September 6, 2016

SVT #63, Poor Lila!: Riches to Rags

Posted in books tagged , , at 4:37 pm by Jenn

It's embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the '90s

It’s embarrassing to admit, but we really did dress like this in the ’90s

Summary: Lila’s planning a huge bash called the Unicorn Founding Fling, to celebrate the anniversary of…well, the founding of the Unicorns. It’s such a big deal that even non-Unicorns are invited. Lila even sent the mayor an invitation, for some reason. (If I were the mayor, I’d totally go. Make some kids happy + free food = good times.) Lila is going way overboard with caterers, souvenir T-shirts, and, she hopes, a purple hot-air balloon. I don’t think her father knows anything about this.

While shopping, Lila’s credit card gets declined, something that’s never happened to her before. I feel horrible for the clerk who has to deal with this diva 12-year-old’s tantrum over not being able to spend Daddy’s money on a sweater she’ll probably only wear once. Lila tries to tell herself that it was a tech error and the credit card is fine. But when she gets home, she learns that her chauffeur is being fired. The housekeeper doing the firing says it “has to do with the money.”

When Mr. Fowler says no to the hot-air balloon at the party, Lila starts worrying that they’re having money problems. Why else would her card get declined and her father have to make cutbacks like getting rid of the driver and not paying for ridiculous expenses? Lila tries to distract herself with a good deed, donating some of her old clothes to a local homeless shelter where Elizabeth and Melissa have been volunteering. Lila thinks Melissa, the only poor person she knows, should claim some clothes for herself. Melissa doesn’t exactly appreciate the charity.

Lila hears her father on the phone, talking about losing a fortune on a business deal, and her worst fears are realized: The Fowlers are no longer stinking rich. This is a fate worse than death for Lila. It doesn’t help that she now has to walk home from school (life is hard for a girl with no chauffeur). Melissa and Andy run into her on one of those walks and offer to give her a ride home. When they learn that she’d be eating dinner alone, they invite her to their place. Lila enjoys spending some time with a happy (though poor) family.

Jessica can’t believe Lila would voluntarily spend time with Melissa. Lila worries that, without all her money, her friends won’t have a reason to spend time with her anymore. Instead of realizing that she could ensure her friendships by actually being friendly, Lila decides to learn how to be poor so she’s ready when the time comes. Melissa can be her Yoda and teach her the ways of the lower-middle-class. Melissa may be a saint.

Melissa’s also doing good deeds over at the shelter, volunteering with Elizabeth to spend time with the kids in the shelter’s daycare. They take interest in a boy named David who keeps sneaking an extra sandwich at snack time, even when they tell him he can eat as much as he wants. They learn that he’s taking the food for his dog, Charlie, which he and his father had to give up when Mr. Lowell lost his job, then their house. They were supposed to give the dog up, but David tied him up somewhere in hopes of getting him back once he has a house again. Elizabeth offers up the Wakefields as a doggy foster family until then.

Despite promising to keep Lila’s financial crisis secret, Melissa confides to Jessica that the Fowlers are soon to be dirt-poor. Jessica assures Melissa that the Unicorns will still want to be friends with Lila no matter how much money she has. Of course, she can’t come up with any reasons WHY they would want to stay friends with a self-centered, snobby princess. But still, good news for Lila. Jess tells the other Unicorns, and they decide that since Lila has to cancel all the fancy stuff for the Founding Fling, they’ll organize the rest of it themselves and surprise her.

Since the girls keep their plans to themselves, Lila isn’t sure what’s going on when they suddenly start acting weird. She turns to Melissa for friendship, and the two of them come up with bargain ideas for the Founding Fling. Melissa’s only repayment is getting Lila to volunteer at the shelter. She almost enjoys herself, even though she has to do normal-people things like clean. Lila starts to think the other Unicorns are acting weird because they’re throwing a Founding Fling that she won’t be invited to. She decides to invite the kids from the shelter to her party so she’ll still have some guests. Plus, she actually feels bad that they can’t afford things like hot-air balloons and personal drivers.

Mr. Fowler finds Lila baking cupcakes for the Founding Fling and comments on how weird it is to find her making food instead of letting the housekeeper cater to her. Lila tells him that she knows about their money troubles and is prepared to make adjustments so she can handle being poor. Mr. Fowler’s very confused. They’re not poor at all – the credit card is fine, the chauffeur was fired for stealing (and sucking at his job), and though Mr. Fowler did lose some money on a deal, he turned around and made a bunch on another deal. In fact, the Fowlers are probably richer than ever. Oh, happy day!

The pared-down version of the Founding Fling goes forward, and the kids from the shelter have a great time. Melissa admits that she told Jessica about Lila’s soon-to-be-poorness, and Jess must have told the others. Lila realizes that she’s better off without friends who only liked her for her money. Even though she didn’t enjoy thinking she’d become poor, at least the situation taught her who her real friends are (you know, the girl she’s only spoken to once and would have never given the time of day if she didn’t think they’d have to slum it together).

But then the Unicorns arrive with their own food and decorations, and let Lila know that they like her no matter how much money she has. Lila’s thrilled to be both rich and surrounded by friends. Things get even better when David’s father proves to be a great mechanic, and Mr. Fowler hires him as a mechanic/chauffeur. This means the Lowells can get a new house and take their dog back. Jessica pretends to be upset about this, since the dog has become obsessed with her. The mayor even comes to the party, which is kind of cool. And Mr. Fowler surprises Lila by renting the hot-air balloon.

The end of the book is a tiny bit heartwarming, especially by Sweet Valley standards and super-especially by Lila Fowler standards. She and Mr. Fowler donate the leftovers from the party to the shelter. Then Lila buys a bunch of sweaters and donates them as well. Maybe she’s finally decided to use her riches for good? Yeah, probably not.

Thoughts: Lila doesn’t know how to use a microwave. I am sad.

Why did the Unicorns invite so many non-Unicorns to the party? I can’t believe they’re willing to lower themselves to spend time with the unwashed masses.

Pin the Tail on the Unicorn? Lila would never suggest that even ironically. And she comes up with this idea before she even invites the kids from the shelter, so she was going to have preteens and teens play it. Whatever.

June 28, 2016

SVT #56, The Wakefields Strike It Rich: Why Don’t My Relatives Ever Want to Give Me Money for No Reason?

Posted in books tagged , , , , , at 4:56 pm by Jenn

This is so dorky, it almost comes all the way back around to cool

This is so dorky, it almost comes all the way back around to cool

Summary: The twins and Steven are hanging out with their friends after school, not wanting to go home because they know their parents will ask them to clean the house again. Jessica only has 50 cents on her and has to ask to borrow $2 from Lila to cover her sundae at Casey’s. Only $2.50 for a sundae? I miss the ’90s. Lila gives her a hard time because Jess never has any money and always asks her rich BFF for a loan. Well, Lila, you can stop giving her money any time. Let her learn to make sure she has enough before she tries to buy something.

Aunt Helen is in Sweet Valley for a visit, and she’s brought a big surprise: She wants to give each of the Wakefield kids $100. The kids are amazed, having never had that much money before. Jessica immediately boasts about her new riches to her friends, then buys them all ice cream at Casey’s. The girls next go to a Claire’s-type store, and Jess treats them to bracelets, posters, shirts, and other things preteen girls spend their babysitting money on. After just a couple days, she’s down to just $15. That’s pretty impressive. When her friends want to go back to the mall, Jess comes up with excuses not to go, which makes Lila realize she’s out of money.

The next time Jess goes shopping with her friends, she keeps her money to herself. Her friends are a little miffed, but really, if you can’t afford a $4 necklace, KIMBERLY, that’s your own problem. Jessica pretends that she enjoyed being so generous with her money, since Lila never is. What’s nice is that the Unicorns get her some earrings to thank her for spending her money on them, so they’re not completely selfish. Then they all go to Casey’s again, and Jessica’s back to having no money, so she has to borrow another $2 from Lila. Heh.

Elizabeth, our more responsible twin, first decides to put at least some of Aunt Helen’s money toward a new camera. Then she does exactly what I would do with $100 – she goes to the bookstore. She gets the new Amanda Howard and learns that Ms. Howard herself will be at the store the next day and can sign it.

But reading a mystery puts Elizabeth in investigator mode, and she starts to think there’s something fishy about the circumstances of Aunt Helen’s presents and the fact that she has a broken arm but won’t tell anyone what happened. Liz overhears Helen talking to Ned about a court case and possibly being sued. She gets a super-special delivery but won’t open the envelope in front of anyone. Chatting with Amanda Howard makes Liz think there’s a mystery to be solved, since there are mysteries all around us.

Liz gets more suspicious when she catches Aunt Helen crying. Helen says she’s just upset about the death of her favorite soap character. She was present when another character was killed for witnessing a crime, and the gangsters killed her to keep her quiet. What’s funny is that Elizabeth says the character might not really be dead, since presumed-dead soap characters often come back, but Aunt Helen – who’s watched the show for 20 years – says the character must be dead because they just had her funeral. Helen. Sweetie. No.

Anyway, Liz consults with Amy, who thinks Helen is a spy. Okay, Amy. Liz gets Amy to snoop through Helen’s things, but she doesn’t find any clues. The girls find a picture of a man in Helen’s purse and wonder if he’s threatening her. After watching a movie about a mob hit, Liz and Amy think Helen is being targeted by gangsters. Freaking A, girls. They rush home to protect Helen, because if mobsters are afraid of anyone, it’s 12-year-old girls. (Not that the mob exists. It doesn’t. Tony Soprano was in waste management and had no other sources of income.)

Now that Elizabeth is flinging around wild accusations, Helen decides to just explain what really happened. She broke her arm in a car accident and has been having trouble getting her insurance company to pay up. They claim that she hasn’t paid them, and she’s worried about having to go to court to prove that she did. The man in the picture is her boyfriend. There’s no real explanation of why Helen suddenly handed out $300, though. Liz is like, “Whatever, I’m still going to say I solved a mystery.”

Steven has a big crush on a new girl, Jill Hale. Jill clearly doesn’t like him like that, and seems to prefer Steven’s best friend, Joe Howell (Janet’s older brother). Awww, Joe and Jill even have the same initials. It’s like they’re meant to be. Steven’s annoyed that Jill pays more attention to Joe when they’re all together, so he decides to ask Jill out on a date for some one-on-one time. He really wants to wow her, so he buys her gold earrings (which, by the way, can’t be returned).

Jessica takes an interest in her brother’s love life, giving him advice and a magazine article with ideas on what to do on his date with Jill. Steven finally calls Jill to actually ask her on the date. Her response: “[long pause] I guess that would be okay.” Awww, true love. Steven treats the whole thing like they’re going to prom – he gets Jill a corsage, finds a fancy French restaurant for them to go to, and even puts on a tie. If he had enough money, he’d probably rent a limo, but he goes with a cab instead.

The date is…not great. Jill puts forth a good effort, acting really nice even though she clearly doesn’t want to be more than friends with Steven, but he has a miserable time. First, she makes him dance. Then he worries about money. Then he discovers that Jill has the same earrings he bought her, and is even wearing them on the date.

Is if that weren’t bad enough, the bill is $50 (which is pretty low for what’s supposed to be such an elegant place), and Steven only has $45 with him. He would have had $10 more but Jessica asked for a fee for helping him get ready for the date. Steven has to ask Jill for some money, which is pretty embarrassing, and has to get a ride home from her father, since he doesn’t have cab fare anymore, which is even more embarrassing. I don’t think Jill will be going out with him again.

Thoughts: “If the girl who had written this article had liked it enough to call it a ‘dream date,’ wouldn’t Jill?” Yes, Steven. All girls like all the same exact things.

Aunt Helen: (visits family, keeps secrets, gives the kids money). Amy: “She’s a spy!” Try again, Ames.

Elizabeth is okay with searching Helen’s room and suitcase, but not her purse. Why draw the line there?

Jill: “I love dancing. Of course, my favorite kind is square dancing.” Yes, of course. That’s a really sophisticated girl you like there, Steven.

May 31, 2016

SVT Super Edition #4, The Unicorns Go Hawaiian: Pineapple Express

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:12 pm by Jenn

I want to stay away from all of them

I want to stay away from all of them

Summary: Jessica and Mandy are hanging out after school one day when they see an ad in a magazine for a cooking competition sponsored by the Pineapple People. They’re looking for an interesting recipe using their pineapple. Jessica and Mandy start throwing gross stuff in a bowl to make Poisonous Pineapple Salad. They get Steven to taste it, and though he says it’s not bad, there’s no way either girl is going to try it. Jess sends in the recipe, basically as a joke.

Two months later, guess what? Jessica won the competition. The prize is a trip for her and two friends to Hawaii. The caveat is that she has to accept the prize in a certain amount of time, and the only chance she has to go is over Christmas break. The twins are supposed to go skiing with their grandparents, but Jess doesn’t want to go, so here’s the perfect excuse to skip the trip. If I had a nickel for every time I had to choose between skiing and going to Hawaii… She chooses Mandy and Mary as her travel buddies. (She wanted to take Liz, but Liz feels like at least one of them should go see their grandparents. If I were their grandparents, I’d understand and reschedule the ski trip so they could both go to Hawaii, but whatever.)

Of course, the girls are still in middle school, so there’s no way Alice and Ned will let Jess go to Hawaii without a chaperone. Just as she thinks she’ll have to turn down her fabulous grand prize (and accept the consolation, hundreds of cans of pineapple, which Jessica doesn’t even like), a jealous Lila inadvertently comes up with a solution. She complained to her father about not being invited on the trip, so he agreed to take her, Ellen, and Janet to Hawaii. Jessica realizes that Mr. Fowler can chaperone her, Mary, and Mandy as well. So the trip is back on.

The only drawback is that Mr. Fowler will also be bringing his new girlfriend, Bambi. Yes, Bambi. She’s an aspiring actress, which Lila doesn’t find endearing. She hates how much time her father spends with Bambi rather than paying attention to his daughter. Fair enough. But, of course, Bambi is very sweet and doesn’t deserve any of the animosity Lila directs toward her. Lila, sweetie, you’re going to Hawaii with your best friends. Lighten up.

As soon as the girls get to Hawaii, it becomes clear that Mr. Fowler’s chaperoning is pretty much in name only. The only rule he gives the girls is to not spend their money on cheap crap. Bambi promises to keep an eye on the girls, then promptly disappears. The girls all split up to go shopping, go to the beach, etc. Apparently 12-year-old girls are perfectly capable of navigating around Hawaii without any help, even though the only one who’s ever been there before is Lila, and it was just for a long weekend.

Janet runs into a local boy named Kenji, who insists that she’s the reincarnation of the Hawaiian princess Keiko. Janet falls for it, because she doesn’t realize that a Hawaiian princess would most likely not be white. Kenji warns that, according to lore, if Keiko’s reincarnation ever tries to leave Hawaii, the goddess Pele will erupt and cover the island in lava. Fun! Janet tries to find a way out of this mess, but Kenji tells her she’s now cursed for wanting to leave.

The Pineapple People have arranged a tour of their plant for the Unicorns, which sounds like a really exciting way to spend your time in Hawaii. Jessica’s confused because they keep calling her Jessica Wakely. She and Mandy decide that they must have gotten her mixed up with the real competition winner. After all, how could their pineapple disaster beat a delicious pineapple upside-down cake? They don’t bother to wonder how a pineapple upside-down cake could win a contest looking for a unique recipe. Anyway, Jess feels guilty for the rest of the trip, thinking she’s taken someone else’s prize.

Lila finds a ring on the beach and convinces herself that it’s super-fancy and expensive. Janet’s new buddy Kenji meets her and tells her it’s from King Kamehameha’s tomb, and now she’s cursed for wearing it. Kenji sure knows a lot about curses, doesn’t he? Lila spends the rest of the book trying and failing to take the ring off.

Mary and Mandy don’t have much of a plot (though at least they get more to do than Ellen, who’s at her dumbest here), but they overhear Mr. Fowler and Bambi talking and think they’re getting married. Bambi mentions that she’s not sure she’s ready to be a stepmother. Mandy and Mary know that Lila will freak out if she learns her father wants to marry Bambi, so they keep it to themselves.

The girls go on a tour of a volcano, and Lila and Janet think it’s erupting. They think nearby bulldozers are the shaking ground and the sudden extreme heat for lava. The other girls get a good laugh at them. Then they go on a glass-bottom boat tour, and Jessica falls in the water and thinks she’s drowning. The other girls gleefully tell her to put her feet down because the water’s only three feet deep. I love the visual here.

Mary and Mandy tell Ellen, Jess, and Janet about Mr. Fowler’s possible marriage plans, so the girls decide to sneak into Bambi’s room and look for…I don’t know, a piece of paper where she’s written down, “I’m getting married”? There’s some weirdness where they get access to the room by calling the front desk, pretending to be Bambi, and complain that there are no towels. This requires hiding all the towels in the room so the maid doesn’t see them. Once they’re in the room, Bambi almost catches them, but they hide in the bathtub. Bambi wants to take a shower, but there are no towels, of course. The girls hear her on the phone, talking again about getting married and becoming a stepmother.

The girls end up telling Lila about their investigation, so now she’s upset that Mr. Fowler is getting remarried. They all have dinner together, and Janet and Lila’s supposed curses rear their heads again – Janet sits in cole slaw, Lila accidentally lets out a belch, and Jessica falls out of her chair. Everyone else is really amused.

The girls get caught eavesdropping on Bambi and Mr. Fowler, who reveal that Bambi’s auditioning for a role on a soap (Days of Turmoil – Jessica’s favorite), and Mr. Fowler has been helping her with her lines. The role is a woman who’s in love with a guy who has a daughter, so every time Bambi’s said she’s not sure she can be a stepmother, she’s either been in character or is worried about playing a stepmother on TV. Bambi makes it clear that she’s nowhere near ready to marry Mr. Fowler, and isn’t even sure it’ll ever happen. Lila starts to warm up to her.

Kenji and his friend Lono have Jessica believing she’s cursed, too, because of her lies, but they have a solution: She needs to mix up a bunch of ingredients and perform a ritual at midnight. For some reason, she also has to wear her hair in a ponytail. The boys tell Lila that she can only remove her “cursed” ring if she goes to King Kamehameha’s tomb at midnight…though no one who’s ever gone there has come back out. Lila’s willing to risk it.

As both girls are trying to sneak out at midnight, the other girls catch them and everything comes out. They figure out that Kenji and Lono have been messing with them all the whole time. (Also, Lila’s ring comes off with suntan lotion, and the inside shows that it’s from a souvenir shop.) The girls come up with a revenge plan, enlisting Bambi to play Pele and make the boys think they’ve angered her into erupting and burying the island in lava. That’s actually pretty clever. The boys apologize and invite the girls to a luau.

As for Jessica’s “curse,” she didn’t take her grand prize from anyone. She goes to the Pineapple People to confess, and they realize that the memo announcing her the contest winner spelled her name wrong. There’s no Jessica Wakely, and Jess’ recipe did win. All of the recipes were awful, so the Pineapple People went with the most original, just for fun. For Jessica’s honesty, she’s rewarded with 200 cans of pineapple. I only wish we’d wrapped up the book with a scene where Ned and Alice accept dozens of boxes from the Pineapple People and have no idea why.

Thoughts: The Pineapple People expect over a million entires. Uh-huh. They also publish an announcement about Jessica winning in a magazine instead of calling her directly. And they don’t bother to confirm that she’s who she says she is when she calls – she could be any random person. I don’t think this company is run by very smart people.

“Hawaii was nice, but it was no Sweet Valley.” You have GOT to be kidding me.

“Pele! It’s me, Princess Keiko! Mellow out, would you?” Janet’s a mess.

Janet’s suggestions for gifts to appease Pele so she can leave Hawaii: a curling iron and a Johnny Buck cassette. Like I said, a mess.

Bambi wants to play a character named Flame, who’s in love with Caleb Dakota. I love it.

May 3, 2016

SVT #53, The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley: It’s Ironic That Leslie Has Stage Fright About a Horror Movie

Posted in books tagged , at 5:09 pm by Jenn

Elizabeth is right to be this amused

Elizabeth is right to be this amused

Summary: The sixth-graders have reached that point in the school year where they just can’t handle the thought of doing more work. When I was in college, we called that October. Mr. Bowman, everyone’s favorite English teacher, agrees to let them do something different. A girl named Leslie Forsythe thinks they should make a movie – writing the script would fit in with their English curriculum, and the whole experience would be educational. Mr. Bowman and the rest of the class think this is a great idea.

Jessica and Lila both want to play the lead. Never mind that the movie doesn’t even have a plot yet. Leslie is somehow friends with a woman named Deirdre who works at a video store and studied acting in college, so Leslie takes a few classmates to meet her after school. Leslie secretly wants to be an actress, too, but is too shy to fulfill her dreams. Deirdre thinks Leslie should work on that and get over it, since her own acting career was derailed by stage fright, and she doesn’t want Leslie to face the same fate.

The guys want to do a horror movie, but the girls want a romance. Elizabeth comes up with a kind of compromise: a horror spoof with a love triangle. The students then write down which three jobs they’d like on the movie. Jess and Lila only want to act. Leslie does, too, but pretends it’s just because she can’t think of another job she wants. Liz and Amy end up thinking up a plot everyone likes: A boy grows cucumbers in his basement, one becomes infested with some kind of slime, and the slime gets into a love triangle with the boy and his girlfriend. This is more creative than 85% of what gets made in Hollywood.

Even though the plot hasn’t been finalized and there’s no script, auditions are held. There are only a handful of characters – in addition to the three mains, there’s the boy’s grandmother and sister, as well as an English teacher. The principal kindly agrees to play himself and get eaten by the Slime. That’s pretty awesome. Two of the boys auditioning for the male lead are Winston and resident nerd Randy Mason. Jess and Lila are horrified that they have to read with these guys, though both boys prove to be good actors. Lila’s audition sucks, but Jessica’s is good.

Leslie’s supposed to audition last, but she overhears Lila and Ellen talking trash about her. They think she’s a loser and could never land the female lead. Even though Elizabeth and Amy were supportive, Leslie decides it’s not worth the risk to audition – she could screw up in front of everyone and embarrass herself. Plus, she would have to read with Randy, and face her huge crush on him. Awww, nerdy love. I’m going to picture Leslie as Alex from Modern Family.

Since Leslie didn’t audition, Jessica has little competition and lands the female lead. She’ll be acting opposite Randy as the male lead. Mr. Bowman first picks Lila to play the Slime (I thought her audition was horrible?), but there’s no way Lila Fowler is going to do something like that, so Winston gets the part and Lila is put in charge of clean-up. Ha! Lila assigns herself the job of camera operator, since her father just got an expensive new camcorder and she’s the only one allowed to use it.

Lila’s new interest in making movies drives her friends crazy. She takes the camcorder on a trip to the mall and films the Unicorns embarrassing themselves. I have a feeling there’s a lot of footage of Ellen doing stupid things. Meanwhile, the movie’s screenwriters – Elizabeth, Amy, Leslie, and Maria – come up with a plot point that will also embarrass Jessica. They think her character, Sherri, should kiss the Slime.

When Jess reads the script, she’s outraged. She’ll have to kiss both Randy and Winston on screen. Plus, rehearsals start next week, so Jessica needs to pucker up pretty soon. Jess finds ways to delay the kiss at rehearsals, being enough of a diva that they run out of time fulfilling her needs, then faking a cold. Lila invites Jess over to teach her about stage kissing, but it’s really just an excuse for Lila to film Jessica while she makes a fool out of herself.

Leslie watches a movie with her new buddies Elizabeth, Amy, and Maria, and when the sound goes out, Leslie acts out the ending. The other girls gush over what a great actress she is. Leslie admits that she was too shy to audition for the movie, and was afraid to have to speak full sentences in front of her crush. Maria, who’s been through this herself, gives Leslie some encouragement.

Lila shows a bunch of people the embarrassing footage she’s gotten of her friends, including Jessica’s fake make-out session with a pillow. She points out that if Jess is humiliated by it, she’ll be even more humiliated when she has to kiss Randy and Winston on camera. Jess agrees and drops out of the movie. Now that Leslie has the courage to audition, she nails it and gets Jessica’s role.

The rest of the filmmaking goes smoothly, and after just a couple weeks, the final product is ready to be screened. Jessica puts together a fake film for the coming attractions, starring Lila doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet opposite a mop, while wearing curlers and an oatmeal face mask. This is her payback for embarrassing all her friends. Looks good on you, Li. Why are they all friends with her, anyway?

So I guess the final movie is spectacular and Leslie is a star. She inspires Deirdre to go back to acting. Of course. And after all the talk of her crush, Leslie disappears and we never hear about her and Randy becoming a couple. Oh, well.

Thoughts: Ellen: “It’s worse than dumb. It’s stupid.” Well, Ellen would know.

Caroline: “How do you audition for the part of a Slime victim?” Mr. Bowman: “Just be yourself, Caroline.” I know that was supposed to be innocent, but it reminded me of an exchange from Addams Family Values: “I’ll be the victim!” “All your life.”

The Unicorns have a weird pajama contest at a sleepover: “Belinda’s weird pajamas turned out to be an old Ranger T-shirt and a pair of baseball pants.” Belinda, are you even trying? Then again, Lila just wears a long shirt with a unicorn on it, which is nowhere near weird.

April 12, 2016

SVU #54, Rush Week: I Really Wish People Would Stop Rewarding Chloe’s Horrible Behavior

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:49 pm by Jenn

Is that Chloe? I want to bite her

Is that Chloe? I want to bite her

Summary: When Chloe first arrived at SVU, she was very much against joining a sorority, since she didn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. But now that everyone in her dorm thinks she’s a dork, and she’s kind of become friends with Jessica, she’s desperate to join Theta and move into the sorority house. Chloe befriends a girl in her dorm, Val, and is so eager not to lose her that when Val says she also wants to become a Theta, Chloe decides to work extra-hard to get them both inducted.

Theta has just elected new officers: Denise is president, Alex is vice president, Lila is treasurer, and Jessica is pledge chairwoman. Jessica is immediately inundated with requests to consider new pledges. She was really excited about her new role, but that wears off pretty quickly since people only want to talk to her to kiss up or ask for a favor. Chloe doesn’t like that other girls are sucking up, either, but it’s because she can’t convince them that she and Jessica are totally BFFs. Chloe has totally deluded herself into thinking she’s not annoying and that Jess really wants to spend time with her.

The first step in making Val a viable pledge: a makeover! Chloe wants to turn Val from dorky to glam. Val has un-rush-worthy clothes and spends too much time with her dumpy roommate, Deena, which disgusts Chloe. Chloe, by the way, becomes a huge witch in this book, to the point where I can no longer tolerate her. She thinks that if Val keeps hanging out with Deena, Deena will ruin Val’s chances with Theta. Chloe takes Val shopping, buys her a bunch of new clothes, and pays for her to get a haircut. Val continually objects to letting Chloe spend so much money on her, but Chloe’s family is so rich that she doesn’t think her parents will even notice.

Rush week events begin, and Jessica is already sick of them. The girls rushing Theta are all idiots. Two of them make the huge mistake of saying homophobic things about Neil, not realizing that he and Jessica are best friends. They figure they’ve lost their shot at Theta because of that, but Jess tells them it’s really because Theta doesn’t want bigots. It’s a pretty awesome moment.

Chloe is shocked when Val hits it off really well with the Thetas – much better than Chloe herself does. Jess can see that Chloe’s trying really hard and reminds her that the whole sorority votes on new members. In other words, sucking up to Jess is a waste of time. But Chloe doesn’t catch the hint, and she hatches a plan to win Jessica over. She buys scalped tickets to a concert Jessica really wants to go to and offers them to Jess, pretending her mom bought them but Chloe can’t go. Even though Jess was really hoping to get tickets, she turns Chloe down, knowing it’s wrong to accept a bribe.

Val meets Chloe’s horrible roommate and her horrible friends, and again, Val manages to make a good impression. Chloe worries that Val will end up surpassing her in the popular department and ditch her, so she invites her to the concert. But then they run into a couple of Thetas who want to go to the concert, and Chloe gives them the tickets, deciding that a bribe is more important than having a good time with a new friend.

At the next rush event, Chloe goes on and on about how she’s a Theta legacy and her family’s rich and her mom is BFFs with some designer. Jess is irritated until someone calls Chloe out for lying about dating Tom. Jess comes to her defense, saying that Tom led her on. That night, Chloe starts worrying that she won’t get into Theta, and even wakes Val up to get reassurance. I really don’t know what Val sees in Chloe, especially since she’s starting to get that Chloe thinks Val will ruin her chances with Theta.

When it comes time for the Thetas to discuss pledges, it first seems like Chloe will be turned down. Jessica starts talking her up, though, and everyone begins to spin Chloe’s negatives into positives. I don’t understand this. Jess clearly can’t stand Chloe. Why is she going to bat for her? Anyway, the officers decide to give Chloe a little test.

On Bid Day, Val gets an offer from Theta, Jessica invites Chloe to breakfast off-campus. Chloe thinks she’s being taken somewhere private so Jess can break bad news to her where she can’t make a scene. They meet up with Lila, Alex, and Denise, and everyone but Chloe orders a huge breakfast. When they’re done, the Thetas all pretend they haven’t brought any money with them, so Chloe will have to pay. Chloe says she will, since she’s desperate to be a Theta and will do anything for a bid.

The girls imply that they’d like Chloe to buy new furniture for the house (didn’t Alison do that?), so if she agrees to, they’ll make her a Theta. Chloe says again that she’ll do anything because being a Theta is the most important thing in the world to her, despite the fact that she was so against it just a couple books ago. When bids go out, Val gets an offer from Theta, but Chloe gets nothing. Then Jessica tells her in person that Theta wants her, but they wanted to teach her a lesson about sucking up. I can’t believe they want to voluntarily spend time with this trainwreck of a girl.

Elizabeth is still seeing Finn, and since she hasn’t talked to him for a little while, she goes by the med school to see if she runs into him. She does, and she has to pretend she’s there to meet up with someone else. This makes Finn jealous, and he quickly invites Elizabeth to his place for dinner. Sam is also jealous because Liz likes Finn, but I really don’t care how Sam feels about anything.

The couple’s date goes well, but when Finn is ready for dessert, Elizabeth backs off. Oh, and by “dessert,” I mean sex. Elizabeth isn’t quite ready to take that step, so she asks Finn if they can slow things down. He’s all, “Yeah, that’s completely fine. Now I’m going to take you home for a completely unrelated reason.” Smooth, Doctor. He tries again after another date, using the excuse that he’s so into Liz that he can’t help himself. Red flag!

Elizabeth tells Jessica what’s going on, and Jess says she’s doing the right thing – Finn will be more interested in her if she keeps denying him sex. Yeah, that sounds like a foolproof plan. Off-screen, so to speak, Liz tells Finn about her relationships with Todd and Tom, and why she’s a little gun-shy. She’s still thinking over what to do the next time Finn brings up sex. Also, somehow their relationship has made her feel like she needs to stop fighting with Sam over stupid things, since she’s dating a man instead of a boy, which makes her more of an adult. Oh, just hook up with Sam already. We all know it’s going to happen.

Nina decides to move out of the duplex, thank God – her constant fighting with Sam was bugging the crap out of me. She gets a single in a dorm, but I guess she doesn’t have any friends other than Elizabeth, because she gets lonely pretty quickly. She meets a classmate named Francesca and agrees to go see a band with her. Nina has to study, so she plans to only go out for a few hours, but she ends up staying out until one in the morning. Then she decides to keep partying since she’s already out. Never mind that she has an 8 a.m. class.

After falling asleep in class, Nina goes to her dorm to take a quick nap before she has to go to her part-time job. The nap turns into an hours-long sleep, and Nina misses work. Francesca is completely unconcerned. Nina doesn’t seem to get that Francesca only cares about having fun. Then again, Nina’s decided that she needs to have more fun, even if it means her grades suffer a little. There’s no way this will turn out badly!

Todd gets the really boring plotline in this book. To make a long story short, Dana has moved out, and Todd wants to become a big ol’ bachelor. He decides to drop some classes and work more hours at the bar, possibly using some of his money to buy a motorcycle. He meets a girl named Lucy and they hit it off, but she cools off on him when she finds out he works at a “townie” bar. He hangs out with a friend all night and decides going to class isn’t that important, now that he’s a grown-up with a grown-up job. Yeah, good luck explaining that logic to your parents.

Thoughts: In a throwaway moment, we learn that Neil lost the election. Boo!

Finn wears “a black Armani jacket, Levi’s, and loafers without socks.” Run away, Elizabeth! Never trust a guy who wears loafers without socks.

A girl named Angela asks Jessica if she can eat coconut, since she’s allergic to nuts. Jessica can’t believe she’s never had coconut before. Angela says it’s because she’s from Michigan. Jessica doesn’t know what that has to do with anything, but she realizes she doesn’t know if coconut is a nut. My head hurts.

March 29, 2016

SVU Thriller, Killer Party: And Then There Was One

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , , , , at 5:02 pm by Jenn

Jessica, what is UP with your hair?

Jessica, what is UP with your hair?

Summary: Lila’s throwing an exclusive party on New Year’s Eve, having only invited a few dozen people. Making the cut: the twins, Denise, Alex, Chloe, Todd, Neil, Sam, and Nina, who I didn’t think Lila had ever even met. She’s barely in the book anyway. And I’m not sure how Chloe made the cut, but whatever. As Lila’s boyfriend, Bruce is also invited, of course, but he hasn’t yet made it back from his semester in France. An anonymous girl who wasn’t invited calls Lila to complain, warning that Lila will be sorry for not including her on the guest list.

Bruce calls Lila from Europe to tell her that his father has their private jet, and since Bruce would never in a million years fly commercial, he’s stuck until the jet is free again. He can’t just hire a private plane? Lila is furious that Bruce would rather sit around and wait than come home to her. She tells him they’re over. Jessica, of all people, tries to cheer Lila up by reminding her that she doesn’t need a guy to make her feel fulfilled. They’re going to have an awesome time at the party with or without Bruce. Chloe meets some grungy guys at the mall and invites them to the party. Chloe, NO. Lila tells the guys there’s no party, and for some reason doesn’t disinvite Chloe on the spot.

The party starts, but Lila’s sad because of what happened with Bruce. She distracts herself by dancing with Sam. Todd learns of the breakup and tries to convince Lila to give Bruce a second chance. Why does he even care? Chloe’s new friends from the mall crash the party, but Lila and Neil chase them off, threatening to call the cops. The guys warn that Lila will be sorry. After they leave, someone watches Lila from the bushes.

The partiers go back to partying, but suddenly the lights go out. The Fowlers’ house is apparently right near some woods, and far enough from the rest of civilization for it to be pitch black with the electricity out. Chloe’s on the deck and has to feel her way back into the house. As she’s getting there, someone grabs her and takes her into the woods. She figures the guys from the mall have come back to get revenge.

Inside the house, Todd heads off to check out the circuits. Lila gets another call from the girl who called before, making Lila think this is what the girl was planning when she warned that Lila would be sorry. Lila, Jessica, Elizabeth, Denise, and Alex light some candles, slowly realizing that a bunch of the partygoers have vanished. In fact, they’re being dragged through the woods by people they can’t see.

There are only a dozen or so people left at the party, and they can’t figure out how everyone else disappeared without anyone noticing. No one heard cars driving away, and it’s pretty unlikely that 25 just randomly decided to leave all at once without anyone seeing them go. They don’t think the guys from the mall could have kidnapped everyone, since some of the guests were big football players and would have fought back.

Lila gets two Theta pledges to go look for Todd, who never came back from checking the circuits. But since this is basically a horror movie, the pledges don’t come back either. The person watching from the bushes has himself a good laugh when he realizes how spooked Lila is by all the disappearances. The 13 remaining guests lock themselves in a room together, realizing that there are only girls left.

Alex and Denise talk Lila and the twins out of calling the police, because why do something logical? They don’t think the police will believe them without any evidence, like, if 13 girls tell the police that 27 other people disappeared, they’ll have to do something. I’ll just say that it turns out to be a good thing that the police never get involved, because someone would be in a ton of trouble. Lila suspects that her caller is responsible, and worries that the girl’s warnings about something happening at midnight mean more danger.

A few of the girls head back to the ballroom to get cigarettes, and another little group heads off to the bathroom. Only Lila, the twins, Alex, and Denise stay behind. Alex and Denise follow the other group the ballroom, since Denise hurt her ankle and needs ice. Jessica follows a minute later, wanting her sweater. This leaves Elizabeth and Lila alone, not wanting to accompany Jess in case someone comes back to the room they’re hiding in.

Jess checks to make sure the deck doors are locked, but while she’s there, someone comes inside and grabs her. Jess realizes that this person must have keys to the house. When she doesn’t return to Lila and Elizabeth, they go looking for her, then decide to call the police, finally. But now the phones don’t work, and Lila’s cell phone is missing. When she finds it, she gets another call from the girl, reminding her that something big is coming at midnight. Lila’s so spooked that she faints. Yeah, I bet.

Elizabeth hears someone in the house and ditches Lila to hide. Sorry, Lila! The person in the house knows Liz is there and is specifically looking for her. She gets grabbed, leaving only Lila in the house, like the only survivor in an Agatha Christie mystery. When Lila regains consciousness, she gets another call from the girl – but this time it’s a confession. The caller is Marnie, a girl from down the street who Lila has babysat for. She was mad about not getting to come to a glamorous party with college students, so she pranked Lila as revenge. Her mom caught her and made her come clean. Since there’s no way a 12-year-old could have orchestrated everything that happened at the party, the calls were a red herring.

The kidnapper comes back into the house, looking for the last woman standing. One of the rooms in the house has a secret room behind a bookshelf (of course), so Lila hides in there. I’m surprised the Fowlers don’t have a panic room, but the movie didn’t come out for a couple more years, so maybe they got one then. The kidnapper stumbles around in the dark for a whole (weird, since he had a flashlight earlier), then figures out where Lila is. He grabs her, blindfolds her, and takes her through the woods to the Patmans’ house, which is apparently right next door (since when?).

Lila realizes that the other partygoers are probably all at the mansion. The Patmans are out of town, so what better place to stash 40 people? She wonders if this is all a scheme to get revenge on the Fowlers and Patmans. But the truth is much, much more annoying. When Lila’s blindfold comes off, the partygoers all yell, “Surprise!” Then she realizes that her kidnapper is Bruce.

The whole twisted story is that Bruce wanted revenge on Lila for being mean to him on the phone. SO HE KIDNAPPED ALL HER FRIENDS AND MADE HER THINK SHE WAS GOING TO BE MURDERED. A totally fair response, right? Bruce enlisted some crew guys to help him “kidnap” the guests, many of whom were in on the game. And most of those people only agreed to participate because they were told that the twins were in on it and approved of the “joke.”

Instead of a New Year’s kiss, Lila gives Bruce a punch in the face. He deserves that and much more. The twins promise that they weren’t in on the plan (neither were Denise, Alex, or Todd). Sam and Neil were given the story that the twins were in on it, so they went along. Bruce tries to make up with Lila, who spends about 15 pages hating him before forgiving him. Lila, no! He’s messed up! That is not normal behavior! Let’s hope she’s just stringing him along while she comes up with a proportionate revenge plan of her own.

P.S. Chloe wasn’t part of the mass “kidnapping” – she was actually kidnapped by the guys from the mall. They took her to a treehouse and then ditched her. If she were anyone else, I would feel bad for her, but she’s really annoying in this book, so I just have to laugh.

Thoughts: Jessica mentions that all of her and Lila’s friends are “guyless and happy,” so I guess Denise and Winston broke up.

Jess thinks the partygoers’ disappearances are like something out of The X-Files, and that Elizabeth is like Scully. Okay, but Jessica is no Mulder.

“Eyewitnesses to the kidnapping – none! So that rules out any proof that the guess were kidnapped.” So Elizabeth’s logic is if no one saw a crime take place, the crime didn’t happen? That might be the dumbest thing she’s ever said.

Lila: “I’m not budging from my decision not to budge, and that’s final!” Hee.

“If there was one thing Jessica knew she could do, it was use her smarts.” Me: “…”

February 9, 2016

SVT #47, Jessica’s New Look: Guys Don’t Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:26 pm by Jenn

That purple outfit isn't a dress. It's two separate pieces. THAT'S what Jessica should be self-conscious about

That purple outfit isn’t a dress. It’s two separate pieces. THAT’S what Jessica should be self-conscious about

Summary: Things are going pretty well for Jessica, at least in the boy department: Bruce, Aaron, and Jake Hamilton want to eat lunch with the Unicorns. After changing her mind about getting chocolate cake (you can’t eat cake in front of boys! Also, cake makes you fat! Boys don’t like fat girls!), Jess gets to spend lunch flirting with Aaron and making the other Unicorns jealous that she has a love interest. They talk about basketball, and Aaron invites Jess to a Lakers game. Jessica is super-excited about her first official non-group date, and the fact that the other Unicorns envy her.

But Jessica’s world is about to come crashing down. She has trouble reading the blackboard at school. She gets headaches when she does her homework. Mr. Bowman thinks she should get her eyes checked – she might need glasses. This, for Jess, is a fate worse than death. Boys won’t pay attention to her if she wears glasses. She’ll be branded a nerd and forced to spend the rest of her life in the library. She decides to tell Mr. Bowman she’ll talk to her parents, then never bring it up.

After school, the twins go for a bike ride, picking a route that takes them by Aaron’s house. Jess sees what she thinks is paper in the street, realizing too late that she’s about to hit a cat. She crashes in Aaron’s yard, thinking she’s humiliated herself in front of her crush. Fortunately, Aaron is a nice guy and likes her so much that he’s worried about her rather than amused.

Mr. Bowman is smart enough not to trust Jess to talk to her parents, so he calls them to say she should get her eyes checked. Jessica brushes off her eye problems, even though she has to admit that her vision is bad enough to make her mistake a cat for paper. She tries to heal herself by eating a lot of carrots over the weekend before her eye appointment. This, of course, doesn’t work.

The twins both go to the eye doctor (even though Elizabeth hasn’t shown any signs of having vision problems), and Jessica is told she’ll need to wear glasses for a few months. Apparently they’ll strengthen the muscles in her eyes and she’ll eventually be fixed. Uh, sure. Jess is mad that Liz doesn’t need glasses. She’s even madder that she can’t get out of looking like a nerd.

Jessica wears her glasses around the house, freaking out that someone might come by and see her. She takes them off at school, so only Elizabeth knows that she has them. Then one night, the Wakefields decide to go to a movie. Jessica panics, knowing she’ll have to wear her glasses in public. Liz reminds her that the theater will be dark. But it’s not too dark for Lila to spot Jessica and see that she’s been nerdified. Jess swears her to secrecy, buying Lila’s silence with a purple outfit she just got. Lila accepts, then starts using the glasses to blackmail Jessica.

Jess continues to avoid wearing her glasses at school and around her friends. Then one night she’s at the skating rink (more on that in the B-plot) when her parents show up. Jessica’s first instinct is to slam into Lois Waller and steal her glasses. Read that again. Jessica’s first impulse when she’s about to get busted is to physically assault an innocent person. She puts on the glasses, telling Aaron she’s just goofing around, and hopes that her parents mistake them for her pair when she skates past them. It doesn’t work.

No longer able to get away with going out in public without her glasses, Jessica decides her best option is to…never go out in public again. Sounds like a winning plan. Elizabeth is sick of Jessica moping and being vain, so she comes up with a plan: She’ll pretend she’s into Aaron so she can take Jessica’s Lakers ticket and go to the game with him. Hopefully, Jess will be so jealous that she chooses looking nerdy over losing out on having a boyfriend. It’s a good effort on Liz’s part, but Jess catches on and pretends she doesn’t care, even when Elizabeth gushes on the phone to Amy about how cute Aaron is.

Plan B: Elizabeth gets her own fake glasses to show Jessica how good they look. Jess agrees that she looks cute in them, but only because they fit Liz’s image, not her own. It’s plan C that really fixes things, though. When Aaron comes to get Jessica for the Lakers game, Elizabeth wears Jess’ glasses and pretends to be her. Aaron loves them on her, convincing the real Jessica that glasses won’t make her seem nerdy. Jessica takes her place for the date, and Aaron is none the wiser.

In the B-plot, Elizabeth has been chosen to write an article for the Sweet Valley Tribune on students who make a difference. The Unicorns are desperate to be featured, despite the fact that they have yet to make a difference and have never even thought about doing something for anyone outside the club. After some horrible brainstorming (one suggestion is to raise money to buy curling irons for the girls’ bathrooms), they settle on holding a skate-a-thon to buy new encyclopedias.

The local rink is currently closed for renovations, but one of the lesser Unicorns has a connection to the owner, and they convince him to reopen a day early for a charity event. The Unicorns do some actual work, planning the whole thing and only employing outside labor (in the form of nerdy Mandy Miller) to hang up posters. Elizabeth and her friends think the whole thing will crash and burn, which is a safe bet. But the whole thing goes off without a hitch. The Unicorns even play a trick on Liz, making her think there are no skates, so everyone will have to pretend to skate. Elizabeth writes her article about the event, and everyone’s happy.

Thoughts: I don’t remember glasses being a big deal in middle school. Same with braces. Jessica probably started a trend anyway, and all the other sixth-graders wound up wanting glasses.

“That doesn’t mean we couldn’t do something charitable just this once, to be sure we’re the focus of Elizabeth’s article.” Lila Fowler in a nutshell.

Ugh, Alice, stop trying to bribe Jessica with clothes to wear her glasses. Be a parent for once.

I do like that Jessica enjoys basketball and doesn’t dumb down her knowledge about it when she’s with Aaron. But that’s pretty much the only non-annoying thing she does in this book.

February 2, 2016

SVU Thriller, Loving the Enemy: These Robbers Are Armed, But Not With Intelligence

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:37 pm by Jenn

The Daniel sisters weren't very good at modeling, were they?

The Daniel sisters weren’t very good at modeling, were they?

Summary: This book isn’t as bad as the summary on the back makes it sound. Well, in some ways. The blurb makes it out like Jessica falls in love with a guy holding her hostage. And though she has some sympathy for him and maybe a little crush, it’s not quite that ridiculous.

Jessica, Lila, Denise, and Alex decide to have dinner at the Red Lion Diner. It’s a week before their sophomore year, and not everyone is back on campus yet. They’re staying at the sorority house until their dorms or apartments are ready. (The twins will be living with Neil, so he’s decided to transfer to SVU after all.) On their way inside, Jessica spots Trevor Paley, a guy she had a class with the year before. He’s fighting with another guy, so he’s distracted when Jess says hi to him. She thinks he’s just not interested in her. The nerve!

The girls banter with the waitress, Stella. Picture every diner waitress you’ve ever seen in movies or TV. That’s Stella. While they’re waiting for their food, two masked men burst in with guns and demand money. Everyone gets on the floor and tries to stay calm. Instead of just keeping her mouth shut and getting the money, which is the smart option, Stella has to be sassy about the whole thing. Hey, Stella? Did you see the guns? Yeah. They have ouchy bullets inside. Shut up and give them what they want so you don’t get shot.

Willie, the owner/cook, comes out of the kitchen and tries to intimidate the robbers into leaving. They won’t, so Willie gives Stella the go-ahead to empty the cash register. While the bigger robber is off his guard, thinking things are going his way, Willie swings a baseball bat at him. Unfortunately, gun beats bat, and Willie gets shot in the arm. Stella yells at the robber, like, do you want to get shot, too? Just give him the money!

The second robber yells at the first, upset that their brilliant scheme isn’t going the way they’d planned. I guess he thought that everyone would cooperate and they would get the money without having to hurt anyone. Jessica recognizes the second robber’s voice and realizes it’s Trevor. Through bits of conversation, she figures out that the first robber is his brother, Jason.

Despite the bullet in his shoulder and the fact that he’s about to lose a bunch of money, it’s kind of Willie’s lucky day. One of the diner patrons is a med student named Clark, and Jason allows him to help tend to Willie’s wound. Things go south, though, when Jason realizes that their take for this robbery is just over $175. Well, what did he expect? It’s a diner and no college students have been there all summer. Willie laughs because he’s dealing with idiots. Yeah, but they’re the ones with the guns.

Trevor and Jason start arguing, and three other patrons take advantage of their distraction to try to sneak out the door. Way to secure all the exits, guys! One patron escapes, and Jason shoots another. Trevor wants to minimize the loss of innocent life, so he tries to stop Jason by…shooting him in the arm. This is not a healthy family relationship. Jason threatens to shoot Trevor so they’re even, but he decides he can’t hurt his own brother like that.

While Clark tends to his new patients, Jessica quietly lets Denise know that she knows one of the robbers. Denise smartly tells Jessica to keep it to herself. Jason tells Denise to close all the blinds, and she uses the opportunity to try to negotiate: She’ll do it if he lets the injured hostages go. Nice try, Denise, but I don’t think Jason’s getting enough out of this deal to see it as a good trade.

Denise closes the blinds anyway, then tries again to talk Jason into letting the injured people go. While I admire her for trying, her methods just make Jason mad. The police arrive, having been called by the escapee, so at least now we have a negotiator here who knows what he’s doing. But Alex and Trevor are also on Denise’s side, and eventually wear Jason down. Not only does he let the injured hostages go, but he sends Denise and Alex out with them so he doesn’t have to deal with them anymore. Note to self: If you’re ever taken hostage, just annoy the guy in charge until he releases you. A fool-proof plan!

Thanks to the magic of shifting narrative points of view, we get to find out why the Paley brothers are in this mess. Trevor tells us that Jason has always been a little monster. Recently he racked up some gambling debts and decided to rob the diner so he could pay off a loan shark. Trevor agreed to help because he’s such a good brother. Yeah, listen, I love my brothers, but if they ever tried to get me to commit a crime with them, I would draw the line of sisterly devotion there.

Jessica decides to tell Trevor that she knows who he is, though I’m not sure what she thought this would accomplish. She can’t believe the quiet guy from her class is now holding people hostage. Trevor gets sick of the whole situation and tells Jason he’s done. Jason thinks about killing his brother but doesn’t. Aww, they’re making progress. Their brief standoff allows a couple other hostages to try to escape, but Trevor stops them. So I guess he’s not really done after all.

Since Jason is losing a lot of blood, Trevor decides he needs to get him out of the diner. He takes Jessica with him to check out the back of the building, telling the others that if they try anything, he’ll shoot Jess. Jess starts to warm up to Trevor a little, despite the fact that he just threatened her, but he turns mean again and she realizes he’s still a bad guy. They find a storm drain, and Trevor realizes that he could escape and just leave Jason to deal with the fallout of the hostage situation.

On the outside, Denise and Alex find Elizabeth and tell her what’s going on. The three head back to the diner, where Denise decides they could call Lila’s cell phone to find out what’s going on inside. Alex deems this an okay idea since Lila keeps her phone on vibrate, so Jason and Trevor won’t hear it ringing. But won’t they hear her talking? This is dumb. Also, apparently the police have told everyone outside not to try to communicate with anyone inside, so this is a horrible idea.

The girls call anyway, and are able to speak to Lila for a minute. Elizabeth comes up with an escape plan for her, telling her to climb out through the bathroom window. Jason catches Lila on the phone and takes it away before Lila can even hear the plan. Another hostage, Steve, tries to get Jason to leave Lila alone by basically telling him to pick on someone his own size. The two men fight, and Steve manages to grab Jason’s gun.

Trevor and Jessica return just then, and Trevor threatens to kill Jessica if Steve doesn’t drop the gun. So Jessica’s definitely not in love with him now. Steve tries to shoot Trevor, but Jason jumps in front of his brother, taking another bullet. Steve’s now out of bullets, but Trevor’s more concerned with losing his brother than he is about teaching Steve a lesson. He comes up with a new plan: Let the hostages go, get medical attention for Jason, and run away.

Trevor takes Jessica back to the storm drain and they escape the diner. He asks her to help him hide out, so she takes him to the sorority house. Meanwhile, the other hostages are freed, and everyone learns that Trevor took Jessica with him. The police start looking for him, and it doesn’t take long for them to show up at the sorority house. When she’s recognized as one of the hostages, Jessica lies that she’s Elizabeth. This news reaches the diner, and Elizabeth tells the police that Jess lied.

Everyone heads to Theta house, where Jessica has managed to leave a note on the back of the door in lipstick: “Train.” Trevor’s ingenious new plan is to take a train out of town and, I guess, hope the police don’t bother looking for him anywhere outside of Sweet Valley. The police show up before Trevor can flee, so Trevor threatens to shoot Jessica. She basically talks him out of it, saying she knows he won’t hurt her. Like, he stands there with a gun pointed at her and she just walks away. Weird.

Trevor lowers his gun, but the police shoot him anyway. He and Jason both survive the ordeal, and I guess will get to bond while they’re in prison together. The police are kind of mad that the girls called Lila when they weren’t supposed to, but I guess they can’t do much about it, since it didn’t lead to anyone getting hurt. Anyway, this book had the potential to be good, but ended up being dumb, though not as dumb as it could have been.

Thoughts: Trevor: “Nice to meet you, Steve.” Steve: “Don’t talk to me, scumbag. If I didn’t have a gun pointed at my back, you’d be choking on your teeth.” I like you, Steve. Let’s be friends.

“I have a really brilliant and potentially stupid idea.” I like you, too, Denise.

“If you’re ever in a situation like that again, leave it to the professionals.” They never have before; why would they start now?

January 26, 2016

SVT #46, Mademoiselle Jessica: Pardon My French

Posted in books tagged , , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Jenn

Yeah, sure. I bet this happened

Yeah, sure. I bet this happened

Summary: We all know Lila Fowler can be a snobby little braggart, but she’s been worse than usual recently. She got to spend the weekend in Hawaii, and she won’t shut up about it. (A weekend? That seems like a waste.) She also has skybox tickets to see Dynamo, a band everyone loves. Jessica’s fed up with Lila’s boasting, but she doesn’t have anything she can brag about to one-up her.

While reading Teenager Magazine, Jessica learns about a contest for “French-oriented” families. Entrants write about their families for a chance to win a week in France. Jessica starts writing about her family, though she includes more fiction than fact. For instance, the Wakefields like to speak French at home. Alice is a ballet dancer who cooks gourmet French meals. Ned is a painter and restores furniture in his spare time. Steven plays trombone in a jazz ensemble. (In actuality, Steven has begun taking trombone lessons but is awful.) Elizabeth’s so awesome that she doesn’t need any embellishment.

Jessica can’t read the fine print on the entry form – it’s too small – but even she knows the family isn’t really eligible for the contest. She decides filling out the form is just for fun, and she won’t send it in. But Alice sees the form and asks Elizabeth to mail it, thinking Jessica was going to but forgot. When Jess learns that Liz sent in the entry, she decides her odds of winning are slim anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

Of course, Jessica becomes a finalist in the contest, and a woman from the magazine, Ms. Harris, sets up a meeting with the Wakefields. For once in her life, Jessica tells the truth, confessing to her family that she accidentally entered the competition. She figures they can just play the parts she wrote for them and try to fool Ms. Harris. Plus, they still have a shot at the trip to France. No harm, no foul.

Ned is reluctant, but Alice gets excited about the possibility of going to France, so she tells Jessica they’re in. As soon as Jess leaves the room, Alice tells the rest of the family that she wants to teach Jessica a lesson about exaggeration. They’ll play along but really ham it up at dinner with Ms. Harris. Then I guess Jessica will never tell a lie again. Brilliant plan!

Through the book, Brooke is being courted by the Unicorns, and she’s too nice to tell them she’s not interested in joining. They want to give her an induction task, and Jessica decides to have her pose as a French maid during the big dinner with Ms. Harris. Brooke agrees to participate because she knows Jess needs help (and also because Liz tells her what’s really going on and she thinks it’ll be fun).

With Brooke’s knowledge of France, from spending time there with her mother, the Wakefields are on their way to seeming like they know what they’re doing. Brooke gives them clothes to wear, pretending they’re the hottest fashions in Paris. She makes Jessica wear magenta, orange, and green together. Jessica’s so excited about the dinner that she cleans the whole house.

Now for the sabotage. Alice gets Steven to undo all of Jessica’s tidying so Ms. Harris walks into a pigsty. Dinner is nouilles au fromage, which is just French for macaroni and cheese. Steven is a bratty teen all through the meal, then plays his trombone horribly upstairs. Ned shows off his latest painting, which is just a bunch of paint splotches. Dessert is supposed to be a flambé, but Alice just sets jelly donuts on fire. Brooke, using the name Brookette, helps serve, then gets to enjoy the festivities. Lucky girl.

Jessica finally calls a halt to everything when Alice announces she’s going to perform a dance for Ms. Harris. She comes clean about everything and learns that her family turned things around on her to teach her a lesson. Fortunately, Ms. Harris was warned ahead of time, so she doesn’t think the family’s insane. She lectures Jessica on reading the fine print before entering a contest; if she had, she would have realized that she needed to be enrolled in a French class to enter. This makes Alice wonder if Jess needs glasses, since she says the print was too small.

So Jessica doesn’t win the trip to France (she gets the consolation prize, French-language tapes – ha!), but she does get the last laugh. Lila and Ellen were supposed to show up during dinner to make sure Brooke was completing her task, but they never made it, so no one knows about Jessica’s embarrassment. Alice has been working on a project for the lead singer of Dynamo, and she’s given front-row seats to a concert. She gets Courteney Coxed and brought on stage (as if). Lila’s skybox seats suck, so Jessica finally has something better than her best friend.

Thoughts: I’m going to need an explanation of what a “French-oriented family” is. “Oriented” is so vague.

Lila’s getting a sauna. What does a 12-year-old need with a sauna?

We know that Alice and the twins do the bulk of the cooking in the Wakefield house, and Ned says in this book that he and Steven will do the after-dinner clean-up “for a change.” So Ned and Steve don’t cook or do dishes? This is the ’90s, not the ’50s, right?

December 15, 2015

SVT Super Chiller #3, The Carnival Ghost: Best Friends Forever (Literally)

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:32 pm by Jenn

If that's what Claire looked like then Elizabeth's an idiot for not figuring things out

If that’s what Claire looked like then Elizabeth’s an idiot for not figuring things out

Summary: It’s the day after Christmas, and the Wakefields are having lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Jess is annoyed that her fortune cookie calls her vain. Heh. Smart cookie. Heh again. Elizabeth’s warns her to avoid high places if she doesn’t want to fall. Jessica notes that that’s not exactly a deep thought.

Apparently a carnival comes to Sweet Valley every year, and on the way home, the Wakefields pass the fairgrounds where it’s being set up. The twins decide to hang out and watch everything get set up. Some other SVMS students have the same idea, including Amy, Lila, and Ellen. I’m surprised Lila’s that interested in something a lot of 12-year-olds would consider juvenile. Maybe things in Sweet Valley are particularly boring right now, so everyone’s extra excited about the carnival.

On opening day, the twins head to the carnival bright and early. They head to the haunted house, which gives visitors a choice of paths to take. The girls split up, with Jessica taking the vampire path and Liz taking the ghost path. As Liz walks through, she sees a girl of about ten years old with dark hair and an old-fashioned dress. She follows the girl, who disappears. As Elizabeth leaves the haunted house, walking through an open grave, she sees the initials C.C. and the dates 1882-1892 carved on it.

Liz spots the girl in the crowd and goes after her while Jessica visits a fortuneteller, Mademoiselle Z. Mlle. Z says something good will happen to Jess, which is all she needs to hear. When the twins reunite, Elizabeth gushes about the girl, Claire. Her father owns the carnival, which travels, so Claire moves around a lot and doesn’t have friends. Elizabeth to the rescue!

At home, Ned and Alice tell the kids they’re all getting raises in their allowances. Jess is thrilled that her fortune came true. She goes back to the carnival and hangs out with some of the Unicorns, urging them to go see Mlle. Z. Lila doesn’t believe in fortunetellers, so she’s all snotty about it. Mlle. Z. warns that something bad will happen to her. I feel like Mlle. Z. could branch out a little in her predictions. Maybe be a little more specific. In this case, though, it doesn’t matter – a horse gets spooked, which in turn spooks Lila, who falls in a mud puddle and ruins the Johnny Buck shirt she just won.

The next day, Elizabeth heads back to the carnival without even waiting for Jess. She’s excited to spend more time with her new BFF. Amy comes by, having planned to meet Elizabeth so they could go together. Jess tells her that Liz has someone better to hang out with now. Ouch. At the carnival, Elizabeth hangs out with Claire some more, noticing that she keeps wearing the same dress. Claire says it’s her second-favorite – her favorite got ripped.

Mlle. Z. sees the two girls together and glares at Claire. Claire tells Liz that the carnival workers don’t like her; they think she’s a spy for her father. Mlle. Z. tells Claire to leave Elizabeth alone, but Claire says everything’s fine. Not long after, Jessica goes to see Mlle. Z. for another fortune. Mlle. Z. says she knows what Jessica’s friend is up to, and Jess needs to stay away from the carnival if she wants to stay alive. Jess thinks she’s talking about Lila, but she’s not clear on what Mlle. Z. means. Still, she’s spooked enough to run away.

Jessica realizes she left her bike at the carnival, so she goes back to retrieve it. She runs into Patrick Morris, who tells her he was riding the Ferris wheel when he saw a ghost floating next to him, inviting him to come play with her. Jessica’s justifiably spooked again. She’s ready to call it a day on the carnival, and since Lila’s already done with it, they decide to host their own for New Year’s Eve. Later, Jessica sees a man in the yard, seemingly watching her through the window.

Around this point, Elizabeth starts to become completely obsessed with Claire. She’s always thinking about her and wanting to be with her at the carnival. The two have grown so close that Claire seems to be able to read Elizabeth’s mind. She plays a trick on Liz, turning her lemonade black, and Liz asks if she can write about her tricks for the Sixers. Claire just wants to hang out.

She takes Elizabeth to see the funhouse from behind the scenes, and then Liz wants to see the horses. The one she pets is clearly not a fan of Claire’s. Then the girls go to a shooting booth, where Elizabeth is suddenly a great shot. The man running the booth doesn’t seem to register that anyone is there with Liz. Elizabeth remembers that Alice asked her to invite Claire to dinner, but suddenly she forgets all about it. In the middle of the night, Jessica hears Elizabeth moaning during a nightmare. She’s dreaming about walking through the grave at the haunted house and seeing her initials in place of C.C.’s.

Jessica and Lila get together to talk about Lila’s party. Jess is going to be a fortuneteller, and the girls decide to come up with all their fortunes ahead of time so Jess can pull them from a bowl and pretend she’s thinking of them on the fly. Steven’s there and makes fun of them. The party has pretty much all the elements of the real carnival, including a haunted house and a Ferris wheel. Elizabeth is still obsessed with Claire and can barely focus on the party. She’s also suddenly not a good shot.

Jess does her fortunetelling thing, and everyone seems pleased. When Elizabeth takes a turn, Jess tells her that she’s going to learn the value of her true friends. Lila’s last to go, knowing that the only fortune left is one that says she’ll be a supermodel. But there’s a different one in the bowl: “Soon you will go completely bald.” Lila hilariously spends the rest of the book obsessed with her hair.

The carnival is closed the next day, so Elizabeth is miserable. She thinks Claire will be coming over for dinner. Amy stops by to talk about the haunted house; she did some research and found the guy who built it. Elizabeth doesn’t want to talk to her, so Amy turns to Jess. The girls go visit the man, who’s surprised to hear that Claire told Elizabeth that her father owns the carnival. As far as he knows, the carnival is owned by a corporation headed by a man with no children. He adds that when he build the tombstone in the haunted house, it was blank. The initials and date mysteriously appeared one day.

Jessica shares this news with Elizabeth, who accuses Jessica of making things up because she’s jealous of Claire. Speaking of Claire, she never shows up for dinner, of course. Ned and Alice tell Elizabeth not to hang out with her anymore. Things get heated, and for probably the only time in her life, Liz gets grounded. But her obsession is so strong that the next day, she sneaks out to the carnival. Jessica follows her and brings her home.

The next day, Elizabeth pretends she was sick the day before, to explain her strange behavior. She convinces Ned and Alice to let her go to the carnival to say goodbye to Claire, since she’s leaving soon. (Also, Claire didn’t come to dinner because she was sick, too.) Jess briefly distracts her with a recon mission in Steven’s room; she needs a handwriting sample to prove that he wrote the fortune Lila got at the party. (He did.)

Elizabeth heads out, staying at the carnival a lot longer than she said she would. A worried Jess is about to go look for her when a man calls to warn her that “the girl is in great danger.” Jessica goes to the haunted house to find Liz, but instead runs into Mlle. Z.’s assistant. He takes her to Mlle. Z., who reveals that she’s had her assistant (who’s also her fiancé) follow Jessica to keep her away from the carnival.

Story time! Mlle. Z. tells Jessica that the carnival was once owned by a man who was mad that he couldn’t be an acrobat anymore. He took out his anger on his wife and daughter. After his wife died, he became very strict with his daughter, forbidding her from riding any of the rides. This made her bitter as well. On her tenth birthday, she asked to ride the Ferris wheel. When her father said no, she snuck in to ride it alone. Her dress got caught when she tried to jump out, and she was dragged up to the top before the dress ripped and she fell to her death. Creepy!

Jessica puts everything together: The girl was Claire, and Elizabeth has been hanging out with a ghost. Mlle. Z. is confused – she thought Jessica was Elizabeth. When she was a child, Claire appeared to her, but Mlle. Z. let her know that she wasn’t interested in Claire’s idea of friendship (which apparently involves killing someone so they can be friends forever). Mlle. Z. has her fiancé release the horses so they’ll freak out when they get close to Claire (since animals sense and are scared of ghosts).

Meanwhile, Claire’s ready to make Elizabeth her forever friend. The girls go to the Ferris wheel, which Claire starts up just as Jessica and Mlle. Z. arrive. Jess gets in with Elizabeth, who’s so entranced by Claire that she’s practically catatonic, and tries to break Claire’s hold on her. Liz almost steps out of the Ferris wheel to join Claire, but Jessica manages to keep her twin inside the Ferris wheel. The two of them fight over Liz until Jessica gets hurt and Elizabeth realizes what’s going on. She knows she can’t be friends with someone who would hurt her sister, so she’s not going to join Claire in the afterlife. Claire screams until she disappears. Cool!

Liz goes back to normal, and I’m sure everyone’s happy that she’s no longer talking about Claire all the time. Also, Jessica and Lila play a trick on Steven, making him think that Lila really did go bald. Weak, girls.

Thoughts: For most of the book there’s no mention of Claire possibly being a ghost, so the title kind of ruins the “twist.”

Lila finds merry-go-rounds babyish, but the general idea of a carnival is fine to her. Okay….

You’d think that after the events of this book, the twins wouldn’t be so interested in a carnival in Return of the Evil Twin. (Oh, and that was on New Year’s Eve, too. What a weird theme to continue through the series.)

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