Tuesday, December 7, 2010

not an update

Caution, construction site

Totally haven't forgotten my poor blog! Pardon the pictures, school project. Expect a book post soon.

Friday, May 28, 2010

SVH #17: Love Letters

Before I begin, I'll quickly mention the giveaway/contest on my other blog where you could win a T shirt or something. Please enter! Please? Contest ends next Friday at 12:01 am.

On to Sweet Valley!

In this book, my possibly favorite character, Caroline Pearce, gets herself in a little bit of trouble. I have to say, I kind of enjoy that SVH books aren't totally focused on those obnoxious Wakefields. Unfortunately, Caroline isn't such a great substitute. Also featured in this book is Caroline's amazingly obnoxious yet totally perfect older sister Anita who apparently thinks the Wakefield twins can walk on water, turn water into wine (well, maybe just grape juice), and would probably, upon dying, return to life three days later.

Summary time. Good old Gossip Caroline is starting to feel like she belongs at SVH. She got to attend a fancy party, people have been nice to her, and she thinks that, for a change, she's actually being noticed instead of just heard. Why is all this good stuff happening? Well, because of Adam, of course! Adam is Caroline's wonderful, sweet, baseball-playing boyfriend whose only shortcoming is that he doesn't actually exist. Since Caroline apparently doesn't care about jinxes at all, she invented a boyfriend for herself. And honestly? A lot of the book is about everyone else in Sweet Valley trying to meet him and learn about him. And me wondering why they care so much.

How, you ask, does Caroline fake having a boyfriend? Well, of course he doesn't live in Sweet Valley and he of course, being the great romantic that he is, constantly sends her amazing, beautiful, romantic letters. Like the following:

"My dearest, inexpressibly dearest, Caroline. Your flower is the one flower I have seen, or see or shall see. When it fades I will bless it till it shines again. Caroline, if you meant to make me most exquisitely happy...and you did surely mean it..." and so it goes on for awhile. Yeah, a "high school student" wrote that. Right. A high school student named Robert Browning.

As you could probably guess, someone finds out that Caroline's boyfriend is really Robert Browning. Who should find out but a Wakefield!. In the most amazing of coincidences, Liz has been working on a play about Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And Robert Browning and poems and stuff. For a contest. Crazy, huh? When Liz practices her play in front of her family, Jessica recognizes some lines from Adam's last letter.

This means big trouble since Liz is planning on performing her play, poems and all, in front of any sucker dumb enough to watch. Well, it is part of the contest. Out of fear for her life and as a favor to the rest of humanity, Caroline begs Liz not to perform her play and Liz, being herself, actually considers it. Knowing Elizabeth Wakefield, I'd be surprised if she didn't. Fortunately for everyone, only Caroline's world is about to end.

The whole storyline comes to a great climax at a party at Lila's that's all about introducing Adam to Sweet Valley. If I were Adam, I wouldn't be real. I'd also be terrified to ever enter that loony bin of a town. And I'd be just a bit scared of the crazies who think some random girl's boyfriend coming to town is cause for celebration. The whole thing is basically because Jess, as usual, wants revenge. Nice girl.

So how does Caroline get around the whole "if Adam doesn't exist he can't come to a party" thing? Rent-a-Date, of course! (Click on the link, I dare ya!) So, Caroline gets a fake date (with the help of Elizabeth) and the guy actually kind of seems to like her. However, in typical crappy book form, Caroline admits that she faked the whole thing. But it's totally okay 'cause, you know, she was honest. And she's trying to mend her gossiping ways. Really.

Oh, in case you were wondering, Liz won the play writing contest. Was there any doubt?

In Other Plot Land, that magical place, things are a little crazy for the Wakefield family. Of course this plot is totally about them. Mrs. Alice Wakefield has been offered a great job in San Francisco. Since Sweet Valley is the absolute bestest place to live in the entire world, Elizabeth and Jessica just can't let her take the job. Because coincidences are the norm in Sweet Valley and because Caroline Pearce is both head and deputy gossip, Caroline learns about Alice's job offer before the twins do. When Jessica hears the news (from Caroline, of course), she gets so upset she almost doesn't literally throw herself on the first reasonably cute guy she sees.

The Terrific Terrible Twins, knowing that Sweet Valley is the best place in the world, turn into obnoxious tour guides in order to convince their parents to stay. Basically, Sweet Valley has decent restaurants, nice scenery, and some other stuff that they couldn't possibly have in San Francisco. Plus some family history. And the kind of "with friends like these, who needs enemies?" friends. But who cares about that?

Jess and Liz don't even mention the things that really make Sweet Valley great: people only age in strange increments and basically get to be one age for a really long time. Pro: eternal youth! If you're feeling like an ugly duckling, chances are all you need to do is get a makeover and change your wardrobe. Voila! Instant beauty and popularity. Funny how that doesn't exist in most of the world. Another pro for Sweet Valley! Eh, that's all I've got.

So how does this plot end? Anyone have a guess? Hands raised, who thinks the Wakefields move to San Francisco? Anyone?

Just a few points...

  • Lila wore a dress from The Designer Shop to the fancy party mentioned at the beginning of the book. There's another pro for Sweet Valley! Store names! Want something unique? Try the Unique Boutique! Want something designer? Try The Designer Shop... there's no place finer!
  • When Liz tells Caroline about her play and the contest, Caroline assures Liz that she'll win and actually, she bets no one else will even enter. Liz refers to that as a "left-handed compliment". As a left-handed person, I resent that. And, um, lefties are better. So there.
  • Not only does Caroline tell Jessica about the possibility of moving, she uses her gossipy big mouth to mention it to Elizabeth at a pretty bad time. Like before Liz has told her boyfriend Todd (but after Liz had imagined writing Browning-style poems to her love from San Francisco). Annoying as the Wakefields are, that wasn't nice, Caroline.
  • As soon as she learns about Adam, Anita offers to give Caroline a makeover. That's so Sweet Valley. And what a sister, only caring when there's a boy involved. Anita really is sweet.
  • There's some foreshadowing throughout the book for the next book which is about Bruce Patman and Regina Morrow, two people I care about not at all. I'm only mentioning it because it takes up space and um, well that's about it.
  • Lila Fowler will believe just about anything. Even when Jess tells her that Adam's letters were fake, Lila still believes Adam exists. And she totally bought it when Jess mentioned that gullible was taken out of the dictionary. Actually, Liz kinda believes in Adam, too.
  • I had planned on keeping track of the number of times Caroline shoved her foot in her mouth. I lost count though, so, sorry. It was a lot.

So, anyway, I think I have to reconsider my girl crush on Caroline Pearce. She really is pretty obnoxious even with the lesson learning and all. I'm not really feeling the love on this one so sorry for the lack of detail/points. I think next up'll be a book by Peter Lerangis. Yes, that Peter Lerangis.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Getting Rid of Margarine by Betty Ren Wright

This book was published under two titles: first as Getting Rid of Marjorie, then as Getting Rid of Katherine. With that in mind, I'm calling it Getting Rid of Margarine. Next time, person who decided to change the book's name, think a little more carefully. I actually own two copies of this book, one under each title so one of them'll be a giveaway. I'd hoped that there'd be a few "Marjories" in "Katherine" but sadly, it was not to be. On to the post; it'll be a short one tonight.

Getting Rid of Margarine begins at the end of the school year. The main character, Emily, is pretty much looking forward to a not terribly exciting summer of hanging out with her grandfather. Meanwhile, Emily's best friend Sally will be spending the summer writing a book. Emily's just a little jealous of Sally who's pretty, talented, and all that good stuff Emily isn't. It's only interesting because Sally knows it. Plus, she thinks pretty highly of herself and her talents--she thinks Emily with the boring summer ahead of her wishes she could write a book too.

Turns out, Em's summer isn't gonna be so boring after all--Gramps (it's Grandpa really) has been away and while he was away he, er, um, uh, got married. I don't think Emily realized old people could do that.

So, the new wife's name is Margarine, she's like buttah, a city person (Em and fam live in the country), and afraid of nature. Emily's real but dead grandmother is in the process of being canonized and no one, but NO ONE should even think about taking her place. With the support of the dairy-filled state of Wisconsin in which she lives, Emily decides to do what the butter union deemed impossible: get rid of Margarine.

Possible Margarine removal methods include:
1. Scaring her with a snake
2. Convincing her there's an intruder at night
3. Carefully inspecting all toast, baked potatoes, and homemade baked goods and promptly discarding, no, burning any items that could conceivably contain or be covered with Margarine.

Yes, Emily carries out her plans with the snake and the fake intruder, unfortunately she likes cookies too much to bother with number three. Although Margarine is scared out of her mind by items one and two, she doesn't leave.

So, it turns out to be a disappointing summer all around. Sally's book sucks (remember Sally?), Margarine buys cookies at the store instead of baking them herself, and Emily totally fails at her mission. No surprises, really.

Because all books must end with a Valuable Lesson, Emily realizes that maybe Margarine isn't so bad, it's important to watch your cholesterol, and even if your house was broken into while you were at home and a young child, there's no need to be afraid that someone will ever try to break into your house again. Oh, and if you play the piano and have a step-granddaughter who doesn't, lessons might be a good way to bond with her. Which is how Emily eventually decides to spend her summer.

There it is, short and sweet. Now go have a cookie.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Homeroom #1: Strange Times at Fairwood High

Just a quick note before I start. This book was really hard to read. Not because it was difficult, just because it was SO FREAKING BORING. Seriously, nothing happens until about the last 20 pages. For most of the book, there’s not really much in the way of plot just rehashed character “development” and it’s stupid. So forgive any lacklusterness please.

The whole “Homeroom” series, such as it is since as far as I can tell it only lasted three books, seems to be about some high school kids who happen to be in the same homeroom. Of all the ways to unify characters, this one just seems a tiny bit feeble, no? I am willing, however, to reserve judgment until I’ve actually managed to finish the book.

So the gist is sort of that, apparently, on the first day of school, a whole bunch of students‘s schedules got screwed up and the poor kids, in a tragedy almost too sad for words, were stuck without a homeroom. I mean, change that to “without a home” and I might be able to muster up a drop of sympathy but no homeroom? Please, they should be thrilled. Though maybe I only feel that way because I got yelled at in homeroom every day. (What? No one wants to hear the story? I guess I have to go back to the book. Damn.) So, basically there were no rooms left in the normal part of the school so the leftover kids were stuck in the Old School Dungeon. Or, rather, some room in an old, unused wing of the school (or something? Apparently there are several buildings not in use, so… I’m not exactly sure how this works. I am, however, entirely sure that I do not care).

Anyway, the story focuses on a few main characters. First, the main, main character, Piper Davids. Piper is blonde and I think we can assume that she’s pretty—she scores a date with Cute Guy Judd on the first day of school. Everyone else in Piper’s family is a million times more interesting than she is.

Then there’s Judd. Piper has a crush on him from the moment she first sees him and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Apparently he is cute so I guess that explains it. Judd’s one personality trait is that he’s a daredevil. The previous year, he climbed some water tower and it was all over the newspaper. Because of that, he has a great reputation among his classmates (they call him Superboy) and a terrible reputation as an absolute lunatic among people with brains.

Next up is Tamara, Piper’s new best friend. Tamara is from the small European country of Capria. As you can see, I have included a map of Europe below. If anyone can point out the location of Capria, I’ll be sure that person gets an A in homeroom. How’s that for incentive? No, really. Any guesses as to where this country is? I mean, Capria sounds a bit Italian but some dumb high school students are convinced Tamara is with the KGB. That’s because of her bodyguard and stuff (yeah, she has a bodyguard and soon you’ll know why!) so, not necessarily her accent but oh, who cares. Like it actually matters. Oh, just to sort of place the book in time, it was published in the late ‘80s, you know, towards the end of the Soviet Union, fall of the Iron Curtain, reunification of Germany and all that jazz.

So, I’m not really talking about Tamara, am I? When she and Piper first meet, Tamara says she’s sort of an exchange student. We learn later that her parents set her up with a house and servants and stuff, to experience a “normal” life, in a normal school, and, well, the West. (I guess? Someone PLEASE tell me where Capria is!) Tamara does let it slip to Piper that she’s a “prin”, at which point she catches herself and doesn’t finish the word. At this time, I request that you please stop reading and refer to the poll to your right (provided it’s still there. If not, feel free to continue reading).

Besides the happy triumvirate, there are some other people in homeroom who are pretty important. They just aren’t as special or awesome as the three already mentioned. And those characters are:

T. Craig: Yes, they actually call him that. He’s running for class president and he’s super annoying.

Tiffany: T. Craig’s main opponent (that we know of). She works at the mall, though that’s not terribly important, and Piper and Tamara support her candidacy and pretend to sort of work on her campaign.

Karen and Eddie: They’re not married or anything but they were dating for several months “last year”. They broke up because Karen is an actress and was supposed to go to some arts school. Eddie’s a grease monkey with a heart of gold. Eddie and Karen seriously do not get along. I’m willing to bet ten whole dollars (any takers?) that they’re dating again by the end of the series. Or that it’s implied that they will be. Despite being an actress, Karen is actually sort of cool. You’ll find out why later.

Cathy and Casey: Twins. One person in two bodies, like most good twins in “literature”. Obnoxious to the extreme. Plus, they’re not too bright. And by “not too bright” I mean the broccoli I just ate is probably smarter. Not to mention healthier than anything these two eat despite perpetual diets.

Last and probably least, Coach Talbot. The teacher, as much as an adult in a homeroom actually teaches. His real job is as a sports coach. Lucky bastard doesn’t actually have to teach or something as well, that was a requirement at my high school. Probably shouldn’t have been but whatever. Coach is apparently on the attractive side; Tamara totally has the hots for him.

On to the plot! So yeah, it’s mostly pretty stupid. Piper and Judd try to go on a date. On account of Judd’s daredevilness, Piper’s parents won’t let her go. Piper and Judd figure that maybe if Judd does something heroic, Piper’s parents’ll change their minds. So now we know that Judd’s going to do something heroic. Anyway, the two of them carry on their romance in the pantry of a house where Piper baby-sits (that doesn’t last and Piper gets blackmailed by the kid who walked in on them. Second favorite character in the book) and—where else?—in homeroom. They mostly send cutesy notes to each other about how parents who don’t approve of their child’s love can’t stop star-crossed lovers destined to be together for all eternity.

When the twins somehow catch on to the Piper/Judd situation, they decide to switch around the notes so that Judd gets a note from Piper (amazingly spelled “Pipper”) saying she doesn’t want to date him and he should go after one of the twins. Does anyone care which one? Judd is stupid enough to think the note is actually from Piper and there’s some confusion for awhile. Tamara’s the one who figures out the whole situation. Pretty impressive for someone who isn’t even American. She comes up with a plan for revenge. If you think it’ll be dramatic and exciting, you’re wrong.

Switching story lines a little. Over to Tamara who just wants to be normal. She can’t be, though, because she’s foreign. And a princess, oops, gave it away. Her plotline mostly has to do with Americanizing because there’s nothing in the world better than being American and dammit if those crazy Europeans don’t know it. Tamara is essentially a walking stereotype from the most stereotypical fake country ever. If I were Caprian (assuming that’s the proper demonym), I’d hate America. And this “Nancy Norton” person who apparently wrote this pile of shit. Piper takes Tamara to eat “fries” and shop for “jeans” at the “mall”.

Maybe more important than Tamara herself are the people around her. First there’s Adolfo, her “brother,” who is of course actually her bodyguard. He’s about as inconspicuous as a live blue whale sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower.
(well, I tried)
Then there are her servants but I’ve already forgotten their names. I think one is Maria.

The only really interesting part of the book is the big school dance. Piper and Tamara are the decorating committee and I wouldn’t mention it except that’s where they claim they’ll help Tiffany’s campaign by putting up posters of her face in the gym (where the dance is, of course). Turns out T. Craig’s father owns like a pumpkin patch or something and he donated tons of pumpkins with T. Craig’s name on them for decoration. The brilliant Tamara decides the lettering should face the wall which doesn’t make T. Craig too happy. See how boring this is? That’s, like, more interesting than anything that happened in the previous fifty pages.

So, yeah, the dance is a big deal. Tamara sort of hints to Coach that she’s going to ask him to dance. She never gets around to that, though, because of the Great Tragedy. Oh, yeah, before going to the dance, Adolfo is apparently sick and can’t drive Tamara (and Piper) so Tamara convinces him she can drive the car herself and that she’ll be perfectly fine without him for one night. Since this is a crappy YA book, we all know she won’t be.

God, I so want to just finish this thing. So the rest of this may not have too much detail. Anyway, remember when Tamara figured out that little scheme of the twins? Well, she and Piper believe they got even by sending back a “nasty” note. After that, Casey and Cathy were totally sweet to Piper (and Tamara) so the na├»ve idiots thought the twins had changed. Honestly, that’s pathetic. Thanks to my years as a Mean Girl (not really! I swear!) I know that Mean Girls are nice for exactly two reasons:

1. They want something from you.
2. They want to humiliate you.

Piper and Tamara don’t seem to know that. Well, of course Tamara doesn’t, she’s not American. *eyeroll* They think they’ve gotten their revenge and now everyone is even and happy. Of course, they’re wrong.

Now we head back to the dance where the twins tell Piper that Judd wants to meet her in the old gym that’s about to be torn down. Piper agrees to go and Tamara insists on going with her. Once the two are inside the gym, the twins lock them in which any idiot could’ve seen coming. It takes awhile for Judd to realize what the twins have done but once he does, he vows to get the trapped girls out. One other quick point: the old gym is in such bad condition that some beam falls and blocks the door so that, even if it were unlocked, the girls couldn’t get out. Remember when Judd and Piper figured that if Judd did something heroic maybe Piper’s parents would change their minds about him? Here’s his chance! Now who thinks Piper’s parents actually do change their minds? Or even that they should? Here’s the thing: they don’t. In fact, they think less of him than ever before.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First the rescue. The gym has a skylight and Judd (and Karen) insist on dropping in on Piper and Tamara. Unfortunately, they can’t go back the same way because Judd hurt his ankle. Instead, they find some air duct or something and crawl through that. It eventually leads to the new gym (which I totally thought was in a different building) and the trapped ones plus Judd and Karen reenter the dance all covered in dirt.
They’re disappointed to have missed almost all of it, Tamara especially because she couldn’t dance with Coach. Turns out he’s engaged so that wasn’t gonna happen anyway. Oh, well.

The book ends with something along the lines of homeroom court in which the twins are sentenced to some torture at the upcoming Halloween fair. And there’s some joking discussion about what a group this homeroom is and it’s oh, so funny. Finally, there’s a preview for the next book which is apparently all about Tamara trying to assimilate. Guess she’s not done. I, however, am.

  • When the kids first enter homeroom, they call the room the Temple of Doom. I hope Indiana Jones is there.

  • On Fridays, cooking dinner is Piper’s responsibility because her mother works late. My feminist self does wonder just a tiny bit if Piper’s father is ever responsible for dinner. I mean, naturally the young girl is the ideal replacement but STILL.

  • Anti-feminist though he may be I think Piper’s father is maybe my favorite character in the whole book. He’s a laid-back former hippie who loves singing along to the oldies and I can’t help but love that. Apparently his favorites to sing with are Paul McCartney (post Beatles I guess) and The Supremes. You have to love a man who isn’t afraid to impersonate Diana Ross. I’d totally tell him to stop in the name of love.

  • Coach figures it’d be nice for him and the students to decorate the ugly homeroom with stuff from home. Poor Tamara who doesn’t understand American customs actually brings in something nice. Everyone else just brings their old crap.

  • Once when Piper goes over to Tamara’s house, Maria (I think) starts to address Tamara as “Your H” before seeing Piper and cutting herself off. So how do you think Maria was going to address Tamara? Your Holiness? Honor? Piper doesn’t catch on to the whole royalty thing…

  • When P and T (I’m so sick of typing out their names) go to the mall, P takes T to a health restaurant/juice bar. I should mention that this book takes place in California so I guess Nancy Norton is from the same school of stereotypes as Ann M. Martin. While there, T asks if maybe they have Caprian fippleberry juice. Fippleberry? That’s the best Ms. Norton could think of?

  • It’s very convenient that, at 16, Tamara is an excellent driver (in Capria). I’ve always thought that 16 isn’t all that common an age at which to start driving. I think in most countries in Europe you have to be 17 or 18 to drive a car. That’s terribly convenient for Tamara and the intended American audience.

  • While in the old gym, Tamara and Piper are afraid of being attacked by bats. Someone should explain to them that bats really don’t attack people.

There’s a ton of snarky goodness in this sucktastic book. I just can’t be bothered with it anymore. Although I still haven’t figured how my giveaways are going to work, I’m adding this one to the pile. I sure as hell don’t want to read it again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sweet Valley High #63: The New Elizabeth

When I was of an appropriate age to be reading Sweet Valley books, my favorites were Sweet Valley Twins. In fact, aside from the occasional book, I was never really into Sweet Valley Kids, High, University, or Nursing Home. As a result, my knowledge of SVH going into this little project was on the hazy side. I have to mention/thank the Sweet Valley High blogs out there, especially Shannon's Sweet Valley High Blog (http://shannonsweetvalley.com/) which is really comprehensive and a has been a definite help in figuring out exactly what happened and when.

One more thing before I write about Elizabeth Wakefield trying not to be a sanctimonious bitch. Like many Sweet Valley books, this one was written by someone named Kate William who doesn't really exist. I just found out who Kate William actually is (for pretty sure) and, well, color me a little disappointed. In real life she's a great and respected author. I knew she had written Sweet Valley books but I had no idea she'd written so many! In fact, I will be covering at least one of her real books (and probably more) right here. I've also met her, but that's neither here nor there. On with the book!

The cover terrified me so here's a picture of water (sorry, not the Pacific or a beach). People surf in water, you know:

When the book begins, Elizabeth has just done the most spontaneous and crazy thing ever in the history of her life: she got a perm. Way to live large, Liz! She walks into the Sweet Valley High cafeteria tossing her new curls carelessly over her shoulder and smiling flirtatiously at the lunch ladies. Or, she sits down at Jessica's table to ask about using the car that afternoon. And to be teased mercilessly by Lila "the bitch" Fowler. Since Jessica's friends think Elizabeth's boring, she must be and that's enough to get her to make a change.

Elizabeth spends a few hours after school considering hobbies (she thinks about and discards hang gliding and scuba diving) but realizes dangerous hobbies tend to be pretty expensive. Oh, just jump off a cliff and be done with it, Elizabeth. Finally, though, Liz finds a cheap hobby requiring lessons from a hot guy (who of course falls head over heels for Liz). Believe it or not, Elizabeth Wakefield is going to learn how to surf! Radical, dudes.

Elizabeth's teacher is an extremely cocky guy named Sean; he's a high school senior at nearby Big Mesa. So that's why it took him so long to fall in love with a Wakefield. Anyway, either due to her incredible good looks or to win a bet, Sean offers Elizabeth a month of free lessons and a rental surf board. In order for Sean to win his bet, Liz has to place in an upcoming surf competition. This means lessons three days a week which doesn't allow much time for anything else like, say, writing, which was important to Liz before she started caring about what Jessica's obnoxious friends thought about her.

Since we're talking about characters (well, I was until a minute ago), another important one is Laurie. In a plot that practically mirrors every other SVH book, Laurie has a major crush on Sean. He, of course, has no clue (at first she's just a pal even though she thinks they went on a date, then Elizabeth's beauty completely blinds him). And of course, *spoiler alert* Elizabeth finds out about Laurie's unrequited love and, as usual, wins the gold medal of meddle by forming a plan to get them together. But that's not 'til later in the book. Oh, one more thing about Laurie: she decides to learn how to surf in order to impress Sean. That's important later, too.

Since Elizabeth wants to keep her hobby to herself until she's sort of decent, she lies to her friends and family about what she's doing. As far as they know, she's involved in some marine biology project at the beach.

The book continues with Elizabeth's surfing lessons in way too much detail. Basically the only important part is that, naturally, Elizabeth is immediately a great surfer. Oh, and Laurie isn't, though of course she is jealous of Liz. Oh, and Ultra-Perceptive Liz can't tell that Laurie has an extra-special crush on Sean (she thinks they're going out). Or that Laurie is learning to surf even when Liz sees someone who looks like Laurie in the water. ("But Laurie doesn't surf," thinks Liz.) Yeah, she's a smart one.

Sean totally flirts with Elizabeth, invites her over to see his surfboard collection and trophies, and suggests renting a movie for the VCR. VC what? I just love historical fiction, some of the words are so quaint! (Actually, I still have a VCR. I'm old school.) Even though Liz can tell Sean is flirting with her (she's not blind and deaf!), she thinks it's safe because he has a girlfriend. Elizabeth does turn down his second and third offers; she has to get home and pretend she isn't ignoring her own boyfriend (Todd) who's called her three times that afternoon. He is so the Dean to her Rory.

As the book continues, Sean takes Elizabeth for a ride on a surfboard built for two. Okay, fine, he just takes her to some special beach where they can't surf because they might be eaten by sharks. Live dangerously or not at all, I say. And Laurie is jealous. The budding Liz/Sean romance continues (though is interrupted by a Liz/Todd date) when Sean gives Liz a surfboard charm. Then he totally comes on to her and Liz finally realizes that he's really into her. She's still confused, though, because she still thinks he's dating Laurie. When he tells her he isn't and that he doesn't like her that way, Laurie happens to overhear it. Of course, she doesn't hear the part where Elizabeth mentions her boyfriend and the whole thing is a typical, predictable mix-up. However, Laurie resolves to be the best (surfer) she can be. How inspirational.

There's a lot more boring surf stuff. Like, Liz the Intrepid goes surfing the day after a storm, wipes out, and gets caught in a rip-tide. No one accuses a Wakefield of doing something half-assed. Um, not that anyone did, of course. After the frightening experience of wiping out and getting mouth-to-mouth, Sean didn't want to abandon Liz. Actually he still just wants to get in her pants. He asks her out to dinner (she says no) and insists on driving her home. Liz was supposed to go out with Todd that night but he cancels, presumably after seeing Liz in Sean's car. It's a hard life Elizabeth has.

The day of the big surf competition (or as Elizabeth tells her friends, the big biology presentation) finally arrives. Sean lets Liz use his special surfboard because he's sweet on her. Cute. (She ends up not using it.) While Liz is preparing for the competition, she overhears Laurie talking about learning to surf to impress Sean. So Liz finally knows about the Laurie/Sean situation and, as I mentioned, she gets up to her usual tricks.

At long last, it's Elizabeth's turn to compete. Of course, all her frenemies from school are there and of course they're simply shocked when her name is called. At least the SVH people sort of come through when they realize Liz is actually surfing; they start chanting her name and it's terribly exciting. Instead of showing all of Sweet Valley that Elizabeth Wakefield doesn't take no shit from anyone and can go adventuring as well as anyone, Liz decides to play matchmaker. She wipes out on purpose so Sean will be impressed with Laurie. Of course, everyone figures Liz is just a sucky surfer (can you imagine Elizabeth Wakefield actually surfing?) and Liz just goes with it in the name of romance of people she'll never speak to again. Still, they're impressed that Liz tried something new, so, success? Sure, why not. Laurie surfs next, and brilliantly, and all is well with her and Sean.

So, anyway, everyone's proud of Liz for trying something new, Liz feels she proved something to herself, and no one cares that she lied to her family, friends, and boyfriend for a month. Inspired by his sister, Steven Wakefield decides to take up hang gliding and adventure in the Wakefield family lives on.

In stupid sub-plot land, Caroline Pearce tells the school that Jessica signed up for http://www.sugardaddyforme.com/ (I'm guessing. We're only told it's a "computer dating service". Yes, I know this book was published in 1990 and no, I'm not a member if you're wondering about that. I just figured that sounded Jessica Wakefieldesque.) Jessica vows revenge on Caroline. She does this by bothering the crap out of Caroline at work--Caroline works at the amazingly named Unique Boutique and I'd love to know what genius thought of that name.

Jessica's plan is to be a really annoying customer. Well, she didn't get the brains in the family. The plan actually works for awhile; the boss is a bitch, Jess spills a drink on Caroline's sleeve, and makes her carry bags out to the car in the pouring rain, you know, normal work stuff. Of course, the plan backfires when Caroline quits while Jess is is trying on clothes. Caroline takes all of the clothes out of the changing room (including Jessica's own clothes) while Jess is wearing practically nothing. Have I mentioned how much I love Caroline Pearce?

To conclude that storyline, Caroline had mentioned to Elizabeth that someone bearing resemblance to someone important to a Wakefield would be working at the Unique Boutique soon. Oooh, cryptic! Turns out that someone looks like Tricia, Steven's dead girlfriend. The book ends with Steven asking the girl out and with the usual SVH preview. And I'm finally done!


  • Lila and Amy talk about how a world full of Elizabeths would be boring while a world full of Jessicas would be chaos. How lucky for the world that there's one each; why, that's practically perfect.

  • On page 3, we learn that Lila is Jessica's best friend. I thought they were only best friends in middle school. Please tell me I don't have to read approximately sixty books to learn how they re-become best friends! Or do they?

  • Jessica's special dating site names are Magenta Galaxy and Daniella Cheese Fromage. I'll say it again, she sure didn't get the brains in the family. Magenta Galaxy is quite the name, though.

  • Although it never comes back to bite her in the ass, telling everybody she's off doing marine biology was pretty stupid of Liz. Of course, she's so brilliant and everyone loves her so much she could probably get away with answering, "A fugitive species lives in the abyssopelagic zone. It's ahermatypic, honestly! The deep layer is endosymbiotic*" should anyone ask her a marine biology question.

  • Funnily enough, Sean tells Liz that a good surfer probably knows as much as a marine biologist. Mr. Big-Shot knows where there's a reef so he must know the secret to saving all the poor little endangered sea turtles? I don't think so, kid.

  • Sean collects surfboards. His favorite was made by some surfer named Bob who could only use one arm and invented the modern surfboard or something. I had never heard of the guy--see how much I know about surfing?--but it turns out he's real. http://www.surfline.com/surfing-a-to-z/bob-simmons-biography-and-photos_907/

  • Some hot-shot Sweet Valley surfer could tell that Elizabeth wiped out on purpose. I thought Sean was the bestest ever so why didn't he know, huh? Guess he's not so special after all.

*Real live marine biology words. I totally looked them up.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Boxcar Children #8: The Lighthouse Mystery

As the official poll tie-breaker, I've decided to make my next post of the Boxcar variety. After this, I'll be heading on over to Sweet Valley. Anyway, I bring you the first of (hopefully) many posts on the Boxcar Children. This particular book is one of what will henceforth be known as The Nineteen, referring to the nineteen books actually written by Gertrude Chandler Warner, before the series got taken over by ghosts and the kids entered a time warp as big as the one in Stoneybrook. One more thing: I will be playing the Official Boxcar Drinking Game™ as I read and write. The rules are very simple: any time someone says or does something to reinforce a gender stereotype, take a shot. Feel free to play along; the first round’s on me. And without further ado, The Lighthouse Mystery.

Beginning with the blurb on the back: Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny used to live alone in a boxcar. Now they're a world famous singing group called the Alden Four, working under the management of their tyrannical grandfather.

When the book begins, the Alden Four and Grandfather are just finishing their tour returning home from a visit with their Aunt Jane. In a good but confusing bit of continuity, this book actually picks up right where the last one left off.

The Aldens decide to take the generic "beach road" home, passing through the small town of Conley along the way. Conley is apparently known for its lighthouse, which, according to a sign, happens to be for sale. The kids somehow manage to convince Grandfather that a lighthouse would be a good investment and he figures he'll ask the town store owner what the deal is with the lighthouse and how to buy it. It turns out some other sucker got there first and already bought it. Who, you ask? Mr. I-must-be-overcompensating-for-something Hall, the owner of the store. Mr. Overcompensator agrees to rent out the lighthouse for a few weeks and so the Aldens move right in.

Nothing of any interest happens at all until the stroke of midnight (dun dun DUN!) when Watch, the dog, starts barking. Because something is obviously very wrong but absolutely nothing can be accomplished by rational persons at midnight, everyone just goes back to sleep. Well, first they all have a conversation. Benny claims he can smell mashed potatoes and Violet and Jessie are quick to point out that potatoes and salt do not smell. I think that deserves a shot.

The next day, the Boxcar Children head into town. While at the store, a (supposedly annoyed) man doesn’t fall all over the kids and tell them how great they are so naturally the Aldens are suspicious. They decide he’s part of their non-existent and previously unmentioned mystery. In fact, they’re on the lookout everywhere for “suspicious characters” i.e. people who don’t believe the sun shines out of the asses of the four Boxcar Children. And really, how could they.

Just after running into Annoyed Man, the kids meet another crazy character: a kid about Henry’s age who indignantly tells them that, despite his reading material, he most certainly does not go to college. According to Mr. Overcompensator, the boy is Larry and he’s unfriendly and uneducated because his asshole father thinks book learnin’ is overrated. The holier-than-thou Aldens make it their mission to befriend Larry. The Boxcars then decide that one of the two “cross people” they just met must be involved in their mystery. Yeah, I don’t get it either. In a ridiculous bit of foreshadowing, Benny says he doesn’t see how they could be involved but “Maybe they are cooking up something or other.” Old Gertie makes a point of telling us that Benny is kinda near the truth. No freaking WAY.

The next chapter begins with Jessie making lunch and me pouring myself a shot. The Aldens decide to eat lunch outside only it turns out sitting on rocks is kind of uncomfortable. They decide to fix the situation by putting rock chairs together and adding cement to make them last forever. Can’t you just imagine some children, fifty years later sitting in the seats of the legendary Boxcars? It just about brings a tear to my eye. In one of the most random and contrived plot points ever, some men (shot!) are cementing a nearby driveway; the Aldens decide to ask them for some cement. Guess what? One of the men working on the driveway is Annoyed Man. My goodness, it is a small world after all.

The Aldens return To The Lighthouse, stopping along the way so Henry can buy a trowel and I can take a shot. They spend the rest of the chapter cementing a table and chairs together and it’s so boring I either fall asleep or pass out due to drunkenness, I’m not sure which. Finally, the Aldens bring back the unused cement and pay for what they did use. They notice that Annoyed Man is no longer there; they’re glad since he’s a big old meanie and they don’t like him anyway. That doesn’t stop them from wanting to know who he is, and Old Lady Warner informs us they’re about to find that out. I can hardly contain myself.

Nothing interesting happens until midnight when, once again, Watch starts barking. The Aldens guess, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that someone’s cooking in the little house (I think it’s a summer kitchen) next to the lighthouse. After debating the possibility of someone being in the house for much longer than necessary (it’s about half a page), they come to no conclusions and figure they’ll check things out in the morning. However, Jessie and Violet happen to see a woman outside, walking away from the house. They figure everyone’ll talk about it in the morning and back to sleep they go.

In the morning, Jessie and Violet do mention the woman. Everyone decides to look around the little house for clues and stuff. Would you believe it? They find something! Not, like, in the house or anything, but just sort of lying around outside. It’s a piece of paper with some very advanced science-y stuff on it. Even Henry doesn’t understand it. All Aldens agree: someone very smart has been using the house for experiments.

After no segue at all, the Aldens decide that, since they’re on the beach, they should probably do beachy things like collect shells (did you know that Grandfather is, like, an expert on shells?) and go swimming. Unfortunately, they need bathing suits. I wouldn’t even mention it except when they go into town to buy them, Henry and Benny are more interested in the boats in the harbor while Jessie and Violet are of course more interested in bathing suits. (Have a shot? Don’t mind if I do.)

While the Aldens are buying their suits, they learn a bit more about their “mystery”. The boat that Henry and Benny liked was called the Sea Cook II. It’s owned by a Mr. Cook. Someone named Mr. Cook also bought the summer kitchen. Mr. Cook and Annoyed Man are the same person. Mr. Cook has a grown son who isn’t allowed to use the boat or anything (but the rebellious kid does anyway). Aaaand, the kid always comes back with “stuff”. Raise your hand if you’ve figured it out. Well, I’ll press on anyway. On the very next page, we learn that the son is “very smart” and his father won’t let him go to college, even though he’s applied and been accepted. Yes, that’s right. Larry’s asshole father from a bunch of chapters ago is Annoyed Man aka Mr. Cook and I totally did not see that one coming.

After that, nothing very interesting happens, including that the Aldens go swimming. That night, Benny, sitting on the lighthouse lookout, saw a ship start to approach the harbor then go out again. Somehow this stupid boy figured that someone on the boat could see him; Benny then turned off the lights and put on a dark coat. I guess that did the trick because the ship came in with Benny watching. He saw a man get off the boat, holding a pail and I call that a clue.

This is getting long… So, the Aldens are able to see into the summer kitchen and realize that someone’s been working there. They figure out (don’t ask me how) that Larry’s been doing experiments to turn seaweed and plankton into good food to feed the whole world! The Aldens decide they need to be friends with Larry (and damned if I know why).

The next sort of interesting thing that happens is a big town dinner thing. Conley is trying to raise money to put in streetlights, yes, streetlights. They think this’ll be the year they manage to do it! Larry is apparently the cook (But… but… boys aren’t allowed to cook! This SUCKS, I’m long overdue for a shot.) His usual help quit and the Aldens offer to help out. Aren’t they PRECIOUS. The only remotely interesting thing about the dinner is that a stranger shows up who talks to Larry for awhile. FORESHADOWING.

I’m really trying to skip stuff but these pesky little “clues” keep popping up. Like, the Aldens watch a ship come into a nearby harbor and because Grandfather is in the mafia well connected, they get a tour of the ship. They eventually realize there were big bags of plankton on board, the captain lives in Conley, and therefore the plankton must be for Larry. Turns out they’re right.

Moving on. Everything the Boxcar Children have figured out up ‘til now is right. Go figure. Next up, becoming friends with Larry. How? By forcing him to help them put screens on the lighthouse windows. I tried that friend-making technique three times and all it got me was a few hundred mosquito bites and a note saying “I hope u get malaria, bitch”. Some people have all the luck. Then, the Aldens make Larry cook their lunch. What is wrong with these assholes?

Hey, I’m almost done with this thing! The next night, there’s a huge storm. Stupid Larry (um, isn’t he supposed to be smart?) gets caught out at sea and the Coast Guard comes to bring him in. He’s taken to the lighthouse, unfortunately all delirious and stuff, ranting about feeding the world. Except, he knows what he’s talking about. He just wants everyone to eat plankton. Like I said. Delirious.

So. Anyway. Larry’s been cooking seaweed and stuff in the summer kitchen; his mother was helping him out by bringing him dinner. Which made Watch bark. Fascinating, isn’t it. Everyone tries the “food” and agrees it’s disgusting. Even so, Larry was accepted to college, choosing to go to Adams--which is, as Benny puts it, Henry’s very college! Asshole Father aka Mr. Cook aka Annoyed Man finally agrees Larry can go. I wish I cared. Out of gratitude or pity or hatred or something, the Cooks invite the Aldens over for dinner. John Carter, Grandfather’s friend from the FBI shows up and gives Larry his microscope. I wipe away tears of joy for Larry boredom.

Finally, the Aldens head home. Henry and Larry show up at college where Larry learns that the scientist he’ll be working with was that random stranger from the town dinner that happened so long ago I care even less about it now than I did 20 pages ago. And they all live happily ever after.

What, you want more details?

  • When the Aldens ask to rent the lighthouse, Mr. Overcompensator informs them that it’s set up for light housekeeping. Which is not to be confused with lighthouse keeping. Yes, the book goes there and yes, I rolled my eyes so hard they got temporarily stuck. Between that and all the cooking puns, I fear my love of wordplay is no more; hopefully that’s only a temporary condition.
  • Upon moving into the lighthouse, Jessie and Violet took note of the stove before anything else and I took a shot.
  • The lighthouse accommodations were such that Violet and Jessie had to share a room (and possibly a bed?) while Henry and Benny each had his own. Worthy of a shot? Why the hell not.
  • Like all good one-dimensional characters, each Boxcar child is only allowed to like one color; presumably their bathing suits correspond to that, though we only hear about Jessie’s blue suit and Benny’s red one. Small blessings, I guess. At least we aren’t hit over the head with Violet’s favorite color. Betcha can’t guess what that is.
  • When Larry is stuck in the storm, Henry is the one to contact the Coast Guard. Since the phones are out, he has to drive to the next town. I’d call that shot-worthy but Henry’s the only one who can drive.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blue Willow by Doris Gates

I said it would be next and damnit, I keep my promises (sometimes). So here it is, my post on Blue Willow. Now, as a young 'un, I really liked this book. I wish I knew why. Someone obviously thought it was good literature; it's a Newbery Honor book. I read this thing pretty recently and did not particularly enjoy it, and will therefore not be reading it again before posting this. Skimming, maybe. On with the book!

Like the last book I wrote about, Blue Willow is about migrant workers. In this case, the main characters are workers themselves and the book follows their lives. We have Janey Larkin who lives with her Larkin parents. They live the migrant life, moving around constantly. Unlike most of the migrants, they never live in camps, preferring to fend for themselves wherever they can. At the beginning of the book, they're just settling down for what'll be a long stretch in an abandoned shack. Which would be well and good if it weren't for Bounce Reyburn (really his name) who, supposedly acting on behalf of the shack's owner, comes by to collect rent. Which they give him.

The other important characters include Lupe Romero and her family; they live across the street (I think?). They're Mexican and therefore Spanish speaking like practically every other migrant worker I've heard of in literature. Lupe and Janey become best friends.

Just a few plot points: Janey's father enters a cotton picking contest with the help of Lupe's father. They win and I think the prize is $1,000 which is a lot of money. Good for them.

Janey gets to go to school for awhile, but it's the camp school, not the real school where people who actually live around there go. Oh, um, I think "there" is California but don't quote me on that.

The really important thing I forgot to mention is the willow plate which, really, gives the book its name. The willow plate belonged to some ancestor of Janey's (though not of her parents because she's adopted. They kind of make a big deal about this but it doesn't really change anything plot wise). Anyway, the plate is one of those willow plates, you know the type, with a bridge and a house and stuff. Lupe's not too impressed by the plate and I think I'm not either, though it's Janey's most valuable (or valued) possession.

In fact, Janey tries to give the plate to a doctor so he'll save her sick mother. Turns out he doesn't want the plate. Later on, when the Larkins can't pay the rent, Janey offers the plate as rent instead. Old Bounce takes it and Janey cries. Not really. This should be the last month's rent as the Larkins are planning on leaving as soon as Mrs. Larkin is totally healthy.

God, this is getting long. Janey decides she has to see the plate one last time. She finds her way to the shack's owner's house. I think his name is Mr. Anderson and he's a nice guy. When Janey asks to see the plate, he has no idea what she's talking about. As any idiot might have guessed, Bounce was collecting the money for himself and kind Mr. Anderson never would have made poor people pay for the falling-down shack. As a result, Bounce gets fired and Mr. Larkin gets hired. Eventually, a real house is built for the family with the willow plate on display. Just as Janey wants, the Larkins get to stay there forever and ever. Amen.

Any points worth mentioning? I was totally thinking about going with the sarcasms but then I might actually have to read this thing. Okay, I might have a few.

  • When Bounce first comes to collect the rent, Mr. Larkin insists on receipts. Good for him. When he has to sign his name, Bounce says he'll put his John Henry on it. Because John Henry has so much to do with signatures.
  • Janey goes to the fair with the Romeros. While there she spends almost the whole time in the ubiquitous library booth. I'd laugh at her but I'd probably do the same thing.
  • Janey and Lupe get to be in some big May Day festival with poles and all. They dance barefoot and have a grand old time.
  • Before the May dance and stuff, there's a bunch of patriotic-ish stuff. America is great, the flag is great, it stands for freedom, though really, only grownups know what the flag really stands for.
  • In the "score one for feminism category" (which I may make a regular thing), we have this gem, "Janey had learned during her strange life that there are times when only men are important, when even grown-up women don't matter at all." At least this thing was written in 1940. Still, looks like Janey's got a nice future to look forward to.

Okay, that's it. I've had it with this book. I may do some Sweet Valley High next, for something a little different.