April 18, 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?”
July 21, 2015
Summary: At the end of the last book, Tom had just suffered a medical crisis. It turns out he’s allergic to myrrh and had a reaction when Tish used it during an aromatherapy session. Where do you even get myrrh? Oh, wait, they’re in New York. You can get anything there. I’m not sure of the point of this development – it doesn’t affect anything in the story, since Elizabeth and Tom weren’t going to have sex anyway. It gets wrapped up quickly and isn’t mentioned again.
Elizabeth continues with her play rehearsals, which are getting worse and worse by the minute because her female lead, Hildy, is insane and Elizabeth has no idea how to actually be a director. The only good thing about the experience is that Liz gets to hang out with mega-hunk movie-star Vince.
Meanwhile, Tom keeps looking for a job. I can’t imagine there are many summer internships that haven’t already been filled. Tom is so desperate for a job that it’s make him dumber; he asks for a job at one shop before even realizing it’s a tattoo parlor. Then he goes to a comic-book store, where the other employees mock his lack of knowledge like they’re on the Internet and he’s a girl. He drops by a public-access production office, but the place is a mess and no one cares about the work. He can’t believe no one thinks this is important. It’s public access, Tom. You’re not going to get any awards there.
Things get even worse for Tom when he starts to see how much time Elizabeth has been spending with Vince. They run into him at a restaurant, and Vince announces that he’s leaving his play because Claire is almost as insane as Hildy. Tom’s annoyed when Vince gives Elizabeth his phone number. But Vince doesn’t quit – a newspaper has mentioned the play, and how Vince will be proving that he’s more than just an action star, so he’s afraid he’ll get criticized if he drops out.
Out on the town again, Tom has a disastrous meeting with an employment agency, then accidentally runs into a PA from a Maury/Jerry Springer/trainwreck-type show called Tease-n-Tell. The PA spills the coffee she was delivering, decides it’s the last straw in her horrible job, and quits. Tom immediately takes her job, even though he’ll be working for a show that’s not exactly the kind of award-winning journalism he was hoping to be a part of. He’s so embarrassed about the job that he doesn’t tell Liz where he’s working, instead saying it’s a “classy cable news magazine currently in development.”
Elizabeth’s male lead, Ken (not Matthews), is also fed up with his job, and he quits the play. For some reason, there’s no understudy and no immediate move to recast. I feel like this whole fellowship is not quite on the up-and-up. Where’s the dramaturg? Who’s actually running things? How does Elizabeth think she can put on a successful performance with only 50% of her cast?
Tom’s show learns of Vince’s appearance in Claire’s play and decides to do a story on it. Tom, despite being a lowly PA, is somehow assigned to take a camera crew to the theater to get some rehearsal footage. I’m not sure when his PA job went from taking coffee orders to doing actual work that will affect a TV show. I assume the ghostwriter doesn’t know what a PA actually does, not to mention a PA who’s only there for the summer and has only been on the job for ten minutes. But it’s just an excuse for Tom to get involved in Elizabeth’s plotline.
Tom takes a crew to the theater, where he tries very, very hard not to let Elizabeth find out what show they’re from. Tom’s embarrassed to have to be around naked people, including Vince, who at least keeps his pants on. I don’t know, I kind of get the impression that Tom isn’t as uncomfortable around half-naked Vince as he lets on. But that would be a whole different book.
Tom realizes that his story about Claire’s play might be bad for his relationship with Elizabeth – I guess because she’s friends with Vince? And Vince might come off looking bad? Or just because he didn’t mention to her that they were going to be there? I don’t know. Tom tries to get the story pulled, which is hilarious, because no TV show is going to cut a segment so some college student doesn’t have a fight with his girlfriend. Especially since the segment is supposedly going to grab big ratings. I’m sure.
Vince finds out about the segment and accuses Liz of selling him out. Meanwhile, Tom quits his job because Tease-n-Tell doesn’t fit with his views on ethics in journalism. Did he think he’d be doing segments on seeing-eye dogs or children running lemonade stands to raise money for cancer research? He’s lucky he didn’t get “I Slept With My Daughter’s Boyfriend – Is He My Baby’s Father? Or Is It One of the Aliens Who Abducted Me Last Week?”
Elizabeth wonders if things would have been different if she’d slept with Tom – he would have been more loyal and not done something to hurt Vince. Honey, no. Tom would still be a doof. The two of them fight, and since Liz can’t get in touch with Jessica (more on that later), she turns to Vince for comfort. They hang out in Central Park and start goofing around, then kiss. Elizabeth realizes she still loves Tom, so she tells Vince they can’t do anything. Vince is like, “Do you have an identical twin I could hook up with instead?” Elizabeth: “Actually….”
Elizabeth and Tom make up, as they always do. And then Hildy quits Elizabeth’s play to take over Vince’s role in Claire’s play, since he decided to quit after all. So now Elizabeth has no cast for her play, which everyone pretty much hated anyway. I’m sure whoever gave her the fellowship really appreciates all of this.
In Florida, Jessica’s facing her boxing match against Pruitt. Even the chance to interview with a top security company doesn’t make her feel much better – she could be covered in bruises by then. Jess at least puts some effort into getting ready for the match, and is smart enough to realize that Harlan is a moron – he thinks Jessica and Pruitt are fighting over him. Wow.
While cleaning up in Pruitt’s office, Jessica finds a key in a drawer and immediately thinks it unlocks something super-important and secret. If she can find it, she can use it to get Pruitt to call off the fight. Okay, Jess. Whatever you say. Jessica’s friends assure her that she’ll be fine, and that they have something in the works, but they won’t tell Jess what it is. She isn’t sure she can trust them.
She’s even less sure when she uses Pruitt’s key to open a file cabinet containing information on all the recruits. With the exception of Jessica, everyone there has a record. Jess is like, “I’m friends with criminals! This is not cool!” I’m curious as to how she thought her partner from the obstacle course in the last book attained her knowledge of how to hotwire a car. Harvard? Pruitt has also circled the names of a few people who showed skills at sharpshooting. Please tell me this program is actually a training ground for spies, and that Jessica’s stumbled across some sort of Manchurian Candidate plot.
At the boxing match, Jessica manages to stay on her feet and avoid getting punched by doing some dance moves. Partway through the match, her friends put lead in her gloves, so when Jessica gets in some good punches, Pruitt goes down. But someone rats out the women, and Jessica and her friends get expelled. They’re lucky they don’t get arrested. There go Jessica’s hopes of being a security guard to the stars. (And there goes Ned and Alice’s tuition money.)
The women head to the airport and wait around to catch flights home. No one seems particularly upset about the discharge, even though I would think the ones with records would have been happy to find a program that could find them jobs. Strangely, all four of the discharged women were on scholarships. Why would the program be so eager to bring in criminals? Ooh, maybe they’re planning a big heist. Before Jessica can give that much thought, she decides to head to New York to hang out with Elizabeth instead of going home to Sweet Valley.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth has learned that Jessica was kicked out, and she’s frantic to get a hold of her sister. Tom offers to fly them both to Florida to pick up Jess. Again, I bet the fellowship people love that Liz is going to skip town while she’s supposed to be working. When Tom and Elizabeth get to the airport, Jessica has just arrived, so the trip to Florida is a moot point. I hope the tickets were refundable.
Vince happens to be at the airport, too, and the second he meets Jessica, they’re into each other. I mean, of course. What is a Wakefield if she’s not adored? So now Vince is going to stay in New York. I bet his agent is really sick of him. He and the fellowship people should get together.
Thoughts: Only Jessica would find a key in a drawer and automatically assume it’s to something super-secret.
Ken quits Elizabeth’s play, and Vince wants to quit Claire’s play. So…why doesn’t Vince do Elizabeth’s play? Is that too easy a solution? Am I missing something?
“Why would they give us all scholarships and then take it all back?” I don’t know about the first part, but as to the second part: Because you committed a crime. No one in on it seems too regretful, either. That’s disturbing.
I keep wanting to spell Pruitt’s name Pruit, because I got used to spelling it that way for Ray on Beverly Hills, 90210. I guess Pruitt’s mama coud afford more than one T.
“Some awesomely cute guy had insisted on giving her his seat in first class.” Jessica is so awesome that strangers just give her stuff. Ugh.
July 7, 2015
Summary: Tom has landed a great summer internship. Elizabeth was supposed to do an internship for some news show, but it fell through, so she’s stuck working at a bookstore. They’re happy to spend the summer together, as they’ve supposedly planned for a while. Tom is also happy to possibly get some – he thinks this summer is going to be when Liz finally has sex with him. The only person who’s not happy is me, because I have to suffer through another book about Tom.
Elizabeth is a disaster at retail, so it’s good news when she learns that she’s won a fellowship to spend the summer putting on a play in New York. Apparently one of her professors submitted a one-act play she wrote but didn’t tell her about it because it was a long shot. What a surprise that perfect Elizabeth Wakefield beat the odds and came out on top once again!
Elizabeth is uncertain about taking the fellowship, since she’s a journalist, not a playwright. You’d think the fact that someone thought the play was good enough for the fellowship in the first place would be a confidence-booster. She’s also hesitant because she and Tom had planned to spend the summer together, and now she might go to New York. Liz tells Tom about the fellowship, and he immediately starts questioning the logistics: Where will she live? How will she get around? Can she survive a summer in a big, dangerous city, seeing as how she’s just a little girl?
Alice helps out by calling a college friend named Tish to get advice on where Elizabeth can stay. Coincidentally, Tish’s adult daughters are both away for the summer, so there’s plenty of room for Elizabeth to move in. Free housing! Lucky girl. Tom starts worrying about being away from his precious Liz for more than five minutes, so he quits his awesome internship and announces that he’s going to New York with her. That’s not weird at all! Have fun explaining that to future prospective employers, Tom. “I see here that you quit an impressive summer internship after just two days. Why is that?” “Sex.” Tom will also be living at Tish’s. Sigh.
While Tom is so certain that Elizabeth is going to sleep with him, Liz is having mixed feelings. She loves Tom and wants to show that love physically, but she also isn’t sure she’s ready for that next step in their relationship. I can’t tell you how boring it is to read about how they keep almost doing it and then don’t. I really, really couldn’t care less about them.
Anyway, New York. The city is awesome! There are so many people! It’s hot! There’s lots of traffic! People are rude! Liz and Tom meet Tish, who is supremely annoying. She’s every New Age cliché rolled into one, with more added on. If I spent more than five minutes with her, I’d have to leave the room. Elizabeth and Tom go sightseeing, then get all turned on and rush back to the apartment to have sex. Unfortunately, the cab ride home is a little crazy, and Liz accidentally bites Tom’s lip, drawing blood and killing the mood.
Elizabeth starts her actual fellowship, which allows her to cast and produce the play she wrote. The other two fellows are a goth girl named Claire (I can’t believe she doesn’t go by another name, like Raven or Abyssinia or something) and a guy named Gerald who is every pretentious English lit major you will ever meet. They think Elizabeth’s play is stupid – and to be fair, it really, really is. It’s based off a fight she and Tom had in the newsroom. It’s pretty basic for someone who’s supposed to be this spectacular writer, and I have a hard time believing someone thought it was good enough to win a competition.
The dramaturg, Ted, thinks it’s lame, too. He gives Elizabeth a bunch of notes, mostly about how the characters are holding back emotion. Since the characters are based on her and Tom, Liz thinks this means that she and Tom hold back emotion, which is related to their lack of sex. She wonders if they should break up. I think they should, but that’s mostly because I don’t like Tom and don’t want to have to read about him. I guess I’m too partial to get a vote.
Tom looks for a job, but it’s not like a journalism major can just walk into a news studio and start working. Elizabeth takes the wrong subway and ends up at Coney Island, so she calls Tom to come rescue her. Girl, get on another train. You don’t need his help. Tom thinks that since he’s coming to her rescue (and spending a lot of money on a cab to get to her), he should be rewarded. In bed. Shut up, Tom.
Elizabeth has another horrible day, since everyone at the theater thinks she’s lame, and they don’t want her input on their plays. In fact, the only person who’s nice to her is an actor case in Claire’s play. After he gives Liz some encouragement, she realizes that he’s mega-hot movie star Vince Klee. Okay, how many celebrities have the twins met over the years? Vince wants to do some serious theater (he’d probably spell it theatre to make it seem even more serious) because he has a reputation as a mindless action star. Hey, don’t knock it. There’s a lot of money in that.
Liz’s day is looking up, but it comes crashing back down when Ted casts a famous character actress as the lead in her play, without consulting Liz. The actress is annoying and totally wrong for the part. Tom spends the day helping Tish with her aromatherapy business (yes, really), and when Liz comes home, he tries to help her relax using the techniques he’s learned. But when he suggests that they head to the bedroom, she snaps at him. I’m on her side – he needs to read the room and realize she’s not in that kind of mood.
So Tom goes out drinking, encounters a sexist jerk trying to get a woman drunk so he can sleep with her, and realizes that he’s been going about this sex thing all wrong. He goes home and makes up with Elizabeth, who lets him sleep in her bed (all clothes on). The next day, he wakes up with a rash. I hope it’s scabies. Elizabeth goes to rehearsal and finally stands up for herself, telling Ted and Hildy that her play will be performed as written. Apparently Ted was pushing her to try to get her to be more confident and assertive. Then Liz is scandalized because Claire wants her actors to perform nude. Who cares? That’s not Liz’s problem.
Lest we forget about the other Wakefield twin, Jessica gets to have an adventure this summer, too. Her friends all have fabulous summers lined up, but Jessica’s plans haven’t been solidified yet. She tells everyone she’s going to a summer program at the Sweet Valley Police Academy, even though she hasn’t been accepted yet. She’s sure she will, especially after she stops a purse-snatcher from stealing Lila’s bag. But Jessica’s wrong – the academy program is full, so we’re spared the ridiculousness that would be Jessica learning to be a police officer.
Instead, we get a different kind of ridiculousness. Someone submitted Jessica’s name for a special training program for security personnel, and she’s been offered a spot in their Florida session, plus some money. Jessica immediately deposits the money, then tells her parents about the offer. Ned and Alice are somehow surprised that their daughter acted impulsively and made a decision that might not be able to be reversed. Jess drags Liz into it, saying that if Liz gets to go to New York, she should get to go to Florida. Never mind that Ned and Alice are the ones financing most of these adventures. They investigate to make sure this training program is legit, and when they confirm that it is, they let Jessica go.
The first person Jess meets is a guy named Harlan, who’s also flying to Florida from California. Jess thinks her summer will be awesome if there’s a hot guy to flirt with. If she weren’t so boy crazy, she’d realize that Harlan is kind of a jerk. Then again, if Jessica were smarter about any number of things, she’d realize that this summer program isn’t going to be the way she expects. She thinks it’ll be glamorous, teaching her martial arts and how to protect hot movie stars from stalkers. Instead, it’s basically boot camp.
It takes about two seconds for Jessica to get on the bad side of one Sergeant Pruitt, who thinks she’s a princess cheerleader girly-girl who’s in way over her head. I picture Pruitt as Kate Mulgrew (in Orange is the New Black, not Star Trek). She picks on Jessica for everything under the sun, which at first makes Jess want to quit, but then motivates her to shine. She and her partner totally kill an obstacle course, scaring off a snake with a makeshift blowtorch Jessica makes using hairspray and a lighter. Pruitt sabotages the truck they’re supposed to drive, but Jessica’s partner hotwires it to save the day.
Unable to rag on Jessica after she did so well in the competition, Pruitt gives her kitchen duty for “fraternizing” with Harlan. Never mind that all the others were talking to each other, too. Some of the other women are given KP duty, too, and at first Jessica’s worried because she thinks they don’t like her. They assure her that they do, and that everyone hates Pruitt, which allows them all to bond.
Pruitt gives Jessica and her new friends overnight guard duty after they failed to complete a bunch of laps she made them do. She also threatens to have a guy working in the gym discharged; I think the ghostwriter keeps confusing this program for the military. After catching Jessica trash-talking her, Pruitt suggests that they settle their differences in the boxing ring. Jessica is dumb enough to agree, despite not having any boxing experience. Oh, and Pruitt is a Golden Gloves champ. Good job, Jess! Let’s see her try to get out of this one.
Thoughts: Whenever I see a phrase like the title of this book – “X ♥ Y” – I think of Jack saying, “I do not heart prison anymore” on Will and Grace. And now you will, too.
“They’d been planning to spend the summer together for months.” That’s impossible – Tom and Elizabeth just got back together two books ago. Does continuity mean nothing in this series?? Oh, and Nick doesn’t seem to exist.
“‘Liz, please, just remember how much I’ll miss you if you go. That’s all I ask.’ Did that sound too manipulative? Tom wondered.” Yes, it does. Stop that.
Tish wears “a green crocheted vest with floor-length fringe over a flowing, diaphanous purple-and-gold blouse and a black peasant skirt.” She also wears “several crystals” as necklaces. I cannot deal with this woman.
Jessica, singing: “Summerti-i-ime, and the living’s easy / The fish are – something…and it’s OK to wear white shoes!” I’ll admit I laughed at that.
Tom runs into a friend in New York who makes $60,000 a year and can afford a penthouse on the Upper East Side. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no.
“Doesn’t she realize everything I went through to be with her? You’d think she would want to do something for me!” Is Tom a meninist? Discuss.
May 5, 2015
Summary: For their 86th summer, the twins are going to camp for two weeks. Amy and Ellen are also attending, but Lila skips out at the last minute in favor of a trip to Paris. That seems like a much more Lila-like vacation than camp. I can’t imagine she’s a big fan of the outdoors. Anyway, that’s not really important; it just leaves an empty bed in the cabin. A friend of the twins’ named Grace was supposed to go to camp, too, but her parents are possibly getting divorced and Grace doesn’t want to bring up camp in case it makes them fight. They want to take separate vacations and leave her with her godmother. I don’t get why she can’t go to camp if they’re going to be gone themselves. This whole setup is really dumb.
So the girls go to camp, where they first thing their counselor is an annoying girl named Tina. Jessica short-sheets her bed, because in teen books, someone always knows how to short-sheet a bed. I remember reading how to do it, either in a BSC book or in the Paula Danziger book There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, but without a visual example, I completely forgot about it. Fortunately, though, the annoying girl isn’t a counselor; the girls instead get Jamie, a nice girl who seems perfectly suited for this job.
Really, the whole camp sounds like a preteen’s dream. There are tons of activities, no one seems forced into doing stuff they don’t want to do, the food isn’t too horrible, and almost everyone is nice. There’s only one problem: The boys’ camp is on the other side of the lake, and there’s no comingling. Jessica wants the two camps to have a dance, and she spends most of the book trying to drum up support. Of course Jess can’t go two weeks without male attention. She asks the camp director, Mrs. Edwards, about having a dance, and Mrs. Edwards says she’ll think about it.
At a campfire, Mrs. Edwards tells a ghost story about a nearby hill called Crying Moon Mountain. Two people were in love, they couldn’t be together, one of them died, etc. There’s supposedly a ghost in the cabin on the mountain. Elizabeth and Amy think that’s dumb, so Jessica peer-pressures them into checking the cabin out in the middle of the night. Now Elizabeth wishes she’d kept her mouth shut. During a treasure hunt, the girls meet another camper named Barbara, who’s apparently the only girl at camp who isn’t nice. She thinks everyone is beneath her, and she seems to be allergic to fun. Even Elizabeth can’t stand her.
That night, Elizabeth and Amy climb the hill to the cabin. Jessica accidentally scares them when she decides to tag along, feeling bad that she made them go up in the middle of the night. In the cabin, the girls are scared again when they learn it’s not empty. But there’s no ghost – it’s just Grace. She hopped on a bus to camp instead of going off with her godmother, who thinks she’s on a cruise with her mom. She’s staying in the cabin so no one knows she’s a camp stowaway.
The other girls want Grace to be able to experience camp like everyone else, so they take turns skipping activities and letting Grace participate in their place. She’s able to hide in plain sight by keeping her face hidden when Jamie’s around, or pretending she’s just staying in another cabin. Everyone who finds out plays along, because who doesn’t want the poor, sad kid to have a good time?
Well, Barbara, that’s who. She hates her cabin-mates, and she wants to bunk with the twins and their friends. She threatens to rat out Grace if they don’t let her move in and take Lila’s unused bed. The girls have no choice but to give in. Unfortunately, this gives Barbara the freedom to make them do her bidding in all sorts of ways. Instead of dressing up as hula dancers for a luau, they have to dress as clowns. And she throws a game of Capture the Flag just for the heck of it. I don’t know why you’d want to have a bunch of people you’re living with mad at you, but Barbara makes no sense anyway.
Somewhere in here, Jessica starts to circulate a petition to garner interest in her dance idea. Once a bunch of girls have signed, she decides to get some boys’ signatures. She paddles a canoe across the lake and hands off her petition to some boys, including Bruce and Jerry McAllister. They couldn’t care less about a dance, but a cute boy named Sandy shows some interest in both the dance and Jessica. Leave it to Jess to make a love connection while attending an all-girls camp.
Grace is apparently a pretty good artist, and she makes a sculpture of a horse. She and her friends are sad that she can’t enter it into a competition. The day of the contest, the girls see that Barbara has entered the sculpture of her own. She wins, and everyone decides this is the last straw. She’s been too mean to everyone, and now she’s stolen Grace’s artwork and put her own name on it. Barbara retaliates by threatening to out Grace if Jessica’s dance goes forward.
Grace is upset over all the trouble her presence has caused, and she decides she should leave camp and take away Barbara’s power. Her friends decide to leave her alone for the night; hopefully she’ll feel better in the morning and rejoin the camp activities. Meanwhile, Mrs. Edwards asks Jessica about the dance petition. Jess never told the boys that it was a secret, so they started bugging their counselors about when the dance was. The counselors asked Mrs. Edwards, who was confused because she’d never officially approved the dance. But it’s all good because she’d already decided it was a good idea. The dance is on, and Barbara can’t do anything about it, so nyah nyah.
Just before the dance, Barbara delivers a note she found from Grace, explaining that she’s going to walk to the bus station and go home. But there’s a huge thunderstorm, and the girls worry about her walking around while it’s unsafe outside. They call the bus station to find out if she’s gotten there, but she never showed up. The twins decide it’s time to tell Jamie and Mrs. Edwards what they’ve been hiding. The grownups aren’t pleased with the fact that Grace has been attending camp without her parents’ knowledge, but they’re more worried about finding her.
Everyone forms search parties, but Barbara can’t stop being a jerk for two seconds, so no one wants her to join them. She runs off, which means there are now two missing girls. Good job, Barbara! She heads up to the cabin, where she’s been hanging out during the day, crying over letters from her parents. Barbara’s parents, like Grace’s, are having a lot of problems, and they snark about each other to their daughter. So we’re supposed to feel bad for Barbara, because she has trouble at home, and I guess that’s supposed to excuse her horrible behavior.
It turns out that Grace is still at the cabin – she decided to wait out the storm there, then hurt her ankle and had no choice about leaving. She didn’t realize that people were looking for her. Barbara tries to make amends by revealing that she entered the sculpture in the contest so Grace could get the prize. Things are going well until Barbara learns that Grace read her parents’ letters. She’s too mad to care that Grace can relate, and could probably use someone to talk to who understands what she’s going through.
Barbara opts for the dramatic storm-out, but suddenly lightning strikes the cabin and it catches on fire. She runs back in to get Grace, who has somehow already passed out from smoke inhalation. Grace is so grateful that she no longer cares that Barbara is a brat. And now that Barbara’s received some positive attention, she’s okay. Grace’s parents are summoned to camp, and she finally tells them how she feels and stuff. She could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if she’d just talked in the first place instead of worrying about upsetting people.
Grace is allowed to finish out the camp session, which probably won’t be much fun with an injured ankle. While she’s reuniting with her parents, her friends are clueless about what’s been going on – all they know is that Grace was in the cabin when it caught fire, and Barbara was somehow involved. Barbara comes to tell them everything, but everyone’s mad at her and yells at her for a little while. Then everyone else leaves to see Grace, and Jessica tries to kick Barbara out of the cabin, throwing her things outside.
Grace tells everyone what happened, and how Barbara saved her life. Then she urges Barbara to tell all the other girls about her family troubles so they’ll understand why she’s been acting the way she does. They’ll probably still hate her, though. I guess then everyone forgives everyone, and all the girls enjoy the rest of their time at camp. And, of course, they get to go to the dance. Barbara makes a love connection with Jerry. Good for her? Now I just want to reread There’s a Bat in Bunk Five.
Thoughts: The girls get to put sheets on their beds instead of using sleeping bags. What kind of fancy camp is this?
They play Capture the Flag wrong. You’re not supposed to know where the other team’s flag is.
Barbara may be having a rough time at home, but being nasty without provocation is a good way to lose my sympathy. “They had started silly rumors about her, saying she was mean.” They’re not rumors if you’re actually mean, you brat. You can’t be mean to people and then complain when they’re mean back.
“It’s not a crime to have trouble at home.” Grace, please repeat that over and over through the rest of the series and into SVH.