Down in Sweet Valley

sweet valleyA little while ago I posted about my Romance phase, a time when I was reading a book every two days, Harlequin, Silouette, everything I could get my hands on. It was during this time I latched onto Jessica and Elizabeth, the Wakefield Twins of Sweet Valley fame. Jessica and Liz are the sixteen year old, blond, blue-eyed Californians at the centre of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series, a teen soap opera in the basest of terms. Now that I think back on that time, it’s not surprising that I became hooked on the twin’s story, as I was also hooked on the daytime TV soaps (Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Another World).

In typical twin fashion, Liz is the studious good girl and Jessica is the good times- bad girl. Liz is always getting Jess out of trouble as she flits from boy to boy determined to maintain her popularity. Of course I related to Liz, studious good girl who lives vicariously through her sister (in my case it was my social butterfly brother). There was the hot older brother (tall, dark and handsome of course), the mousy best friend (Enid), the rich bitch (Lila) and the sporty faithful boyfriend (Todd) going through teen angst together. So much fun.

When I started the series, I had no idea what I was in for. I bought every one that came out and devoured them the same day, but it wasn’t long before the pace of release entered what I like to call The James Patterson realm; every time I turned around there was another one. They were breeding at an alarming rate and establishing new species (aka series) as they went.

 

Soon there was Sweet Valley Senior Year, Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Junior Year not to mention Thrillers and Special Editions. I couldn’t understand how Pascal managed to churn out so many books so quickly. Little did I know she was another Caroline Keene. Just as the Nancy Drew “author” was really a series of ghostwriters, so was Francine Pascal. I think she conceived the original ideas then turned them over to an army of writers. I couldn’t keep up and at around book 50 threw in the towel. I did keep buying the thrillers and special editions but even those got to be too much. For a while I followed Sweet Valley University because I wanted to see what they were up to as adults but lost interest around the same time I lost interest in the main series

confidentialApparently there are a couple of books that are set when the twins are out of school (Sweet Valley Confidential and The Sweet Life) but I haven’t read them. Oh, and manga versions of course! I had no idea that the series kept going for 20 years, finally ending with a total of 603 books. (I’m not going near the four season TV show!)

Unlike most of my childhood book loves, I have never reread any of the Sweet Valley books. Might be interesting to see how well the series has held up over time. Even more interesting to see how my cynical self would find them now. Seems others had the same thought. There are many blogs out there recapping/rereading/reviewing the series. You really must check out the fantastically funny Snark Valley, and MentalFloss’ list of the most crazy plotlines, all of which happened after I stopped reading and prove that I made a good decision.

Still a big chunk of my teen years and very representative, in my humble opinion, of the American 80’s “ideal”.

So, any favourite memories of the Sweet Valley books? Favourite characters or plotlines? Who did you identify with? Leave a comment and tell me who was your guilty crush and I may just tell you mine J

The Silence of Six (Shelf Control #1)

In keeping with the goal of this blog, I’ll only be looking at the YA and children’s books on my list, still, I’m confident there’s little chance of running out of material to write about.

I begin with a Sci-Fi thriller which is next up after my current read.silence of six

Title: The Silence of Six
By: E.C. Myers
Published: 2014
Target:  14+

Synopsis (via Goodreads):  

WHAT IS THE SILENCE OF SIX, AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
These are the last words uttered by 17-year-old Max Stein s best friend Evan just moments before he kills himself after hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at their high school.
Haunted by the unforgettable image of Evan s death, Max s entire world is upended as he suddenly finds himself the target of a corporate-government witch-hunt. Fearing for his life and fighting for his own innocence, Max goes on the run with no one to trust and too many unanswered questions.
Max must dust off his own hacking skills and maneuver through the dangerous labyrinth of underground hacktivist networks, ever-shifting alliances and virtual identities all the while hoping to find the truth behind the Silence of Six before it s too late.

How I got it:   This book was part of my recent $200 buying spree during a rare bookstore visit to see a student of my promoting and signing her new book.  I merrily roamed Chapters tugging the wheely cart behind me and tossing into it any books that struck my fancy.  This is how I met Ross, your friendly neighbourhood Chapters employee, who much to my surprise, really new his stuff.  His enthusiasm for particular titles was infectious and I tossed several of them into my cart.  This particular book still bears the sticker with “Staff Pick by Ross” on it.

When I got it:   October 2017

Why I want to read it:  The premise is very “Ready Player One”; young adult sci-fi intrigue with a male lead.  Eager to finish my current read to get to this one.

Kinsey and Me

GraftonSweeps3I had a different post planned for today but the death of Sue Grafton has left me feeling sad and nostalgic. For decades I have loved her stories, eagerly anticipating the next chapter in Kinsey’s story. Z is for Zero was set to be published within the next two years, and I was already wondering what Grafton would write next. Now the alphabet ends with Y and Kinsey’s story will remain unfinished.

In a previous post I talked about my love of mystery stories and Nancy a is for alibiDrew. In my teen years I quickly progressed to more “adult” books with Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton (I’ve always hated the age-labelling of books but that’s another post). I finished Grafton’s A is for Alibi and was forever after enamoured with her detective, Kinsey Millhone. Kinsey is flawed, independent and resourceful; and I wanted to be her. I even went through a spell of wanting to go to detective school; train to be a PI like Kinsey and Nancy Drew before her. That never happened but still I lived vicariously through Kinsey with B is for Burgler, C is for Corpse and, most recently, Y is for Yesterday.

There are certain people we may never know or meet but who have an everlasting impact on us. For me Sue Grafton was one of those people. Thank you, Ms. Grafton, for years of wonderful stories. You live on in Kinsey, and I look forward to my reread.

An Admission and a Resolution

new-year-2018-100745093-large I have an addiction. One I’ve had most of my life. Like most addictions, I wasn’t born with it; it developed over time, influenced by external experiences and factors. Although unrecognized at the time, my addiction took hold at the age of eleven. Almost every penny of my modest allowance was being spent on books. I wasn’t at the point where I was borrowing to feed my addiction; but only because they don’t issue credit cards to eleven year olds. Now many might say they also buy a lot of books, it doesn’t mean they have an addiction. Completely possible, but that’s not me. Just like a compulsion to drink, or gamble or play video games, I can’t stop buying books. It wasn’t really too much of a problem until the advent of the internet. Now my addiction can be fed with the click of a button. I finish a book, click a button and am reading the next book within seconds.

need-booksConvenient yes? Read a book, buy your next one. Sure, but for compulsive book buyers it poses quite a problem. I don’t just buy one book, I buy eight. I download cheapies and specials and those that look interesting. I spend time on Amazon and Goodreads checking out all their recommendations and adding to both my Kobo and my Kindle. And I still indulge occasionally in an afternoon at Indigo, adding to my physical library, which is housed on my main floor. I have tried getting books only from the library but I’m not good at waiting for what I want. I’ve tried going cold turkey, telling myself “you may not buy a book until you’ve read what you have” but really that’s just not feasible as long as Dan Brown and Joy Fielding are still writing.

The result. I now have more books than I could every hope to read. I have books I don’t even know I have and, more than once, I’ve purchased the same book twice. Two days ago I sat down to gather some hard stats. With an idea of what I might discover, I created a reading list of all the books in my library I have yet to read. So far I’ve only compiled the books from my electronic devices yet already the numbers are illustrating the stark reality of my addiction. I can only imagine what my list will look like once I add all the physical books from my library. And that only includes books I’m still interested in reading. I figure, at my current reading speed, it will take me five years to read the entire list.

So, a New Year’s resolution. I know I will not be able to stop buying books completely, but I can stop buying everything that looks interesting. I can stop buying a book because I like the size or cover, or because it will look good on my shelf. I can stop buying book 3 of a series if I have yet to start book 2. I can stop looking at the recommendations on Amazon and Goodreads. (Well, that last one might be pushing it, but it’s worth a try). And I can keep the prioritized list visible, working my way through it and crossing off as I go. I love crossing things off a list.

I know that new must-haves will come out, and I will buy them, but if I can redefine what “must-have” means I may stand a chance.

If only I didn’t have to work. It takes up so much reading time!!

A Boy and His Demon

novice imageThe Novice by Taran Matharu

          Fletcher has no idea how he ended up in Pelt working as a blacksmith’s apprentice but he loves his adoptive father and life is pretty good despite the war going on around them.  A chance meeting leads to the discovery that he has the rare ability to summon demons.  Forced to flee the village for a crime he didn’t commit, he travels with his demon, Ignatius to the academy for Summoners where he is taught the ancient art.

Classes are gruelling and the divide between nobles and commoners is trying but Fletcher finds he is unusually gifted and prepares to serve as a Battlemage in the war against the Orcs.  Rivalries grow and betrayal is rampant as Fletcher must decide who to trust.

I’ve always enjoyed books with a male lead and Fletcher doesn’t let me down.  He’s a well-developed character, heroic yet flawed and I really enjoyed the relationship between him and his demon, Ignatius.  Even all the minor characters came from well thought out backgrounds.  The plot is nothing new (Hero’s Journey and all that) but for some reason, I didn’t mind.  Fletcher was believable and the relationships he formed worked for me.

I have just started the third book in the series and am still enthralled with the world that Matharu has created.

Rating:  4.5 stars             Recommended for 11+.

 

What if it was you?

5-12-Esperanza-Rising1With what’s happening in the US right now in regards to immigrants and immigrant rights, I was reminded of a wonderful story I read for one of my Masters courses.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a story of drastic change and the necessity of adaptation.  It’s a story of extreme racism and stereotypes.  Our heroine, Esperanza is forced to flee Mexico with her family.  She has been exceeding wealthy all her life but suddenly she finds herself on the outside looking in.  She is now one of the poor she used to judge. The novel opens our eyes to the hopes and dreams of those who came to the “new world”, looking for a better life.  For some, like Esperanza, it is to escape from possible hardship and even death.  This book really makes you think and question but it is not a difficult read.  A straightforward story with a wonderful reflection on how we treat others.

I not sure what the answers are regarding immigration, but I do know that I’m an immigrant and Canada has gifted me with a wonderful life in a beautiful country.  While I understand the need to protect citizen’s rights, I sometimes think we lose sight of exactly how privileged we are.  How can we deny basic freedoms to others if we have the capacity to provide them?  Just as Esperanza discovered, we should be careful because who knows?  One day it could be us.

Ages: 10 and up            Rating:   4 stars

 

 

What If You Could Buy Immortality?

cover_replica

Replica by Jenna Black

I’m not sure how I came to read Replica, but it doesn’t seem to be one that everyone’s talking about (or was talking about) but it should be.

Sixteen-year-old Nadia Lake lives in a futuristic society where human replication technology is a reality; carefully controlled by its creator, Paxco. Nadia comes from a high-class family and lives a life of privilege, although she’s not too keen on the paparazzi that follows her everywhere; eager for the latest on the fiance of notorious playboy, Nathan Hayes, heir to Paxco.

They’re not in love but they are friends and everyone appears satisfied with their match. That is until Nate is killed and the wrong person was the last to see him alive. When the new Nate wakes up in the replication chambers he is missing a month of memories. Nadia and Nate set out to find the killer and prevent the world from discovering Nate’s secret, a secret that could destroy everything they know.

Replica has riveting characters and an intricate plot. I loved the friendship between Nadia and Nathan and how they looked after each other. The idea of being unable to die is not new but the twist of being born a replica intrigued me. Also, it was interesting to see how the replicas were treated by their society even if they were the elite when they were “alive”. There are two more books in the series. I highly recommend them all but put the first just that bit above the others.

Ages: Teen

Rating: 5 stars for this part of the series (4 for the others)

Do Childhood Books Shape Who We Become?

back to schoolAs I was immersed in the chaos of the first week of school (and wondering how I could ever have forgotten the ear-shattering decibel level of 200+ girls in one room), I started thinking about how the books we read as children shape who we become.

I grew up in a world long before DVD’s and 500 channels. I grew up in a world WELL before smartphones, the internet and instantaneous information. Books were my world and my library card was my best friend. I was born in England and each week, from the time I could walk, my mother would take me to town to buy a new Ladybird book. We immigrated to Canada when I was three and my books and British heritage came with me. My parents read to me constantly until I started school and by that time I was reading my own books. Every three weeks, I would go to the library with my aunt and take out 10 books, as that was the most I was allowed.

malory towersI don’t remember the first Enid Blyton book I read, but I remember systematically working my way through her entire repertoire (and our small town library had them all). For those of you not familiar with her work, she wrote adventure stories and child detective/club stories in the 40’s and 50’s. As much as I loved her Adventure series, I loved her boarding school stories even more. I loved school and could think of nothing more exciting than living at school! Classes, and strict teachers, and living with friends and studying at night! I wanted to wear a sharp uniform, abide by the rules and go to an all-girl school too! The fact that Ms. Blyton was describing life during her own time period never occurred to my 8 year old self. To me, that was what school was like in England and I wanted to go there, not to my boring old school in Canada.

From these stories, I learned the rules of acceptable behavior and respect, that at 16 you acted like an adult and that doing your studies was of primary importance. It was a bit of a shock to me when I visited England at the age of 11 and discovered that English schools were really no different than my own (other than the sloppily worn uniforms). I visited my mum’s old school, met my aunt who was a teacher and went to school for a day. It was shattering to discover the truth. I never told anyone that I cried myself to sleep that night; cried for the loss of what I had thought to be real.

The true irony came 30 years later when I accepted my first teaching job at an all girls private school, and to top it all off, I was to live and work in the residence with the girls. Part of me still expected boarding school to be like I always understood it to be; because really, I never had visited a boarding school. I was a stickler for rules and always insisted the girls wear their uniform properly. It annoyed me when other teachers looked the other way or worse, didn’t even seem to notice. I taught full time and lived in the residence for four years before moving out and becoming a day teacher.   I’m still a stickler for the rules and usually end up with at least one confiscated cell phone on my desk each day. There’s a system in my classroom; a way the tables go, the chairs must all be pushed in and computers stay in their bags by the door unless we’re using them. And absolutely no cracking of any body part. That one actually has a sign on the wall.

My idea of school never really went away. What I learned in those stories as a child became part of me. I love my students and I love my job but I often wonder if I was born in the wrong time period.

Images:  The Malory Towers picture is my own.

Back to School is was Posted by Kolej T6 Haji Zainul Abidin – https://smkhzapenang.blogspot.ca/2016/03/

The Wonders of Auggie

Wonder_Cover_Art Wonder was recommended to me by a young friend who really enjoyed it and thought I might too. Being the highly intuitive young man that he is, I knew better than to doubt him and downloaded it immediately. Wonder is the story of August, a ten-year-old boy who has been home-schooled his whole life. It’s not like he doesn’t have friends, or is behind intellectually, but still his parents have decided it’s time to go to school. Begin with all the other new kids entering middle school in grade 5. August is adamant about not going. You see, August has what he calls mandibulofacial dysostosis, which, as I read the description, sounded a lot like Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare condition characterized by severe facial deformity. Really he’s just an ordinary ten-year-old but few tend to work their way past the surface to find that out. Auggie’s used to the glances, the second looks, the looking away when people don’t know what to say. Middle school is hard enough as it is without looking different. After meeting the principal and touring the school, Auggie decides to go, beginning a journey that is both touching and inspiring.

What I loved most about this book is that it’s told from a variety of viewpoints. The first section is from Auggie’s point of view, then the same incidents are reviewed and the story is continued from his sister’s point of view. We then hear the story of Auggie’s journey through the first year of middle school from a continuing succession of his classmates and even his sister’s boyfriend, before returning to Auggie. The reader views the same incident from two or three view points, an invaluable lesson for many children as they learn to think outside of themselves.  Also, the author never loses sight of the characters’ voice. I could see and hear these children telling their story; the slang was right, the vocabulary was right, and the actions and uncertainties rang true.

Wonder is a exceptional story from start to finish. One of the most valuable lessons we can pass on to the next generation is to see through another’s eyes; feel what another is feeling and try to understand the reasons for another’s actions and reactions.

Not only does Wonder make us think, and hopefully make our children think, it’s also an enjoyable read. Never did I feel as if I was being preached at, which is what put it over the top for me because, trust me, kids know when they are being preached at.

Ages: 8-12              Rating: 5 stars

 

First Love

So let’s see, there was my horsey phase and my search for cat books. Both of these phases were defined as me reading every book I could get my hands on with the sought after theme. As I moved into my teen years, I followed the seemingly common trend of moving into the Romance phase. I get the feeling that the phase begins much earlier chronologically now than it did when I was young, still I was about 11 or 12 when I discovered Harlequin category romances. You remember, the sweet ones. When it was all about the relationship, the “spark” and the “longing”. The heroines were always virgins, there was kissing but no sex, and always a marriage proposal/understanding at the end.

As with all my other phases, I read every Harlequin I could get my hands on. And honestly there were some great stories which still stick with me. Devil on Horseback by Elizabeth Graham The Ice Maiden by Sally Wentworth and One of the Boys by Janet Dailey to name a few. I’m curious to read them again and see if my cynical adult brain would feel differently about them – yet at the same time I don’t want to know.

first loveHarlequin and Silhouette dominated the romance market back then and they eventually realized what a huge market they could tap into by targeting teens. In 1981 Harlequin premiered their Sweet Dream line and a few months later along came Silhouette with their First Love series. sweet dreamI bought every one that hit the shelves for quite a while and devoured them. Cliquey Pizza has a wonderful post about the Silhouette series on her blog that details many of the titles.  Each of these books dealt with the usual high school drama of first loves, first dates, friend drama etc.  These stand-alone novels were immensely popular and led to the introduction in 1983 of the mega popular continuing teen series, Sweet Valley High. But that’s a separate post all it’s own. More to come on that front.

Category romances have evolved dramatically since my childhood days and, having no interest in reading sex scenes, I stopped reading them ages ago. I did move onto regular romance like Johanna Lindsey and Julie Garwood for awhile, but eventually stopped those too as I grew more cynical about the whole idea of love.

Recent trends towards erotica are not surprising but just as all my high school trends are returning (think legwarmers and leggings) it appears the “sweet” form of romance is also making a comeback. Readers are looking for “new and different”. They’re tired of the “norm” and what could be more new and different today than no explicit sex, no kink and no sleeping around. Interesting idea. Looking forward to seeing how the trend evolves.