Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Sweet Life Review

Um... yeah, so I read these... I know, I know. You're probably shaking your head in horror... or grinning nostalgically. I think I felt a little of both when reading this.

Ok full disclosure. I devoured the Sweet Valley books as a kid. I was probably way too young to be reading about the 16 year old Wakefield twins and all their dramas, but I don't think my parents knew what I was reading and there was usually a new one at the library so I read a decent amount of them. I was never a serious collector, but when I had my own babysitting money, I definitely bought a lot of the later ones in order. I still remember where I was when I read the cliff hanger to A Night to Remember. I was probably in Middle School and reading much more advanced books but something kept me coming back to good old Sweet Valley. I think this was a precursor to working at Soap Opera Digest and all the ridiculous drama that goes into soaps. Obviously I stopped reading the books at some point. I got through the Margo and the evil twins stuff and a little bit of their college years but never beyond that. Every once in a while I'd google the books and see what was going on but as I grew up, I got over the whole thing.

Anyway, last year I was ridiculously excited to read Sweet Valley Confidential, which takes place ten years after the twins were juniors in high school (they were juniors for about 200 years). I read it in a day, traveling back and forth from the Berkshires to Boston. And it was awful. Really awful. Jessica, like, talked like a valley girl. She was never the smart twin but she was always savvy and didn't talk like a moron. Elizabeth cried during orgasms (it was kind of uncomfortable to read sex scenes). Jessica stole Todd (really, are there no other guys in the world?), leading to Elizabeth running to NYC to work at a crappy theater magazine. It was all so so bad. I loved it, I hated it.

I heard at one point that a sequel called Sweet Valley Heights was going to be released but then never heard anything else about it until earlier in the summer when I got an email from St. Martins Press announcing six e-book novellas, coming out once a week. Of course I immediately pre-ordered all six (a collected novel will be coming out in November, I think, and in print) and spent several Sundays this summer charging through.

On the plus side, this series was much, much better than Confidential. (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW). Jessica and Todd are still married with a two year old son, but their marriage is strained because she is a successful PR person for a green makeup company and he is super old fashioned and wants her to be home cooking for him or something. Fortunately she dropped her annoying valley girl talking habits and is old likable Jessica again. Elizabeth, on the other hand... well three years after Confidential, she is still with Bruce Patman (uh yeah, that happened in the last book), who is a hugely wealthy CEO. She's a reporter for the LA Tribune and has a popular blog. She doesn't seem to actually work too much in these books though. The twins are super close again, which is also better than the last book, but the main drama in this series is a little ridiculous (to be expected). No Margo though, sadly.

Ok so the basic plot besides Jessica's married woes is that Bruce is accused of sexually assaulting an intern at his company. Jessica rallies behind him, but Elizabeth doubts her supposed soul mate. In a nice nod to continuity, Elizabeth thinks back to that time she came out of a coma and Bruce tried to assault her. Or rape her. It was a bit vague in Dear Sister and was eventually pretty much forgotten. Anyway, she starts to doubt Bruce's side of the story, especially when she befriends the victim.

Several other major characters play a role or have their own storylines. The infamous Lila Fowler shows up, still married to NFL star Ken Matthews, and is desperate to get on Sweet Valley Housewives. So Lila is back to being flighty and obnoxious despite the growth she showed in earlier books. Oh well. She goes to some pretty desperate lengths in the series to get attention, from auditioning for the reality show to faking a pregnancy and miscarriage. Her storyline wraps up rather well, though.

Steven is now married to Aaron and they have a baby named Emma who they conceived using a surrogate. In one novella, the baby gets kidnapped (it's pretty obvious who does it) and after that Steven and Aaron's story pretty much ends. Aaron pops up again to help Elizabeth out late, though. Disturbingly baby Emma, who is about three months or something like that, has her own quasi-point of view who it's apparent that she has inherited some Jessica-like traits.

Annie Whitman plays a big role as Bruce's defense attorney and former hook up from high school. Enid Rollins pops up as the town's OBGYN. Ned and Alice barely make an appearance.

While I tore through the novellas and will definitely read other ones, they were by no means perfect. There were tons of stupid errors that a good copy editor should have caught. Jessica got off the kitchen school? Really? I caught a few others ones like that.

Also plot lines were wrapped up too tidily or dropped weirdly. Jessica and Elizabeth were annoyingly poor communicators in their relationships. Jessica gets involved with this actor named Liam who was introduced in Confidential and she basically uses him to make herself feel good when her work and personal life goes downhill. He's clearly unbalanced but she doesn't see the danger until it's too late. And Elizabeth, really? Ms. Intrepid Journalist doesn't trust her own boyfriend to be a good guy and basically ruins their whole relationship for no real reason. So that was annoying.

There were definitely other moments where I rolled my eyes. Quite a few, I think, although it's been almost two weeks since I finished part six and I can't remember everything I was thinking as I read. The series ended on a cliffhanger so I'm assuming there will be another series to pick up the pieces sooner or later.

If you were a Sweet Valley fan back in the day looking for a little light reading, this is perfect for you, especially if you can take it with a grain of salt. If you weren't a fan, you probably stopped reading this review ages ago!

NY Times coverage of Confidential and The Sweet Life 

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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