Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years LaterSweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Number of pages: 304
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

Now with this striking new adult novel from author and creator Francine Pascal, millions of devoted fans can finally return to the idyllic Sweet Valley, home of the phenomenally successful book series and franchise. Iconic and beloved identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are back and all grown up, dealing with the complicated adult world of love, careers, betrayal, and sisterhood.

* * *

If there was a book that I could blame for my being a bookworm, it is definitely Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley. I didn’t start with SVH like most people (and I hardly read them, now that I think about it) — I started with Sweet Valley Kids after I saw my classmate reading it back when I was in 3rd grade. When I grew older, I started on Sweet Valley Twins, and read so much more Sweet Valley after that. I remember even getting random Sweet Valley books from Book Sale whenever I needed a quick read because that’s what Sweet Valley has always been for me: quick, easy and comforting reads. A reminder that somewhere, somehow life can be absolutely perfect (even if it sets a totally bad standard). :)

It’s been years since I last read a Sweet Valley book, so when news of Sweet Valley Confidential came out, I knew it just had to be one of the books I must read this year. No excuses — as a girl who practically grew up in Sweet Valley, there is no way I cannot read this. :-)

So I’ll keep the summary brief to avoid spoilers. It’s roughly 11 years since Sweet Valley High, and Elizabeth is living on her own in New York City, refusing to answer her sister’s calls. She is lonely and angry, and the only person she is willing to talk to from her hometown is conceited rich boy Bruce Patman, who is now her best friend. What happened to Elizabeth? Why is she refusing to answer her sister’s calls? What did Jessica do that made sweet, calm and well-loved Elizabeth Wakefield flee and close her doors? And how did she become best friends with 1BRUCE1, of all people?

When I finished reading the book, I knew I looked like this (thanks, Hyperbole and a Half for the accurate illustration):

Image from Hyperbole and a Half

I know some of my friends and Twitter followers have read my reaction, and I can’t help it. When I finished the last page of the (e)book, I actually sat on the bed and stared into space, wondering what the heck just happened to what I read.

The appeal of this book lies in the nostalgia it brings. I didn’t really read that many SVH books but I was still familiar with the people there — Lila, Ken, Steven, Todd, etc. It was definitely a trip down memory lane and I can’t help but remember all those crazy stories that I read back then. The magic dolls, the numerous beach trips, the people who all wanted the twins dead or at least want to be them. Of course, since the books were written by ghost writers, continuity errors abound, but I can easily forgive that. It was fun seeing the characters and laughing at how silly they all were and are, even after 11 years. Sometimes I want to shake them: Elizabeth, stop being angsty! Jessica, why are you always crying? Todd! Why are you being such a sissy? Caroline, why are you still meddling with your friends? Why haven’t you all moved on from high school?!

It’s not bad. In fact, I found Sweet Valley Confidential very entertaining, and it kept me amused while reading and hours after I finished reading. However, it was very brain-numbing, and it was probably because of the sheer ridiculousness of the plot. The twins are still perfect gorgeous beings that everyone loves no matter how self-absorbed they could be. You’d think that people would have grown up from their high school woes, but no, everyone’s still hung up with old high school issues and hardly anyone has moved out. Come on — I’m hardly in contact with some of my old high school friends. Was Elizabeth the only one brave enough to move away? Wait, scratch that — it’s not even bravery. She ran away from something, and if she were really and truly brave, she would have stayed to face the entire mess. Also, the big reveal of why Elizabeth left? TOTAL DUD. I expected more from you, Francine!

The writing leaves less to be desired, bordering on cheesy at times. The POV and tense switching can get a bit annoying, although I have to give it to Francine Pascal — there were distinct differences in the characters’ voices that made you know who was speaking a few lines in. Sometimes, though, I feel like she was drunk when she wrote some of the parts, or at least, very sleepy. “He heard her and turned to look but almost without recognition, so frantic was he.” (p. 262) “So frantic was he”? Archaic-sounding much?

Now you see why I ended up like this after reading?

Image from Hyperbole and a Half

In the end, this book reminds me of what Jessica said in one of the Sweet Valley Jr. High books (I loved that spin-off — probably my favorite of all the SV series). After she and her sister threw a party and invited their old middle school friends who ditched them when things were going bad at the party, Jessica realized what it means when people say, “You can never go home again.” That is exactly what I felt after finishing Sweet Valley Confidential. I grew up in Sweet Valley, it’s been fun hanging out with all those people, but I don’t think I can ever feel at home with them. I think it’s time to move out.

So. Do I recommend Sweet Valley Confidential? It’s not really that terrible. It’s like reading a trashy romance novel (with trashy love scenes to boot!) or a gossip magazine about your favorite fictional characters. You have to expect that it’s like that so you won’t be annoyed at the time you spent reading this book. If you’re just the curious kind who didn’t really love (or at least like) the books before, I don’t think you’d be able to finish this. But if you were a fan, get ready for a fun, mind-numbing, and slightly ridiculous trip down memory lane. :)

Rating:

Excerpt: Read the first chapter here

Other reviews:
Shannon’s Sweet Valley High Blog
EW.com
Forever Young Adult

Wish

Wish by Alexandra BullenWish by Alexandra Bullen
Publisher: Point
Number of pages:  336 pages
My copy: Kindle edition, free

For broken-hearted Olivia Larsen, nothing can change the fact that her twin sister, Violet, is gone… until a mysterious, beautiful gown arrives on her doorstep. The dress doesn’t just look magical; it is magical. It has the power to grant her one wish, and the only thing Olivia wants is her sister back.

With Violet again by her side, both girls get a second chance at life. And as the sisters soon discover, they have two more dresses-and two more wishes left. But magic can’t solve everything, and Olivia is forced to confront her ghosts to learn how to laugh, love, and live again.

* * *

I’ve been seeing this book for a long time, but I wasn’t into investing on hardbound books when I first saw it. I was very glad that I didn’t get it then, because I found that the book was free on Kindle a year later. I never say no to legit free books. :)

Wish tells the story of Olivia Larsen, who moved into a LA shortly after the death of her twin sister, Violet. Olivia fades into the background, feeling that her life would never be as colorful as her sister’s. When forced to attend an event for her mother, Olivia finds a beautiful gown delivered to her with magical wish granting powers…and suddenly, Olivia has her sister back. As it turns out, Olivia is suddenly a part of a “Wish Club”, with two more wishes in two more dresses. With the help of these dresses and her sister, Olivia finds just how much she’s missing and how she can get her life back after the loss that she went through.

This book had so much interesting premise – dealing with grief, magical wishing dresses and sisterhood. The idea, the cover and everything just gave me a vibe that I’d like it, and the stars were a plus. Olivia was truly a sad character, and I couldn’t really empathize with her sadness because I don’t have a sister and I’ve never experienced grief that way. I remember writing a story with a character whose twin passed away in an accident, but I always treated it lightly because I couldn’t really write what she felt. I felt sad for Olivia here, and at the same time I wished she could pick the pieces of her life by not fading into the background. I don’t think her sister would have wanted her to be like that.

The overall plot was okay, and I kind of liked the twist at the end. It’s really pretty cute as far as the premise is concerned…but that’s it. I would’ve liked this book more if it wasn’t so…bland. I don’t know. I never felt enchanted with it even if I felt it was supposed to have that vibe. I never felt any true connection to any of the characters, like I was only watching them from a distance. I found some parts of the book a little cheesy and sometimes trying hard to be witty but failing. I also found the lack of stirring conflict that to make me want to know more about what would happen — I can’t pinpoint a real villain in the story, and even Olivia’s internal struggle wasn’t even much of an antagonist. It just really fell short, and frankly, boring.

It’s not bad, really, but just okay. Nothing to squeal about. Wish worked well as an in-between book to cleanse the palate after reading some deeper books, but it’s far from being mind-blowing.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads
The Bookologist
Books Love Me
Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf

Ang Mga Kaibigan Ni Mama Susan

Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong
(Visprint, 127 pages)

I’ve been reading Bob Ong’s books since college, ever since a friend brought her copy of his first book, A B N K K B S N P L A Ko (That reads as Aba Nakakabasa Na Pala Ako – literal translation: Wow, I Can Read Now). Bob Ong is one of the popular Filipino writers, who, until now, I am not sure if he is really one person or many contributing to one book. I’ve read almost all of his books ever since then, always looking forward to his funny words of wisdom that pokes and reflects on modern Filipino culture. I remember resorting to his books whenever I needed a pick-me-up, and since then, he’s become one of those authors that I buy even if he isn’t really a favorite. Perhaps this is an addiction?

So when I saw Bob Ong’s latest book in Fully Booked, Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan (Translation: Mama Susan’s Friends), I didn’t think twice in getting it. I wasn’t even sure what it was about — I just knew it was Bob Ong, and whatever it is, I would probably like it. Even if I did not, it’s still local fiction, so I figure it’s still a win, right?

Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan brings us back to the days of school journals. Everyone must have had a teacher who made them do a journal for school — a small notebook with a recollection of what happened for a certain period of time to be read and graded by a teacher. I don’t really know the purpose of why our teachers made us do this except maybe for my college Literature professor. That wasn’t a particularly hard assignment for me, anyway, as I’ve always been journaling on my own — it was all a matter of filtering what you write for school, you see.

I didn’t know what the book was about when I got it. It wasn’t until I got back to the office to read about the book when I finally saw this trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

The trailer is in Filipino, but you don’t really need to understand it to figure out that this book is horror, especially when you get to the last part of the trailer. That stopped me from reading the book immediately. I was never a fan of horror, and I really go out of my way to avoid anything scary. I’m not a screamer, and I’m usually calm in reading or watching or listening to scary stories but my imagination wrecks havoc in me after.

So when I decided to read the book, I told myself I need to finish it in broad daylight. And so I did. In Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan, we meet Galo, who first started writing on a journal for an assignment and ended up keeping it because he did not want to waste his notebook. He chronicles his life in Manila where he lives with his relatives who never made living with them easy for him. He gets fed up with them and leaves to go back to the province to stay with his grandmother who raised him before he left for Manila. Things changed drastically from what he remembers in the province. Instead of finding the town to be just less noisier than Manila but still with improvements from his last visit, he finds that the town went backwards and were rejecting technology (no heated mattress pads, for example). His grandmother’s house grows increasingly creepier with the presence of different statues of saints and the weekly gatherings of her grandmother’s friends in her house. As weirder things start to happen, Galo tries to escape, but finds that there may be powers stronger than he is that are keeping him from doing so.

Talk about creepy. I read this in one bright and sunny afternoon but I couldn’t shake off the creeps especially in the last pages. I think one thing that made it really scary is the fact that it is a journal, and it’s a first person account. I liked how Bob Ong’s words flowed naturally and Galo’s voice rang clear all through out. I found that it wasn’t much different from the voices of his other characters from his previous books but there’s this distinct Bob Ong feel to it that is familiar. There’s also the fun references to some of the things I grew up with as a kid.

While I enjoyed reading it because of Bob Ong, I can’t say I liked it because like I said, I don’t like horror. The story is interesting and the last pages are truly creepy, but as a whole, it’s not my book. My rating isn’t really based on how much the book lacked but really more of a genre preference. If you’re a horror fan, you’ll probably enjoy this, but if you’re a big chicken like me…skip. For your peace of mind, skip it.

To further prove my point: after I finished reading this book, I woke up in the middle of the night from my sleep needing to go to the rest room. I almost decided not to go because it would mean standing up and going there alone, and who knows what I will find when I open my bedroom door? I keep on remembering the face in the trailer and freaked out at the thought of seeing that in the dark corners of our apartment. I got up eventually because I couldn’t hold it in any longer. But I left all doors and lights open, and ran back to the bedroom right after doing my business, all the while my mind remembering the last words of the book in absolute clarity.

Hmph. Big chicken, I am.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
1 of 20 Filipino books in 2011

My copy: Paperback, from Fully Booked

Cover: Goodreads

Other Reviews:
taking a break
Simply, Human

Girl Meets World

Girl Meets World by Claire Betita de Guzman
Publisher: Summit Books
Number of pages: 143
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

From the author of No Boyfriend Since Birth comes another modern-day romance that’s sure to tickle your funny bone—and touch your heart. Mia Tupas is your typical shy girl daunted by the idea of talking to strangers and content with a humdrum routine of shuttling between work and home. But right after a fortuneteller spies a man in her future, Mia meets Leo, and the two hit it off immediately. There’s just one problem: Leo lives in Bangkok, and Mia balks at the mere thought of getting on a plane—she’s never even been around the country!

Still, the possibility of romance is tantalizing, and Mia manages to keep in touch with Leo through e-mail. But when she finally works up the courage to fly to Bangkok and find out where she stands, she discovers that Leo has left for Bali on the very same day.

Will Mia get her much-awaited chance at love? Join her on this entertaining, cross-country quest through Bangkok, Bali, and Vietnam for the man who just might be The One.

* * *

I wasn’t very impressed with Claire Betita de Guzman’s first novel, No Boyfriend Since Birth. It was my first local chick lit read as a research for my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel, and I ended up getting irritated at the heroine and the story because none of it felt real to me. When I saw that the same author has a new book out, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it because of her debut. The excerpt seemed pretty interesting, but I didn’t know if it was a justifiable impulse buy.

I eventually gave in and bought it last weekend using some expiring National Bookstore GCs and read the book in a couple of hours. Girl Meets World is the story of Mia Tupas, a homebody who writes brochures for a local tourism company and is perfectly content with her routine life – home, office, with the occasional restaurant delivery meal every now and then. One day, she meets her colleague’s friend, Leo, and they have an instant connection. Egged on by a fortune teller, homebody Mia decides to go to Bangkok to visit Leo to see if he is indeed The One, and finds herself on a sudden trip to Southeast Asia, following the guy who may or may not be The One.

Altogether now: what is wrong with that picture?

The moment Mia decides that she’s going to Bangkok to visit Leo in the story, I immediately wanted to shake her. Okay, the going to Bangkok was forgivable, and no matter how much she denies it, I know she knows that her goal there was to talk to Leo…but when she goes to Bali, well…I wanted to smack her. The Mia from the excerpt was interesting, but as the story went on, I found her too romantic. Perhaps it’s my pride talking, but I think anyone would know that Mia running after a guy she only really bonded over through chat is not a good idea.

Girl Meets World is a typical chick lit with love as the main goal, and while it is better than No Boyfriend Since Birth, I feel that it still lacked on what other good chick lit stories have. Mia’s growth and realizations about herself felt unnatural and flat, almost like she was reading it off some book. The supporting characters were interesting, but their exposure was too little that I couldn’t really connect with them. I’m willing to suspend by belief over the sudden change of course in traveling, but the different situations Mia encountered in the different places she went to felt too forced that I can’t buy it. I know chick lit is supposed to be fluff and this one has a lot of it…but I think chick lit must also be substantial, and I think the book kind of failed in that aspect.

This book had a lot of similarities with Amazing Grace by Tara FT Sering, which I really liked, so maybe that’s why I did not like how this book turned out so much. That, and maybe because I kind of have too high standards sometime. ^^ Girl Meets World isn’t a total waste of a read, so if you want to read something really light and fluffy, give this a try. Otherwise, go for something from Tara FT Sering, Marla Miniano or Mina Esguerra.

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Girl Next Cubicle

Fairy Dust and Warlocks

To Kill a Warlock by HP MalloryTo Kill a Warlock (Dulcie O’Neil # 1) by HP Mallory
(Dulcie O’Neil # 1)
Indie, 208 pages

The murder of a dark arts warlock. A shape-shifting, ravenous creature on the loose. A devilishly handsome stranger sent to investigate. Sometimes working law enforcement for the Netherworld is a real bitch. Dulcie O’Neil is a fairy. And not the type to frolic in gardens. She’s a Regulator—a law-enforcement agent who monitors the creatures of the Netherworld to keep them from wreaking havoc in the mortal world. When a warlock is murdered and Dulcie was the last person to see him alive, she must uncover the truth before she’s either deported back to the Netherworld, or she becomes the next victim. Enter Knight Vander, a sinfully attractive investigator sent from the Netherworld to work the case with Dulcie. Between battling her attraction to her self-appointed partner, keeping a sadomasochistic demon in check, and fending off the advances of a sexy and powerful vampire, Dulcie’s got her hands full. As the body count increases, Dulcie finds herself battling dark magic, reconnoitering in S&M clubs and suffering the greatest of all betrayals.

I’m still fairly new to the urban fantasy genre, and I am still avoiding paranormal romance (maybe I should make a post about that sometime) so when I received a review request from HP Mallory for her books, I was kind of hesitant to accept it. But I’m not really one to say no to free books, so I thought, why not?

I finally found the time to read To Kill a Warlock when we started moving a week ago. I figured after reading about zombies, I need to take a break from the gore so this should be  a perfect read. And since we were moving, all my books were packed, so all the reading I could do was in my Kindle.

So Dulcie is a fairy and one of the best Regulators from the Association of Netherworld Creatures (ANC) in California. As a Regulator, she monitors the activities of the different paranormal creatures in her area and makes sure they act in accordance to the laws. But after her Regulator job is finished, Dulcie hides in her house and works on her novel, which she hoped to published so she can be rid of her Regulator job. Her more or less regular Regulator (ha, sorry, I can’t resist!) job is disturbed when a warlock dies and she was the last one who saw him. The story follows Dulcie as she tries to figure out who killed the warlock, work on her novel and figure out her relationships with the different men in her life which included a vampire, a demon, an elf and a Loki.

To Kill a Warlock is generally a fun read, with a spunky heroine who’s had a broken heart and dreams of being a published writer. The story is pretty tight, with a good — although not really unique — concept about a group that regulates paranormal creatures among humans, and of course, lots of romance for Dulcie. That being said, however…I don’t think To Kill a Warlock really worked for me. :( I hate it when this happens, especially since it seemed like many readers liked the book and the characters (and that I got this book for review). I did not hate any of them, really, but they just failed to make an big impression on me that I just didn’t care about them as much as I normally would. As the story got to the climax, I found myself just flipping to the next pages, eager to finish because I was getting tired of how they seemed to be going in circles. When the major action has finished and everything has settled, I thought it was over, but it wasn’t…and it led me wondering, “What else could happen after all that?” I didn’t feel very satisfied at the ending because I felt like it was a bit of a cop out — everyone sort of at peace with each other, with Dulcie having three guys going after her. In the end I was just confused.

It’s not that it’s a bad book. I have to give some merit to the author because I enjoyed myself in some parts of the book, but as a whole, I was underwhelmed. I think I can put the blame on Ilona Andrews and their Kate Daniels series with how I viewed To Kill a Warlock. The Kate Daniels series is my first time to read adult urban fantasy and I loved every bit of it, so I got kind of spoiled with their world building and character development in those books. So much so that my expectations were a bit too high when I read To Kill a Warlock. Perhaps if I read this first before any of the Kate Daniels books, I’d think otherwise.

Rating:
→ I was pretty much underwhelmed with To Kill a Warlock. It’s a good urban fantasy novel, but it just didn’t work so much for me.

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 94 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: ebook, review copy from author

Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads

Other Reviews:
ALPHA reader
quillsandzebras