for the bus stop. She’s missed the last bus home for the day, but it’s not a complete bust: She sees Elizabeth leaving a boutique in her new Geraldine clothes and decides to follow her. Liz goes to SVU’s snack bar and chats with Ethan, pretending to be her own older sister. They arrange to hang out later in the week and discuss poetry.

Jess gives ceramics another try, this time making a pretty decent-looking pot. She etches Susan’s face in it and turns it into a curse pot. She fires it with Bernard, the guy she ran into who was transporting the other pots. Meanwhile, Ethan tells Liz that he met Geraldine, then asks her to come along when the two of them hang out. Liz says she can’t go. Marion figures out what she’s up to and seems amused by the whole thing. Susan doesn’t come back to her and Jessica’s room that night, and she’s not around the next morning. Jessica is a little confused but doesn’t give it much thought.

Ethan and Elizabeth chat after a class, and he tells her that he thinks she’s more suited to Romantic poetry than Geraldine is, just from the way Geraldine talks. Way to insult your student’s sister, dude. Liz realizes she needs to quit it with always saying “my, my!” and “indeed” as Geraldine. Yeah, I’d say so. Jess has lunch with Bernard and later finds a poem in her pocket called Ode to Blue-Green Eyes. She figures it’s from Bernard, since she was just with him, but it’s obvious to the reader that it’s from Ethan, and he mistook Jess for Liz.

Susan is still MIA, and Jess starts to wonder if her curse pot actually did the job what it was supposed to. She goes looking for Elizabeth to fill her in, and finds her hanging out with Ethan, as Geraldine. Liz quickly pretends that Jessica is her. Jess plays along, hoping that in exchange, she’ll get a favor in the future. She mentions the poem she found in her pocket, and again, it’s clear to the reader that Ethan wrote it, but the twins don’t catch on.

Jessica pressures/threatens Elizabeth into helping her find the woman from the gallery so she can learn more about curse pots. Marion helps them get into the gallery after hours, but they have to hide from a guard and can’t get to the curse pot. The next day, Bernard tells Jessica that someone broke into the gallery and stole the pot. Jess is shocked, since it was there when she, Liz, and Marion broke in, and she knows none of them took it. She asks about the old woman, and Bernard offers to try to get contact information for her.

Ethan mentions Ode to Blue-Green Eyes to Liz, who has no idea what he’s talking about. He invites her and Geraldine to a concert on campus that night. Liz tries to bow out so only Geraldine will go, but Ethan insists. Elizabeth gets Jess to agree to play her again, and Jess gets Liz to agree to go with her to see the old woman, Hatta. The mystery of the missing curse pot is quickly solved, as Hatta took it. She made it, so she figures she can do what she wants with it. Jessica tells her that she made her own curse pot but now wants to reverse the curse. Hatta isn’t sure she can.

When the girls are back at their dorm, Ethan calls to tell Elizabeth that he got a fourth ticket to the concert, so she should bring Jessica along. Of course, Jess is already planning to play Liz while Liz plays Geraldine, so they’re all out of twins. But Marion looks enough like the twins and can mimic Jessica’s characteristics well enough to pass herself off as Jess. It seems like a foolproof plan until Bernard joins them and easily IDs “Elizabeth” as Jessica, and Marion as an imposter. All three girls fake stomachaches and flee.

Jess finds another poem in her pocket, and Liz starts figuring out that Ethan is writing the poetry. Good job, Nancy Drew! However, she thinks Ethan likes Jessica. She’s surprised when Marion tells her that obviously Ethan likes Elizabeth – the real Elizabeth, not Geraldine. This is gross, because he knows Liz is 12, but I think it’s supposed to seem sweet.

Ethan confirms his crush after the next class. He also reveals that he’s 16, and the Doogie Howser of SVU’s English department. So there’s only a four-year age difference between him and Liz, which is less gross than when she thought he was at least 18, but still gross enough. Fortunately, both realize that their difference in ages means they shouldn’t date. They agree to just be friends.

The twins, Ethan, and Bernard go back to Hatta’s house, but she’s still not sure how Jess can break the pot’s curse. Her only idea is for Jess to break the pot and leave the pieces in the mud on her riverbank, which is where the clay came from. Maybe if it’s returned to its origins, the curse will be ended. Jessica reluctantly breaks the pot, and the clay seems to pull the pieces into the ground. Moments later, the Nature Scouts appear in canoes, on their way back from their trip. Among them is Susan.

The official story is that Susan decided to ditch the study program after she met Mike. She didn’t bother to tell anyone she was going on the trip with the Nature Scouts, and I guess the school didn’t call her parents when they couldn’t find her, since no one went looking for her. This would have been a better plot if Jessica had said her roommate was missing and everyone else denied that Susan ever existed. Also, Susan doesn’t strike me as the sort of girl who would enjoy a nature trip, so she must have really liked Mike. I wish Jess had just enjoyed that she was gone – she got to have a dorm room all to herself.

Thoughts: Some of the courses offered: Cooking for Fun and Profit, Cruising the Internet, What Really Happened to the Titanic?

This program has no curfew or chaperones, and I really can’t believe so many parents would allow their kids to participate. I suspect they just wanted them out of the house for two weeks.

I’d rather read a series about Marion than the twins.

July 11, 2017

SVT Super Edition #7, Jessica’s Animal Instincts: In Case You Were Wondering, No, Elizabeth Is Not Smarter Than a Monkey

Posted in books tagged , , at 4:55 pm by Jenn

Bruce doesn’t look nearly scared enough

Summary: For the first two weeks of their summer vacation, kids from SVMS can do internships around town, either organized through the school or arranged on their own. SVMS probably should have restricted them to just ones on an approved list, because Jessica thinks working for Sweet Valley Makeovers is appropriate. But then Elizabeth surprises her with the news that she entered both of their names in a lottery to get internships at the zoo, and both of them have been chosen. Jess is justifiably angry that Liz didn’t tell her she was entered in the lottery, but unjustifiably angry about working at the zoo, because who hates the zoo?

Jessica is sent to the bear habitat, and acts like a jerk to her “boss,” Justin. He’s too nice/wimpy to call her on her behavior, whereas I would have sent her straight back to school and asked for an intern who actually wanted to be there. Jess tries to get an internship at Sweet Valley Makeovers; when that doesn’t come through, she goes to any interesting-looking store at the mall that might have her. None of them extends an offer. To add insult to injury, Lila is interning at the posh Briana Taylor’s, where she gets to be around nice clothes all day. Yeah, I’d still rather be at the zoo. I mean, retail. Shudder.

Jessica finally warms up to her internship when two grizzly bears, a mother and cub, are brought to the zoo. They were tranquilized after being captured outside a mall, but the mother was given too much of the drug and winds up dying. Jessica notices that she’s in distress and tries to find Justin, but she wasn’t listening when he told her where he was going, so she can’t get in touch with him. He assures her that there was nothing she could do anyway. Jessica tries to make up for her failure by comforting the cub. She names him Gus after her own teddy bear and spends all her time with him, since he’s traumatized and clingy.

The internship at Sweet Valley Makeovers comes through after all, and Jessica ditches the zoo for it. Unfortunately, she hates it. When she learns that Gus is heartbroken without her, she quits and goes back to the zoo. What a wonderful employee Jessica will make someday. She becomes obsessed with Gus, talking about him all the time and spending as much time as possible with him. Ned and Alice do nothing, of course.

Justin breaks it to Jessica that the zoo isn’t equipped to keep Gus full-time, so he’s going to be released back into whatever kind of wild is near Sweet Valley. Jess responds in the only reasonable way: She sneaks Gus out of the zoo in her backpack and takes him home with her. I’m not at all surprised that Ned and Alice are too clueless to notice an actual wild animal in their house.

The news comes out when Gus sneaks out of her room and invades the kitchen. There’s also a monkey (more on that in the B-plot). Alice’s demanding new clients, who happen to be over, are pretty distressed. Jessica has to ‘fess up to what she did (is grand theft bear a crime?), and Gus is ultimately released into the wild anyway, so it was a pretty pointless stunt. I guess the storyline was meant to make Jessica seem more compassionate, since she looked after a poor little orphaned bear, but in my eyes, it just made her look stupid. I mean, a bear in the house. Freaking A.

Elizabeth is much more into the internship than Jessica, and when she’s assigned to work with the monkeys, she thinks she’ll end up like Jane Goodall, like they’ll make her their queen or something. She laughs off her boss, Madeleine, when she says monkeys are just as smart as humans. We’re led to believe that a monkey named Spanky overhears her and escapes just to teach her a lesson. I like to think that’s true – a monkey was offended when Elizabeth called it dumb, and decided to make her look dumb in turn.

Liz spends the whole book looking around town for Spanky, spotting him, and failing to capture him. The zoo doesn’t seem too concerned with the fact that one of its animals has escaped, and it doesn’t sound like the public has been informed. I’m starting to think this zoo isn’t on the up-and-up. I mean, they let a 12-year-old cuddle a bear. Or maybe there were insurance and permission forms involved, and Ned and Alice were just like, “Eh, whatever. If something happens to Jessica, we have another kid who looks just like her.”

Since Spanky keeps showing up wherever Elizabeth goes, I imagine he’s following her around town and taunting her by popping up, then running off before she can catch him. Good job, Spanky. You’re a good monkey. Elizabeth finally tells Madeleine that she was right – monkeys are smart. Not long after, Spanky goes back to the zoo, I guess have decided that Elizabeth learned her lesson. But since Spanky willingly returned himself to captivity, can he really be that smart? He should have joined Gus in the wild.

The other two lucky zoo interns are Bruce and Melissa McCormick. Bruce is thrilled because he has a big crush on Melissa, and this internship gives him the chance to spend two full weeks with her. Then he’s less thrilled, because they’re working in the aviary, and Bruce’s secret shame is that he’s terrified of birds. He spends the two weeks trying not to show how scared he is, but embarrassing himself over and over in front of Melissa. The funniest part is that eventually she tells him she figured out his fear, so I imagine she spends the whole time secretly laughing at him.

A baby bird imprints on Bruce and starts following him everywhere. I guess we should be glad the bird (Bruce names it Drumstick) doesn’t escape like Spanky and follow Bruce around town. Bruce keeps rejecting Drumstick until a bunch of raptors pick him out for a meal, and Bruce has to climb some sort of pole (in his underwear, for reasons known only to the ghostwriter) to rescue the bird. Melissa sees everything and declares that the crush she already had on Bruce has now grown. They end up going on a date to Casey’s, but I can’t imagine that relationship lasts long, since Melissa seems like a nice person, while Bruce is…Bruce. Who’s afraid of birds. Don’t forget that.

Thoughts: Madeleine doesn’t know the exact number of monkeys in the zoo, which seems like a recipe for disaster.

Releasing a baby bear into the wild before it can take care of itself also seems like a recipe for disaster. Why didn’t they find a mama bear in the zoo to look after Gus? Or send him too a different zoo? He doesn’t even know how to find food!

Melissa: “Girls can always tell when animals are girls.” Huh?

April 18, 2017

SVT Super Chiller #8, The Secret of the Magic Pen: Ghostwriter

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:11 pm by Jenn

Oh, come on, this didn’t happen

Summary: You’d think that after so many summers, the twins would have found a number of ways to entertain themselves, but no, they’re already bored. Fortunately, their parents don’t want to have to put up with them, so they’re being sent to Camp Faraway for two weeks. Come on, Ned and Alice, shell out for the whole summer! Imagine how quiet the house will be! Elizabeth has decided that this is the summer she’ll write a novel, and she thinks that Faraway, which offers writing classes, will be the perfect setting. Someone needs to talk to Liz about her writing process, though, since she wants to write a mystery but has no actual plot in mind and no idea what she’s doing.

Other than Mandy Miller, the twins don’t know anyone at camp. Of course, since they’re such wonderful people, they immediately make friends. Jessica hits it off with a girl named Miranda, who’ also an actress, and Liz connects with Starr, who is obsessed with Shakespeare and gets on my nerves within two pages of her introduction. There’s also an annoying girl named Priscilla who I think is supposed to be a southern belle, but she’s a southern belle as written by a ghostwriter who doesn’t know anyone about southern belles. I guess she’s the antagonist of the book, but she’s not very good at it.

The camp owner, Gunnie (…what is that even a nickname for?), tells everyone that some famous people were campers there as kids. One is Roland Barge, who gained fame writing thrillers before he disappeared. Also, there were murders on the property decades ago. Raise your hand if you would send your daughter to camp at a place where people were once murdered. Now go sit in the corner and think about your parenting decisions, you monsters.

The girls’ awesome counselor, Heather, takes them to Hangman’s Cave for a little expedition. Yes, sign me right up for a trip to Hangman’s Cave on the property of Camp Murder. Elizabeth finds a glowing pen stuck near the wall and decides to use it to write her book. I’m sure one pen – which is very old, so the ink has probably dried up – is all she’ll need for an entire manuscript. She figures she’ll get some inspiration from the research she does while writing an article about Barge.

While Jessica gets into her acting classes (and dreads having to go up against Priscilla in an audition for a play called The Royal Switch), Elizabeth starts working on her article. Only she finds herself writing a story, unclear on where the idea or words came from. Her handwriting even looks different. The story is about a servant named Amelia Champlain who works at a manor 70 years ago. She wants to be a writer, but a fellow servant named Richard Bittle thinks she should keep that to herself, since servants aren’t allowed to have dreams or aspirations. Amelia writes a story, but after she has Richard read it, she sees the title page in the fireplace. She figures the wind blew the whole manuscript into the fire. There goes Amelia’s dream!

Jessica gets her script for The Royal Switch, but when she gets up from the table where she’s reading, it disappears. She finds the title page in the fireplace, just like Amelia did in Elizabeth’s story. This combined with Elizabeth’s story that came out of nowhere make Liz think something eerie is going on. Jessica thinks she’s nuts for believing there could be something supernatural going on with the pen. Strange, since Liz is usually the skeptic, while Jess once thought she was psychic and could predict earthquakes.

Elizabeth does more research on Barge, learning that his earlier novels were well-liked, but his last one was a critical disaster. Meanwhile, Jessica lands the lead in the play, of course. Priscilla gives a horrible audition and then basically disappears from the story. Even with the dumbness of the main plot (I mean, a supernatural pen?), it’s still more interesting than Priscilla, the weakest “villain” this series has ever produced.

Liz’s article gets pushed aside when more of the story comes to her. Richard asks Amelia to meet him on the lake, but when she goes out in a boat, it sinks and she almost drowns. The fisherman who saves her tells her that someone stabbed holes in the boat to make it sink. In the present, Jessica goes out on the lake in a boat and also almost drowns. Elizabeth saves her and freaks out about Jess’s life paralleling Amelia’s.

Gunnie provides some information on Barge, whose real name was…drumroll…Richard Bittle. He was in love with a servant named Amelia, who disappeared one day, leaving behind a note saying she’d run off with another man. Elizabeth finds this suspicious, though not as suspicious as the fact that she’s been writing about things that actually happened. For once in her life, Elizabeth makes a smart decision: She tells Jess they need to call their parents and get the frick away from Camp Murder. Jessica refuses, because she needs to have her big stage debut. The show must go on, even if your life is in danger.

Elizabeth backs down and goes back to her article on Barge. She reads his first novel, Death of a Hangman, which takes place in Hangman’s Cave and involves a murderer being killed by the ghosts of his victims. She continues writing her story, which features Richard luring Amelia to Hangman’s Cave and strangling her. Scared that Jessica will face the same fate, Elizabeth grabs Gunnie and takes her to the cave, where they find Jess about to be strangled by…a ghost, I guess.

Elizabeth writes the rest of the story on the wall of the cave, and it’s now clear that Amelia has been telling her story through the pen and Liz. Richard strangled Amelia and drowned her in a pool in the cave so he could steal all the books she somehow had time to write. The one she had him read wasn’t burned after all; Richard just got rid of the title page to fool her. They find the rest of Amelia’s manuscripts under the stables, along with Richard’s last novel. He wrote that one himself because he had no more of Amelia’s to publish under his own name.

Gunnie and the twins then find Richard’s journal, in which he confesses his crimes. He regrets murdering the woman he loved just so he could get a little fame. Everyone wondered where he disappeared to after his disastrous last novel was published, but the journal gives the explanation: He killed himself. How cheery in a book for preteens.

Elizabeth writes a big article about Barge, which gets published both in the camp newspaper and in a local paper. Everyone thinks it’s quality work and Liz has a great career ahead of her. Jessica also gets rave reviews for the play. I’m so sure a paper is reviewing a camp performance. Liz’s story being published outside of the camp paper at least makes sense, since Barge was a famous writer. But I wonder if she included the part about the magic pen channeling a woman who’s been dead for 70 years.

Thoughts: “There’s nothing else to do this summer. I might as well accomplish something.” That’s probably not as funny as I thought it was.

Jessica’s “always dreamed about going away to camp,” so I guess The Big Camp Secret never happened.

The Unicorns have really screwed with Jessica. When Miranda gives her a compliment after an acting exercise, Jess is “a little surprised. Whenever she competed with Lila or the other Unicorns, they never admitted that she’d done a good job. Is it because Miranda’s super confident?” Oh, sweetie, no. It’s because she’s a nice person, unlike your so-called friends.

Miranda calls Jessica’s purple walking shorts “dramatic.” Okay, Miranda.

Starr: “‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ That’s from Hamlet.” Me: “Shut up, Starr. That’s from me.”

August 9, 2016

SVT Super Chiller #4, The Ghost in the Bell Tower: Liz Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 4:47 pm by Jenn

What are you even looking at, Jess?

What are you even looking at, Jess?

Summary: The Wakefield kids are home for the evening and watching a horror movie with Joe Howell. (Sidebar: I think Joe is a fun character, and I feel bad that he wound up with a disaster of a sister like Janet.) During the movie, the kids hear moaning in the house and Jessica thinks there’s a ghost or something in there with them. Elizabeth is too logical to go down that route and explains how Steven and Joe set up a prank. This establishes a thread that runs through the book: Elizabeth is too logical to believe in things like ghosts.

Aunt Helen is back, and she’s inherited a run-down inn somewhere in California. She wants to hold a big family reunion there, but first, she’d like the twins, Steven, and their cousins Robin and Stacey (Robin’s younger sister) to help her spruce it up. (Lest you think Aunt Helen is taking advantage of child labor to get all the work done, she’s also hired actual professionals. She really wants the kids to spend their summer vacation in a new environment.) The kids accept the invitation, and Steven’s allowed to bring Joe so he’s not outnumbered by girls.

Before they head out, Steven plays another prank on Jess, this one involving a fake bloody hand. Liz, of course, easily figures out that Steven didn’t put a real severed human hand in his sister’s suitcase. Ned and Alice do some actual parenting for once, asking Steven and Joe not to pull pranks at the inn, since Aunt Helen has heart problems and already has enough to deal with.

Everyone gathers at the Lakeview Inn, which has a bell tower, for some reason. That’s kind of the only thing it has going for it; everything else is shabby and needs a lot of work. Aunt Helen would like the girls to clear out the attic so they can access the bell tower. Oh, and by the way, there’s supposedly a ghost up there. Sleep tight! I assume Helen doesn’t believe in ghosts or she’d never invite a bunch of kids to spend the summer in her haunted inn.

Robin and Stacey show up in the twins’ room in the middle of the night, claiming their room is freezing, even though the radiator is on (no one bothers to ask why they were using a radiator in the middle of the summer). Jessica decides there’s a ghost around. I guess Jess has been watching Supernatural, I see. The girls can’t figure out why the room is so cold, so they all just go to bed in the twins’ room.

In the morning, the girls get started on the attic while Steven and Joe work on a boathouse. They tell the girls they found a cave but have claimed it as a secret spot for themselves. Then why say anything at all? Elizabeth finds Alexandra’s diary and learns that she was smitten with a guy named William Cliff when she was younger. She’s surprised to see that a portrait of Alexandra’s father, Phineas, has disappeared from her and Jess’ bedroom and has been replaced with another painting. When she brings Jess in to show her, the painting of Phineas is there again.

That afternoon, Jessica encounters a worker named Bill who tells her about a secret passageway between the twins’ room and Robin and Stacey’s room. There’s a huge mirror in the twins’ room that Bill reveals is a two-way mirror – when the right lights are on, you can see between the two rooms. That night, Liz locks the bedroom door and sleeps with the key under her pillow. She notes the next morning that nothing weird happened, intimating that she thinks humans are responsible for the weird stuff going on, and couldn’t pull any pranks without access to the twins’ room.

But things are still weird: Elizabeth put a fresh bouquet of flowers in the bedroom before going to sleep, and now they’re all dry and dead. Aunt Helen mentions that she can smell flowers in the kitchen, though Liz can’t smell them in the hallway nearby. She starts to get an idea. The twins and Robin go into town to do some shopping, and on their way home, they come across what they think is the guys’ cave. They go inside, only to be met with screaming and what looks like a ghost running at them. As the girls are fleeing, Elizabeth drops her notebook so she has an excuse to go back on her own. As the girls return to the inn, Liz says that she’s sure Steven was just playing another joke on them. But Steven’s been at the inn with Aunt Helen all afternoon. Hmmm, very curious.

The twins wake up in the middle of the night to see light shining behind the two-way mirror. A message shows up, seemingly written in blood, threatening to come after Elizabeth. Liz is freaked out but notices that Jessica isn’t. Curiouser and curiouser! The girls see a grotesque face in the mirror and declares that the ghost is targeting them. Elizabeth suggests that they’re both still asleep and having the same exact dream. Sure, Liz. Suuuuuuure.

The next day, Elizabeth sneaks out and returns to the cave, where she finds two sets of footprints leaving it. She takes some measurements, and when she’s back at the inn, she compares them to Steven and Joe’s shoes. One set matches Joe’s, but the others are a lot smaller – more like the size of Stacey’s shoes. She also discovers a bookcase that swings out to lead to a secret passageway (the same one behind her and Jessica’s mirror).

Liz has now figured out everything that’s happened, but she doesn’t want to confront her sister and cousins yet. Instead, she turns to Joe and Steven for help getting some revenge on the girls. They’ll make a raft, put a fake ghost on it, and have Joe pull it behind a boat on the lake. Hopefully, in the dark and from far enough away, it’ll look like a ghost and fool the girls. Bill pops in to suggest a lighting trick to make sure the girls can really see it. The plan goes off great, and Elizabeth is impressed that the guys were able to use some pyrotechnics to spice things up. The guys, however, tell her they didn’t have anything to do with that.

Jessica takes a nap in the attic and is spooked by some creaking sounds. Then she sees a white figure approaching her. She’s so scared that she tries to escape through the window. Elizabeth realizes she’s gone too far with her revenge and comes clean with the girls about how she figured everything out. She knows Steven stayed home with Aunt Helen so he could have an alibi while Joe and Stacey pulled the prank in the cave. Robin and Stacey made the room cold by opening the windows, then used blue eyeshadow to make their lips look blue (ew). Jessica switched the paintings and cooked Liz’s flowers in the oven, which is why Helen smelled flowers in the kitchen. And Robin used lipstick she bought in town to write the message the twins saw in the mirror.

The only thing Elizabeth can’t figure out is who provided the mask that she and Jess thought was a face in the mirror. Robin says that there was no mask in their plan. Elizabeth, in turn, denies leaving Jessica in the dark attic or sending anyone in to scare her. The girls think Steven must be adding some embellishments to their pranks.

Because this is suddenly a Baby-sitters Club book, the girls find old clothes and dress up for something called Gold Rush Day. Elizabeth grabs a few minutes with a historian who tells her more about the Lakeview Inn ghost: Legend has it that it’s the ghost of a man who died of a broken heart when the woman he loved married someone else. Supposedly the ghost can be banished by ringing the bell.

More wackiness at the inn! Jessica’s doing laundry when bedding starts disappearing and reappearing in the washer and dryer. She thinks Elizabeth is pulling another joke. Liz is the next target of weirdness when she finds that her nice, hot bath has turned ice-cold. She confronts Jessica, who denies any involvement. When Liz goes back to the tub, the water is hot again. The twins decide that Steven and Joe are at it again. But the next morning, they wake up to discover that their beds have been swapped – and there’s no way two 14-year-old boys could have dragged their heavy beds across the room without waking the twins up.

Through all of this, Liz has been reading Alexandra’s diary, and she finally realizes why her picture of William looks so familiar – he looks just like Bill. Just as she figures out this connection, a strong wind comes into the room and almost makes the picture fly away. Then a message appears on the wall telling everyone to get out of the inn. Later, maggots appear, then disappear from muffins Aunt Helen is baking. Suddenly the girls can no longer use logic to explain what’s going on at the inn. They decide Bill is the ghost in the bell tower.

Remembering the lore about banishing the ghost by ringing the bell, the girls focus on getting to the tower. They try to move things around in the attic to get to the door, but the stuff slides back into place behind them, preventing them from going back the way they came. Then the power goes out, so the girls can only see when lightning flashes (because of course there’s a storm outside). Clothes start flying around the attic, which is pretty weak as far as ghost tricks go. Stacey fights back with a bayonet. Stacey’s pretty cool.

The girls head to the tower, though apparently only the twins are there because Robin and Stacey aren’t mentioned for the rest of the scene. The girls find Bill, who’s suddenly glowing. Yes, boys and girls, we’re dealing with an actual ghost. He threatens to kill the kids, but Elizabeth calls his bluff, noting that any time things have started to get dangerous, he’s backed off. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone; he’s just sad.

Bill confirms that he was in love with Alexandra but she was going to marry someone else. Elizabeth has learned from her diary that Alexandra’s father was forcing her to marry a doctor, but Alexandra was going to stand up to him and call off the wedding to be with Will/Bill. Bill died, of course, and Alexandra never married. Bill realizes that, with Alexandra dead, there’s no reason to hang out at the inn anymore, so he lets the girls ring the bell. ‘Bye, Bill!

The kids spend the rest of their time at the inn cleaning, and eventually the place is ready for guests. Steven and Joe try to pull one last prank by dropping a fake spider on Jessica from a tree, but she’s seen so much actual scary stuff that it doesn’t faze her. Then the girls see two ghosts walking on the other side of the lake, which means Bill and Alexandra have finally found their way back to each other. Liz is like, “Well, true love is logical, so this makes perfect sense!” Eh.

Thoughts: Elizabeth: “I’m sure he’s stuck in that dark mine shaft. You know how ghosts are.” Yes, of course.

Actually, Elizabeth’s pretty enjoyable in this book, until she starts thinking there’s really a ghost.

“Nice ghost. Nice little ghost. You don’t want to hurt me.” Hee. I like Robin.

July 19, 2016

SVU Super Edition, Face It: Highway to Hell

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:20 pm by Jenn

They don't even look identical!

They don’t even look identical!

Summary: We have finally reached the end of this ridiculous series, and we’re going out with a road trip. Sam’s cousin, the only family member he still talks to, is getting married in Boston, and even though he doesn’t want to see his family, Elizabeth and Neil encourage him to go. (Sigh, Neil. He’s barely in this book and I’m sad about it. I’ll miss you, buddy.) Jessica ends up inviting herself and her new boyfriend along. This will be the twins’ last hurrah before junior year, since Jessica will be moving out of the duplex and back into the dorms to be an RA. Yeah, no one does that. Once you’re out of the dorms, you only go back if you can’t pay rent anymore. Plus, no way is Jessica qualified to be an RA.

Anyway, road trip. But first, drama! Jessica sees Sam getting some random girl’s phone number. She already thinks he’s scum, and this doesn’t make him any more endearing. Jess then learns that Elizabeth was accepted into a study-abroad program in London, but since she hasn’t said anything about it, she must not be going – and Jess figures it’s because she doesn’t want to leave Sam. She’s right.

Jessica wanted a summer internship at an art museum, but a cute senior named Tyler nabbed it first. Jessica’s not too broken up since Tyler’s really interested in her, and she’d rather have the guy than the internship anyway. After they’ve gone on a couple of dates, he mentions that his sister is graduating high school in Illinois, but he can’t afford to fly home for the ceremony. Jessica realizes that Liz and Sam can take him on their way to Boston, so she gets them to agree to bring her and Tyler along on the road trip.

The kids take a detour to the San Diego Zoo, so I guess they’re not under a time crunch. Jessica gets mad when Sam checks out a waitress (right in front of Elizabeth, no less). Tyler thinks Jess needs to calm down, and though I agree with her that Sam is skeezy – and she doesn’t even know that he feels trapped in his relationship with Elizabeth and doesn’t even want to be with her – this is not the time to pick a fight. No one wants to share a long car ride with two people who won’t stop fighting.

Next stop: Grand Canyon. It’s big. The road trippers check into a B&B for the night, and Jessica catches Sam flirting with a desk clerk. Dude, what is up with this guy? At dinner, Sam makes Jess mad by asking why she and Tyler got a room together but are sleeping in separate beds. Elizabeth confides in Jessica that she’s ready to have sex with Sam, though he doesn’t want to rush anything. Jessica doesn’t get it. I don’t think Elizabeth does either. Sam is weirdly hesitant to “take” Elizabeth’s virginity, as if she’s not freely and eagerly offering it up. Guys, just have sex already. I’m tired of reading about this.

The kids spend some time in Santa Fe, where the tables turn and Sam catches Jessica flirting with another guy. Later, they fight about his own flirtations, and Elizabeth gets annoyed at her scummy boyfriend. Then, in Illinois, he flirts with ANOTHER woman, a waitress at some restaurant, and ends up making out with her. Why are so many women into Sam anyway? Jessica spots them and immediately tells Elizabeth, but Liz thinks she’s lying because she wants to break them up. She thinks Jess is mad that Liz is going to lose her virginity to a great guy when Jess lost hers to jerky Mike. Way harsh, Liz.

Elizabeth questions Sam, who tells her that Jessica lies. Tyler sides with him, since Sam lied to him, too, so now Jess looks really petty. Everyone goes off in separate directions, and Sam ends up making out with the waitress AGAIN. And Jessica sees them AGAIN. This time Jess grabs Liz and drags her to see her boyfriend cheating with her own eyes. Of course, by the time they get there, Sam is alone, writing something. Liz thinks he’s writing in a journal just like she does, because if there’s anything Sam has proven to be, it’s sensitive and introspective.

Jess decides she needs to show Liz how bad Sam is in a way Elizabeth can’t deny. She plans to dress up as Liz, seduce Sam, and get Elizabeth to see them together. Yeah, there’s no way this could go wrong. It’s not like Sam will explain to Liz that he thought Jess was her, and Jess will come off looking crazy. While Jess is plotting, Elizabeth buys a bunch of candles and condoms and plans to get all pretty before having sex with Sam.

Jessica puts her plan into motion, and though Sam thinks “Elizabeth” is acting weird, he doesn’t suspect that she’s not really Elizabeth. Liz catches them, but instead of thinking Sam’s the only one to blame, she hates Jessica as well. Sam takes advantage of the mess to tell Liz he knew who he was with and doesn’t want to be with Elizabeth. Dang, way to kick her while she’s down. Elizabeth takes the Jeep and heads off on her own, leaving the others behind. I guess Tyler’s now close enough to home to find a ride, but I can’t wait for Jessica to have to call her parents and explain why she’s stranded in Illinois. Maybe Lila can swing by with her father’s jet.

Elizabeth sees her London acceptance letter in the car and decides to go. I don’t know how she plans to pay for a plane ticket, or how she plans to get through customs without her passport (since I can’t imagine she brought it with her), or what she’s going to do until the semester starts. But at least Jess can probably retrieve the Jeep from long-term parking after Liz flies halfway across the world, hoping to never see her sister again. And that’s a wrap on SVU!

Thoughts: Sam: “Liz, I’m really, really, like, I don’t know what to say – honored that you feel like you can sleep with me.” ICK.

How can these people afford to eat breakfast out so often? They don’t have jobs! Wait, Jessica has one. How is Jessica the only one with a job??

“After all, what guy in his right mind wouldn’t want to sleep with Elizabeth Wakefield?” Ugh, now I have to go jump out a window.

“You look really cute in that baseball shirt. Kind of like a little girl in her father’s clothes.” Sam, it’s time to start thinking before you speak.

Along with Neil, I hope Nina gets to live happily ever after. Everyone else in this series is dead to me.

January 19, 2016

SVU #50, Summer of Love: Crazy Ex-Boyfriend

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 5:21 pm by Jenn

Whichever twin that is, I like her bathing suit

Whichever twin that is, I like her bathing suit

Summary: We’re at the final book of this endless road-trip trilogy. Jessica’s back with her team, and everyone’s about to depart Tennessee for Georgia. Jessica and Neil aren’t speaking, Sam and Elizabeth are still going back and forth between speaking and not speaking, and Tom and Todd still hate each other even though they have something in common. They both want Sam to stay away from Elizabeth, though for different reasons: Todd because Sam is a jerk, and Tom because he wants Liz back.

They’re both a little happy when Sam, taking part in a tobacco-spitting contest, spits on Elizabeth. Then Liz gets too close to the side of a mountain and almost falls to her death. That would have made this book a lot more enjoyable. Sam saves her, because Sam always saves Elizabeth, no matter what. I hope the girl never gets a paper cut, because she’s going to have someone hovering over her with a giant Band-Aid. They kiss, so now Elizabeth is back on Team Sam Is Awesome.

Their RV runs out of gas (which I find very surprising – wouldn’t Liz be overly attentive to things like that?), so Sam and Liz walk to get more in the middle of the night. Sam is suddenly a sensitive poetry lover. Whatever.

The teams arrive in Savannah, Georgia, where they’ll be doing a Civil War reenactment with paint guns. That actually sounds kind of fun. The term “reenactment” isn’t quite accurate, though; they just shoot each other while wearing Civil War-era clothes. Still, it’s something college students would love. Tom wants to take Elizabeth prisoner and impress her with his soldier skills. Shut up, Tom. The teams get to practice shooting, and Neil shoots Jessica in the head, which is hilarious. Neil is now my favorite character.

In the reenactment, Elizabeth turns kind of aggressive, eager to do a good job. I like this side of her. However, her energy gets the better of her and she trips and falls. Sam thinks she’s been shot, so he rushes over to save her. From what, I’m not sure. Tom notices. Then Elizabeth gets shot for real and eliminated from the game. It would have been better if Tom had shot Sam. Jessica, meanwhile, goes after Alison, which makes total sense. Then she shoots Neil, which doesn’t. He’s on your team, Jess!

After the challenge, Sam and Josh (whose only purpose in this trilogy is to be even more obnoxious and sexist than Sam, thereby making him look more appealing) talk about Angelina, the girl Sam’s planning to meet up with in Florida after the competition is over. Todd overhears them, so now he hates Sam even more for being a womanizing skeeze. Tom’s like, “See? SEE?”

The teams have some downtime in their next city, Palm Beach, Florida, so Elizabeth, Charlie, and Ruby do some bonding at an amateur racetrack. Nothing important happens, but I thought it was nice that they had some fun together while the rest of the challenge participants were busy being angsty. Jessica goes shopping, but she doesn’t want Neil to get anything cooler than her, so she buys everything he looks at. Never mind that she doesn’t have any money, or that the stuff he buys is ugly. I imagine he’s trolling her, but it’s never clarified. So Jess winds up with stuff like purple boots she can’t afford.

The teams take prop planes to Key West, which only serves to put them in a slightly dangerous situation so Sam and Elizabeth can cling to each other. Jessica and Neil do, too, but there’s no chance of them having a romantic relationship, so it’s not as important, I guess. In Key West, the teams learn that their final challenge is to ride bikes up to a cliff overlooking the ocean and then jump off. Excuse me? Does that sound really unsafe to anyone else? Also, I would imagine that Charlie would need to disclose her pregnancy to whoever’s in charge of this show, because if anything went wrong, she could sue.

Tom’s ready to get Elizabeth away from Sam for good, so he wants to work with Todd on a plan. I think at this point, Todd’s willing to go along so Tom will leave him alone. At the same time, Sam has decided to get with Angelina, so he’s done with Liz. The only people who are really happy are Neil and Jessica, who work things out. He thought she was being cold to him because she’s homophobic, but he realizes that she’s just upset that he rejected her, since no guy has ever turned her down before. Jessica confirms this, expressing confusion over why she would hate him for being gay.

Sam finally realizes that Josh is a jerk and tells him off. Of course, Sam’s the one who’s been trying to make out with Elizabeth for eight weeks while supposedly having a girlfriend, so he’s not much better. Sam decides he’s done with Angelina. When a bunch of the racers go snorkeling, he tries to catch up to Liz, but Tom and Todd block him like they’re playing basketball and Elizabeth is Lebron James. (Does that work? I don’t do sports metaphors.) At this point, if I were Sam, I’d give up on Liz, because who wants to date a girl with insane ex-boyfriends? Elizabeth finds out what they’re up to and is very unhappy about it.

Scott (Charlie’s boyfriend) has caught up with the challengers by this point, and will be hanging out with them until the finish line. He doesn’t think Charlie should go snorkeling, because he doesn’t know if it’s safe for a pregnant woman to go swimming. Scott, you make me sad. He seems a little more concerned with this than he does with Charlie planning to jump off a cliff. Whatever, no one cares about this D-plot.

On cliff-jumping day, everything goes pretty much fine. Jessica gets a flat tire, so she rides on Neil’s bike, which apparently is a no-no. Her team technically wins the challenge, but since she broke a rule, they get disqualified. In the end, neither twin’s team wins the competition. They get some money, though, so that’s nice.

At the show’s after-party, Tom randomly realizes that it’s time for him to move on from Elizabeth. Good luck, buddy. Todd has already moved on and is looking forward to seeing Dana again. Neil tells Jessica that he might not have the money to go back to Stanford, so he’s considering transferring to SVU. Jessica’s thrilled. Neil has gained so much courage from the competition that he comes out on TV. Awwww. P.S. Sam and Elizabeth make out, but I really don’t care.

Thoughts: “It’s like one of those things you read about that happens to strangers but never to anyone you know.” Poor Ruby has never met a pregnant person.

Elizabeth offers to buy Ruby and Charlie drinks, by which I assume she means lemonade, because no way would she purchase alcohol (and she’s not 21 anyway).

“You’re just really chapped because Elizabeth is such a cold fish.” What decade is Josh from?

Jessica is exactly the kind of girl to wind up with a gay best friend, so I’m only surprised it took so long for her to find one.

January 5, 2016

SVU #49, Stranded: Jessica Has Left the Building

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 5:12 pm by Jenn

I love this cover. She's so mad!

I love this cover. She’s so mad, but she’s still modeling!

Summary: Jessica has accidentally been left behind in a bar in South Dakota while the rest of her Intense Coast-to-Coast Whatever Whatever teammates head to their next challenge. Fortunately, Elvis comes to Jessica’s rescue. Well, an Elvis impersonator, which isn’t as interesting. Jess has no idea where the next competition is, and mad at her team for ditching her anyway, so she decides to blow off the rest of the challenge and go to Memphis with Elvis.

When Jessica’s teammates realize that they left her in South Dakota, Tom decides that they need to go back and get her – not because it’s the right thing to do, but because Elizabeth would be mad if they didn’t. They run into a camera crew, which for some reason only films the competition parts of the challenge. They’re missing so much juicy stuff by not being on the RVs with the teams. Anyway, Tom and Todd pretend they’re just going back to get Jessica’s purse, so no one finds out they’re down one teammate.

Somehow, the team finds their missing player, but Jessica takes off with Elvis again. The team goes after her, then changes their mind and proceeds to the next challenge in St. Joseph, Missouri. Neil’s worried that Jessica’s mad enough to out him to the rest of the team. I will say that I don’t see anyone on that team caring that Neil’s gay. In Missouri, Jessica’s team pretends she’s asleep in the RV so Elizabeth won’t find out they lost her. Liz quickly figures it out, though, since Todd and Tom can’t keep their lies straight.

The challenge in St. Joseph involves horses and jumping. Elizabeth almost falls off her horse, but Sam rescues her, ticking off Tom. Elizabeth and Sam’s love/hate relationship is back to love, since he’s being nice in the wake of her near-death experience. Their team wins the challenge, and Jessica’s team is disqualified because they don’t have all their players. Jessica watches the broadcast from a diner and decides she wants to go back to the competition. But first she lets Elvis take her to Graceland, where they almost have sex. Or maybe they actually do. It’s not clear. Meanwhile, her team’s RV is really tense because Tom and Todd are fighting again. Neil gets them to shut up by playing a Carpenters song. Yeah, I don’t know. It was funny, though.

The next competition is in Chicago – teams have to sell hot dogs at a Cubs/Dodgers game. Since all the players go to college in California and root for the Dodgers, Sam smartly gets some Cubs gear to try to win over the Cubs fans. Todd is furious at him for basically selling out. I love it. Sam gets Elizabeth to kiss some teen boys on the cheek so they’ll buy hot dogs. Tom gets jealous again, gets himself on a camera, declares his affection for Liz, and makes a stupid buns pun before dropping trou and wiggling around in his boxers. Elizabeth is justifiably horrified.

Jessica rejoins her team, coming close to making up with Neil. But she gets offended when they’re asked if they’re becoming a couple and Neil emphatically denies it. Jess, don’t take it personally – he’s not rejecting you because of who you are. He’d just prefer it if you were a guy. Elsewhere, Tom and Todd finally have something in common: They can’t stand Sam. Elizabeth can’t stand him either right now; they’re back to the hate part of the love/hate relationship.

Strangely, the teams next head to Nashville, so this is Jessica’s second trip to Tennessee in just a few days. Their next challenge is singing karaoke in front of a big audience. Each team has to do at least two numbers, solos or otherwise. Elizabeth’s team ought to have an advantage, since Ruby is an aspiring singer. It turns out that Pam, whose speaking voice is often described as the most annoying sound anyone’s ever heard, has a beautiful singing voice.

Neil turns “Jolene” into “Jessie-lene” to try to win Jessica over, which makes two public displays of humiliation for the twins at two back-to-back events. Jess was supposed to sing for her team, but she backs out after Neil embarrasses her. Elvis to the rescue again! He convinces Jessica to duet with him on “Islands in the Stream.” It ends up not mattering, though; Jessica’s performance doesn’t count, since she sang with someone who’s not in the competition. Elizabeth’s team wins.

Elizabeth and Sam make up, but it lasts for, like, two minutes. Tom and Todd start fighting over their mutual ex again, then decide to go after Sam together. They find him and Elizabeth making out. Tom tells Liz he only came on the challenge to win her back, but she’s not moved. Jessica tells her teammates that she forgives them for leaving her in South Dakota, which they think is ridiculous. She’s the one who’s been a jerk to them, so she’s the one who needs to apologize. Sam starts acting like a sexist jerk again, so Elizabeth tells him to leave her alone forever, which is going to be fun while they’re sharing an RV. So basically, no one’s happy by the end of the book. Well, maybe Elvis.

In news no one cares about, Charlie’s been sick the whole book and finally finds out she’s pregnant. I can barely remember who Charlie is, so this makes no difference to me.

Thoughts: Whoever owned this book before me left an Old Navy Hip to Zip sweepstakes card inside, with an offer for $5 off a tech vest. If only it hadn’t expired in 1999. (In case you’ve blocked tech vests from your memory, like I did, here they are being modeled by some other ’90s mainstays.)

Selling hot dogs: SO INTENSE!

Again, the planning of the teams’ routes is awful. They were given a huge amount of time to drive from Missouri to Chicago. Cut that in half and add another task later.

Jessica’s team is DQ’d from two tasks for not having enough players, but they participate anyway. Huh? What’s the point?

December 22, 2015

SVU #48, No Rules: $5,000 Is Not Nearly Enough to Put Up With This Insanity

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 5:14 pm by Jenn

Wear a seatbelt, moron

Wear a seatbelt, moron

Summary: A TV network called ICSN is hosting a cross-country competition for college students. The prize: $5,000 scholarships. The method of travel: RVs. The stunts that must be performed along the way: INTENSE. The competitions will be filmed, but the rest of the trip won’t be. So it’s like Road Rules without the interesting parts. The twins, Todd, and Danny (who only makes a brief appearance in the book) are all chosen to compete. Tom is passed over and named an alternate, but he pays off a guy who made it so Tom can take his place. He wants to spend the trip with Elizabeth in hopes of getting back together with her.

Everyone gathers at the starting point in San Francisco; the trip will end four weeks later in Florida. Dana’s upset that Todd will be away for a whole month. Todd thinks she’s really just nervous that he and Elizabeth will get back together. She tries to convince him to drop out of the trip, but fortunately, he refuses. And fortunately, we’re done with Dana for the book.

The competitors check in, and Richie Valentine, the Intense Coast-to-Coast Road Trip Challenge’s very own Ryan Seacrest, gets things started. The students, who are from three different schools, are randomly sorted into teams, then sent to do introductory interviews on camera. Todd meets Sam Burgess and isn’t impressed. Jessica meets Neil Martin and is VERY impressed.

Jess and Neil are on different teams, but Neil’s with Elizabeth, so Jess switches with Liz. Tom finds out that he and Elizabeth are on different teams, so he finds someone to switch with. But he doesn’t realize that Liz and Jess have already switched. He also doesn’t realize that Todd is on his team, which means, Jessica, Tom, and Todd are going to be stuck in an RV together for the next four weeks. Their other teammates are Neil and a super-annoying couple named Pam and Rob.

The teams’ first instructions send them to Vegas. Well, this trip is off to a good start. I mean, except for the fact that Tom and Todd keep fighting, and Pam and Rob are practically attached at the hip. At least Neil seems like a nice guy, and much easier to live with than anyone in Elizabeth’s RV. She’s with bad-boy Sam, aspiring singer Ruby, meek Charlie (a girl), Swedish exchange student Uli, and unremarkable Josh.

Liz is relieved not to be stuck with both Tom and Todd, but she soon realizes that Sam is just as bad. He’s sexist and full of himself. Ruby plays an original song for her teammates, and Elizabeth has to pretend she likes it, even though Ruby doesn’t seem to have the talent to become a professional. She doesn’t know that Ruby doesn’t think very highly of her either – she thinks Elizabeth is a shallow snob. Ruby fully admits that she’s only in the competition to get exposure.

Sam tries to sleep, thinking about how Elizabeth is too perfect, which makes her annoying. He’s surprised to hear her talking to Charlie about sex. Speaking of Charlie, she seems to have a secret – she’s seen a guy on a motorcycle following their RV, and she’s wondering if she should tell Liz about it. Also, she has a boyfriend but doesn’t want anyone to know. I think you all are smart enough to do the math on this.

Everyone gets to Vegas without incident. Elizabeth sees Sam in just his boxers, and he’s surprised that she doesn’t get all flustered. She takes a nap instead of going to breakfast, since she drove all night, and Sam tucks her in. This whole thing is dumb. Clearly they’re going to end up together! Just get there already! Anyway, the teams learn that their first challenge is to get as many winnings cups as they can from casinos. (Wow. Intense!) The competitors quickly realize that many of them aren’t 21 yet, which means teams with over-21 players have an advantage.

Sam has a fake ID, but it turns out not to be necessary. He and Josh tell a guard that they’re with a TV show investigating underage gambling. They pretend the ICSN cameras are with this show, and that other people in the casinos have hidden cameras. Security should keep an eye out for any college-age kids trying to get in, even if they have IDs saying they’re 21. Word spreads down the strip, and Tom and Todd are unable to get into any casinos, even though Tom’s 21.

Ruby just wants to hang out and have fun instead of worry about the competition. She and Charlie split up, and Ruby goes to a bunch of shows. Elizabeth and Uli team up and get a dozen or so cups. Neil pretends a random guy is someone he knows, so the guy will do him and Jess a favor and get them some cups. Todd decides to call it a day, even without any cups, but Tom doesn’t want to quit because then Elizabeth will think he’s a loser. (Insert joke here about how that message has already been received.) But then the guys spot a Dumpster full of cups and realize that, even without gambling, they hit the jackpot.

Meanwhile, Sam plays blackjack, and Elizabeth yells at him when he gets some money from an ATM to keep gambling. Chill, Liz. Don’t tell people how they can or can’t spend their own money. He’s clearly rich anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Also, you’re supposed to be getting cups. Jessica’s team does very well with that task, but Elizabeth’s team almost completely fails. Liz misplaces her, and Sam’s own winnings cup is the only one they’re able to turn in at the end of the task. Good job, guys!

Next the teams head to Idaho. IDAHO IS SO INTENSE! Pam and Rob start fighting, and I don’t know how the rest of their teammates manage to not shove one or both of them out of the moving RV. Hatred of Pam and Rob is basically the only thing Todd and Tom can agree on. But then they start talking about Dana and Elizabeth, and get all competitive, so maybe they’re the ones who should be jettisoned on the highway.

Over in Liz’s RV, Sam has made Charlie cry by complaining about how she can’t drive stick. Elizabeth gives her a driving lesson, which endears her to Ruby, so the three girls are now a lot friendlier with each other. Then Sam picks a fight with Elizabeth and makes her cry, which just makes him even more sexist about frail girls and their stupid emotions. But he still cares about her, because he’s falling in luuuuuuuuuv with her (of course).

In Idaho, the challenge for the day is whitewater rafting. Charlie freaks out, even though she can swim, and everyone will be wearing protective gear, and there’s a guide with them. I get being nervous about the task, but she really overreacts. At least she’s going to participate, though, unlike Pam, who wants to sit out because she can’t swim well. Since Rob is basically her conjoined twin, he’ll be sitting out, too. He starts going on and on about delicate women, so Todd turns it around, getting Pam angry enough to decide to raft.

Everyone goes in the water. Ruby falls out. Elizabeth saves her. Sam realizes he would be totally devastated if anything bad happened to her. JUST HOOK UP ALREADY. Tom sees Sam being protective of Liz and gets jealous, because of course he does. Once he’s sure Liz is okay, Sam yells at her for jumping in to get Ruby, since it left the team with only four competitors, and they were disqualified. Elizabeth doesn’t understand why he’s more concerned with the competition than the fact that Ruby could have died.

In Jess’ RV, Pam suggests a game of truth or dare. Who plays truth or dare past the age of 13? Neil’s terrified that Pam has found out his secret and is using the game to reveal it to everyone. No one wants to play, though, so Neil’s safe for now. The teams are next sent to Wall, South Dakota, where Rob thinks they’ll be doing something involving jackalope. Shhh, Rob. Tom and Todd get competitive again, basically fighting over who was more worried about Elizabeth during the rafting challenge. Shhh, Tom and Todd. Shhh, everyone.

Pam again suggests truth or dare, and this time everyone agrees to play. Jessica smartly makes a rule that no one is allowed to ask Tom or Todd anything about Elizabeth, so they won’t start fighting again. (Jess is actually pretty likable in this book.) Jess gets the first question, being asked if she would ever consider kissing one of Elizabeth’s boyfriends. Todd starts coughing because he knows it’s already happened. Hee.

Jessica dares Neil to let her braid his hair and paint his nails. Weak, Jess. Then Pam dares Neil to kiss Jessica for a full minute. Jess is super-excited because she keeps falling more and more in luuuuuuuv with Neil. She thinks something’s a little off, though. Todd can’t keep quiet like I told him to, so he asks Tom how his kiss with Jessica was when she was pretending to be Elizabeth. He gives it a 7 out of 10. Neil says his kiss with Jessica was better than that.

Charlie gets some practice driving the RV, but Sam complains about it enough to make Charlie decide she wants to stop. Elizabeth yells at him, and he retreats to the bathroom, make Liz worry that she really upset him. When he comes out, he says he was just using the bathroom for its intended purpose. Yeah, right, he was probably crying. That night, as Liz is driving, the RV blows a tire. Sam helps her pull over safely, then complains about women sucking at driving. As the others fix the tire, Sam goes off alone to cry, admitting to Elizabeth that he was scared for her. See, it’s okay that he’s mean to her, because it means he likes her! As soon as they’re back with the others, he acts like a jerk again.

Jessica’s team makes it to Wall, and everyone enjoys some nice, cold, free water. There’s a lot of mentions of how it’s free. I’m not sure why that’s important. I guess they want to make everyone drink a lot of it so the next challenge is even more fun. Liz’s team is almost too late for the next task, because of the tire, but they make it just in time for a water-drinking contest. Thanks to being so hot and thirsty from their tire adventure, Liz’s team wins. Everyone who’d already arrived is too full from already drinking plenty of water.

The next stop is in Missouri, but no one makes it there in this book. Instead, they all find themselves in Wonderlust, South Dakota, and decide to spend the night drinking and singing karaoke at a bar. Tom spends the night drinking and being mad at Elizabeth for introducing him to her team as an “old friend” instead of her ex. Sam’s also mad at Liz for having the nerve to dance with a guy who isn’t him. He cuts in and forces her to dance with him, then kisses her. Liz likes it. Liz exhausts me.

Jess can’t believe that she’s not the twin making out with someone at a karaoke bar, so she tries to remedy that by flirting with Neil. He’s confused, though – didn’t she know that he’s gay? Here’s where Neil makes no sense. He was desperate to hide his sexuality back when they were playing truth or dare, but when Jessica shows interest in him, he acts like she should have known he doesn’t like girls. Jess is shocked that her gaydar never went off, so she runs out.

While Ruby wows everyone with her musical talent (I guess she’s better on stage than in the back of an RV), Elizabeth goes to the RV for some time alone to think about how awesome her kiss with Sam was. She sees Charlie heading out somewhere on her own and thinks she’s going off with a guy. Charlie admits that the guy is her boyfriend, Scott. Her parents sent her on the trip to get her away from Scott, but he’s been following their RV on his motorcycle and meeting her at every stop. Whatever.

Liz overhears Sam talking to Josh about a hot girl who’s a good kisser. Naturally, she thinks he’s talking about her. But he’s not: He has a girlfriend back home, and she’ll be waiting for him in Florida. Yikes. Neil goes to his team’s RV to try to talk to Jessica, but he thinks she’s asleep under a duvet. He’s wrong – Jessica’s somewhere in Wonderlust, on her own. As everyone gathers back in their RVs, she goes back to the now-empty bar and falls asleep. When she wakes up, the RVs are leaving without her. Oops!

Thoughts: If they’re driving from California to Florida, why are they going north to Idaho and South Dakota? Plus, they’re already hading to Missouri be the end of the book, which is the first in a trilogy. That’s already more than halfway there.

Dear all SV series ghostwriters: You are barred from naming any more characters Sam or Scott.

Cuzin Chunky’s Fried Chicken is a horrible name for a restaurant.

August 4, 2015

SVU #41, Escape to New York: The Show Must Go On

Posted in books tagged , , , at 6:26 pm by Jenn

Jessica's ridiculous orange coat is actually in the book

Jessica’s ridiculous orange coat is actually in the book

Summary: Jessica loooooves New York. She gets to hang out with Vince and go out to clubs and shop in really cool stores and see all sorts of interesting weirdos. She may be a little traumatized by her time in security training, but it’s nothing a little partying with a movie star until 3 a.m. won’t fix. Elizabeth is worried about Jess overdoing, which she definitely is, since she passes out a couple times. Vince is kind of clueless, since he doesn’t think that indicates that they should stay in more.

What Elizabeth should really worry about is the fact that Jessica doesn’t want to take over the lead in her play. When has Jess ever turned down the chance to be in the spotlight? Jessica is still stuck on becoming a bodyguard – specifically, Vince’s bodyguard. I guess it’s not enough to hang out with him and almost kiss him. Jess doesn’t admit that part of the reason she doesn’t want to do the play is she’s worried it will be awful, and she doesn’t want to be responsible for that. Fair enough.

But this leaves Elizabeth without a leading lady. Fortunately, Tom’s TV piece about Vince and the plays brings in a bunch of actresses who are excited to act opposite Vince. Things are also looking up for Tom, who has a lead on a job with a theater magazine. Never mind that he knows nothing about theater. Vince and the twins help him fake it for the interview. I hope Tom realizes that once he’s in the door, his bare-bones theater knowledge won’t do him any good. But he does get in the door, and is assigned to review Elizabeth’s play. Of course. So…where can one get a job writing for a magazine without any experience and without having to provide any writing samples? I’m asking for a friend.

Elizabeth’s possible new leading ladies all scamper once they find out Vince isn’t in her play after all. Only one is left, Marie, and Liz doesn’t even remember her original audition. She only gives her the role because she’s desperate. This is a bad idea – Marie is horrible. It turns out that she’s Hildy’s sister, and they can’t stand each other. Also, Marie is dating Ted, the dramaturg, and he snuck her name on the callback list. This Ted guy is awful. But Marie is awfuler – so bad that Ken, the lead actor, quits.

Now Elizabeth has no male lead and a horrible female lead. This summer is turning out great! Liz manages to recruit Vince to take over, which Tom isn’t happy about, since he thinks Vince is into Liz. Never mind that Vince is now all over Jessica. Tom needs to calm down. About a lot of things, really. Vince tries to talk Jessica into taking over Marie’s role, but she keeps resisting until a disastrous rehearsal. Hildy and Marie fight about something dumb, Ted fires Hildy, and Marie is given Hildy’s role in Claire’s play. Jessica steps up and takes over Marie’s role opposite Vince.

Then there’s another shakeup. Tom is removed from his assignment covering Elizabeth’s play and replaced with a notoriously mean critic. I cackle. Welcome to the real world, Liz. Of course, we all know her play will get rave reviews and the critic’s heart will grow three sizes, because Elizabeth is a Wakefield. It helps that Gerald and Claire’s plays are horrible, because as mediocre as Liz’s play probably is, it looks like Shakespeare next to their pretentiousness.

So of course, Elizabeth is the new wunderkind of theater, getting summoned to the stage by the audience at the end of the play. Jessica is a star, and someone tells her she’s like Audrey Hepburn. Just what we need, another layer on Jessica’s already humongous ego. Elizabeth and Tom are fine, though they still haven’t slept together, and there’s no mention of whether Jessica and Vince are going to try to have a relationship. (Nick who?)

In the barely there B-plot, Bev, one of Jessica’s friends from the security training, tracks her down in New York. She reveals that she’s an FBI agent and was at the training undercover, trying to bust Pruitt for using recruits for illegal activities. Jessica passes along the information that she found criminal records on some of the recruits. Bev realizes that since some of those records were sealed juvenile files, Pruitt broke the law. That’s it, that’s the whole plot. I think the ghostwriter didn’t know how to stretch out Jess’ storyline over three books.

Thoughts: “Just then a group of hip young teenage girls clacked by in clogs.” Um, no. Not in 1998. Everyone was wearing flip-flops, Skechers, and Steve Maddens.

Jessica tries on “a scarlet silk jumpsuit by Charlotte Spade. The neck and cuffs were trimmed with shocking pink ostrich feathers.” Ewwwww. (Fortunately, she knows it’s awful.)

If Marie and Hildy hate each other, then why did Ted, Marie’s boyfriend, cast Hildy in Elizabeth’s play during the original casting?

And now, for your enjoyment, some lines from Elizabeth’s play:

“In life, there are potholes and pitfalls and deep, dark wells ready to catch you out when you least expect it. But sometimes you need to take the plunge, seek out danger before it takes you by surprise. Sometimes it’s better to jump in than to fall in.”

“In journalism, people always tell you that the truth is malleable, the truth is a hologram, a trick of the eye.”

“With each edit, with each tiny word you add or remove, you change a story and thus create a new truth, as suddenly and surely as a snowball creates an avalance.”

“But in love and life, as opposed to documenting stories, the reality is always unequivocal. Or is it?”

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