Tara Calaby

writer & editor

Tag: romance (page 1 of 4)

Recap: (SVH19) Showdown – Francine Pascal

Showdown coverThis basically has to be amazing. It’s about Lila and Jess and how they’re the original (and best) frenemies. The only way it could’ve been better is if Bruce were somehow fighting for Jack’s affections as well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Toward the end of Head Over Heels Lila meets Jack, a construction worker on a site near her father’s office. He seems far too attractive to really be working class, so she decides he must have a mysterious story behind his manual labouring job. Because no one smart or good looking ever has to worry about making rent, amiright?

Anyway, by the time Showdown begins, Lila’s completely enamoured of the Jack she’s created in her own mind. Jack doesn’t exactly help, fuelling her fantasies with talk of a privileged former life that seems to meet even Lila’s lofty standards. Is this Lila’s happily ever after?

You’re kidding, right? This is Sweet Valley.

You see, Jessica thinks Jack is pretty hot too. She and Cara have a pact not to go after the same boys, but this is Lila, which basically makes Jack even more attractive to Jess. She flirts outrageously with him, hands him her number, and is gleeful when he calls.

From this point on, Jack plays the two-timing cad role perfectly. He spends the weekends with Lila, and sees Jess mid-week. Jess’s relationship with him is a secret, which means she’s left to fume when Lila boasts about her perfect dates with Jack, only being appeased when Jack tells her that Lila has completely the wrong idea and that he only sees her as a friend.

Meanwhile, Jack tells Lila that he wants her to be his wife one day and she decides that means they’re engaged. (I want to roll my eyes at all this, but I remember what I was like at sixteen and I’m pretty sure I would have been just as gullible and ridiculous as Lila is in this book.) It’s a secret engagement, though, on Jack’s say-so. Wouldn’t want his other girlfriend finding out!

With all this build-up, you’d assume that the climax would involve Lila walking in on Jess and Jack. You’d be wrong. You’d be right if you assumed that Nicholas Morrow’s school friend would recognise Jack from back when they were all at Prep school together and Jack was a complete psychopath who flipped out on his girlfriend because he’s been unstable ever since he lost his entire family. You’d also be right if you assumed that Jessica would find a regular pharmacy of illegal drugs in Jack’s bathroom while visiting his hovel and would be stupid enough to confront him about them. You’d continue to be right if you assumed that everything would end with a knife fight and Jessica disarming Jack with a perfectly executed cheerleading kick.

Don’t let anyone tell you that cheerleading is a waste of time.

The subplot in this one is ~thematically linked~ to the main plot, which is quite surprising for Sweet Valley. Liz receives a group of photos to publish in the Oracle and it turns out that one of them shows her beloved Enid’s boyfriend cheating on her with Robin. Who used to be fat. When confronted, George and Robin say that it just happened and that they didn’t mean to cheat on Enid, or Robin’s boyfriend, Allen. Apparently they just fell and accidentally snogged for half an hour or something. It happens.

This is a thoroughly fun book, and not just because it’s Lila-centric. The plot is pleasantly tropey without being too predictable and Jack the Ripper Labourer is a great villain from the daytime soap mould.

Moral of the Story? Everyone cheats.

Recap: (SVH18) Head Over Heels – Francine Pascal

Head Over Heels coverBruce Patman is actually in love—with someone other than himself! He’s fallen for Regina Morrow, the rich, beautiful new girl, who is a recent cover model and the most inspirational of all the inspirationally disabled girls. (In case you’ve forgotten, she’s deaf, but can read lips and speak perfectly. A nice, non-confronting disability that doesn’t inconvenience anyone but her.) Now that he and Regina are together, Bruce has changed. He’s opening car doors for Regina and buying her expensive jewellery and even inviting her to the Patman mansion for dinner. (He still wears a teeny-tiny bathing suit, though, so it’s not like everything has changed.)

Regina’s in love too. She’s never so much as kissed a boy before Bruce, and now she’s head-over-heels. But just as she gets her first boyfriend and starts to really feel like she’s a part of the Sweet Valley crowd, her family drops an amazing bombshell on her: there’s a doctor in Switzerland who should be able to give her the ability to hear. The downside is that she’ll have to move there for an entire year, leaving behind Bruce and the first time she’s felt like a ~normal~ teenager.

Regina, being a teenage girl, decides that staying with Bruce is more important than being able to hear. Her family try to convince her otherwise, even bringing a former patient of the doctor to stay with them to show Regina what she’ll be missing out on (and to enable a brief mistaken identity side plot in which Todd, yet again, suspects Liz of cheating on him and no one thinks that perhaps it could be an identical twin sister situation).

Meanwhile, Jess is trying to break Regina and Bruce up, because she has a term paper bet going with Lila that they’ll be over before the charity carnival the SVH students are putting on. She just happens to let it slip that Ken thinks that Bruce is only dating Regina to boost his popularity in order to become president of the centenary committee. Now that is a dedicated campaign tactic.

It’s Sweet Valley, so of course Bruce and Regina have a massive bust-up due to their complete failure to communicate. Regina decides to go to Switzerland for treatment after all and it’s left to Liz to explain to Bruce why Regina was so upset with him. The new Bruce is loving and selfless, so of course he puts Regina’s health before his own selfish desire to be with her, and ensures that she goes abroad anyway.

It’s all so sugary, I have a toothache.

As much as I prefer the real Bruce to the lovestruck changeling he was replaced by as soon as Regina walked into his life, this is actually one of the better-written books, I think. The inspirationally disabled trope gets really old really quickly when it comes to Regina (especially when she manages to read lips that she can’t even see), but she and Bruce are actually a likeable pairing and I do appreciate the fact that Regina’s health and future are shown to be more important than her brand-new high school romance.

Moral of the Story? Love turns cheating players into crying pussycats.

Recap: (SVH16) Rags to Riches – Francine Pascal

Rags to Riches coverThe most important part of this book is the Wakefields getting their first ever VCR. They got one almost a decade before my family did. Ripped off.

Anyway, this book is mostly just a slightly re-jigged version of Racing Hearts, which, in turn, was an awful lot like Heart Breaker. This time it’s Jessica who’s after Roger, though, instead of Lila. The reason? Roger’s mother has just died and he’s found out that he’s actually a Patman—and the richest boy in Sweet Valley. Ever the gold-digger, Jess thinks she’d rather like to be the girl on Roger’s arm when his new-found aunt and uncle present him to society their friends at a big party at the Sweet Valley country club. Whether Jessica is actually genuinely interested in Roger is a question we’ll probably never learn the answer to. She’s genuinely interested in the Patman mansion, and that’s the important thing.

Roger’s still dating Olivia Davidson, but she doesn’t really fit in with the Patmans’ swanky décor. Jessica selflessly (ha!) offers to help her out. Given that Jess has never shown the slightest bit of interest in Olivia before, you kind of end up feeling that Olivia deserves everything she gets if she’s stupid enough to think that Jess would do anything without an ulterior motive.

Under Jess’s careful guidance (cheered on by Roger’s new aunt and Bruce’s mother, Maria Patman), Olivia just ends up embarrassing herself further, eventually leading to a big fight between her and Roger, who’s starting to act a little Patman by this point. Of course, in the end Elizabeth works out what’s going on and makes sure that it’s Olivia, not Jessica, that gets to accompany Roger to the party. Jess cares for about five minutes.

The subplot in this one is that Regina Morrow has been missing school and has been spotted with a much older man. Lila’s totally jealous that there’s another extremely rich and extremely pretty girl in Sweet Valley now, so she’s careful to spread the rumours as far as possible through the usual method of telling Caroline “Town Crier” Pearce. One day she decides to follow Regina, and discovers that she’s actually been rushing off to modelling shoots, because she’s going to be on the cover of Ingenue magazine. Lila being Lila, she figures that she can steal the cover from Regina, just as soon as the talent scout sees her. So she turns up in over-sprayed hair, a circus-worth of make-up and is told that her face is too flat for modelling. Poor darling :(

Also, Todd flips out at Liz for refusing to tell him Regina’s secret. Lovely boy that he is.

Despite this basically being the third time this general plotline has been rolled out in the mere sixteen books that constitute the series so far, it’s done quite well and the different story lines keep it interesting. It’s not one of my absolute favourites, but it’s definitely a solid offering.

Incidentally, normally I’m a Lila/Bruce shipper, but I actually ship him and Jess a bit in this book. They’re perfectly devious together. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Patman could get behind the ship as well, given how much she adores Jessica.

Moral of the Story? Devious schemes are doomed to fail.

Recap: (SVH14) Deceptions – Francine Pascal

Deceptions coverWhen I was first reading these books, many moons ago, I used to think that Nicholas Morrow was pretty dishy. Perhaps it was because he’s one of the few Sweet Valley Boys who actually looks pretty handsome on the book covers; perhaps I was just taught to lower my expectations by Todd Wilkins. Either way, I was all about the Nicholas, so it made perfect sense to me that Liz would agree to go on a date with him, despite being in an exclusive relationship with Todd.

Of course, as an adult, I look at things very differently. Let’s see what really happens in this book:

* Nicholas apparently falls in love with Elizabeth at first sight, despite her looking exactly like her sister, whom he managed not to fall in love with, even when he was talking to her for hours.

* Nicholas pressures Liz into a date, not listening to her repeated attempts to fend him off and basically telling her that she’s too young to make her own dating decisions… so he’ll make them for her! (Nice boy, right? Give me Bruce’s overt sleaze over Nicholas’s nice guy tactics any day.)

* Liz knows that Jess is desperately head-over-heels for Nicholas. She’s also blatantly aware of her own relationship with Todd. She’s in love with Todd, remember. (It’s not like we’re told at least once per book.) She still decides to go on a date with Nicholas.

* Liz then proceeds to lie to Jessica and Todd about the date.

* Jess continues to pursue Nicholas. Liz doesn’t bother to tell her that she’s wasting her time because Nicholas is love with someone else—her.

* Liz heads off to her date with Nicholas, making sure to put way more effort than normal into her appearance. But she’s not interested in him at all, guys! Really she’s not!

* Oh no! Todd’s out for dinner with his parents at the exact same restaurant that his girlfriend’s on a date with another boy! Who could’ve seen that coming!

* Understandably, he’s more than a little put out by bumping into Liz and Nicholas. Instead of trying to explain to Todd, Liz pretends to be Jessica, because what’s a little more deception by this point in time?

* Todd heads to the Wakefield house to apologise to Liz for thinking ill of her. Jess answers the door in a towel, Todd smooches her, Jess corrects his misconception (after complementing his snogging skills) and The Truth Outs.

* Jess stays mad at Liz for about five minutes, because she’s finally realised just how boring Nicholas is, but Todd resolves to break up with Liz and starts giving her the silent treatment.

* Liz mopes around the school and Todd almost blows the basketball championship because he’s so upset about his girlfriend cheating on him.

* It all works out okay, though, because Nicholas goes in to talk to Todd at half time. Todd doesn’t punch him (WHAT?) and actually listens to what Nicholas has to say. Once a boy tells him not to worry about the date and that Liz’s purity remains intact, Todd perks up immediately and heads right out to win the championship single-handed. Nicholas has apologised for borrowing Todd’s property, so that’s what matters.

* Liz gets off completely scot-free.

Side plot: Jess flirts with Randy Mason and eventually convinces his Jess-struck self to change her math mark on the school’s new computer. He has a near-immediate crisis of conscience and decides to confess to Chrome Dome Cooper. Liz discovers what’s happened and forces Jess to face the music with him, because it’s important that people admit their mistakes, apologise and make restitution.


Honestly, the way that Jess is punished heavily for everything she does, while Liz gets away with murder, is one of the hardest things to digest when it comes to these books.

Oh, and Nicholas Morrow is a paternalistic creep.


Moral of the Story? Elizabeth Wakefield can do no wrong. Especially when she does.

Recap: (SVH12) When Love Dies – Francine Pascal

When Love Dies coverMuch to Jessica’s dislike, Steven and Tricia are still happily in love… or are they?

The truth is, Tricia’s been cancelling dates and refusing to take Steven’s calls. He’s completely devastated—especially when rumours start going around about Tricia dating other men. Eventually he confronts her and accuses her of heading off on a dirty weekend with a new beau (remember, guys, Tricia’s still in high school) and they break up. But we soon discover that Tricia’s not cheating at all but instead harbouring a Very Big Secret. She’s dying of leukaemia, and wants to spare Steve the misery of watching her fade away. Because thinking your first love is cheating on you and then later finding out she’s dead is obviously a bed of roses.

Meanwhile, Jess has heard that one of her favourite celebrities is currently stuck in Fowler Memorial Hospital with a broken leg, so she persuades Liz to join her as a candy striper so she can meet him and he can fall madly in love with her jailbait self. Liz somehow doesn’t see right through Jess’s claim that she wants to give back to the community, despite knowing her scheming twin for over sixteen years. It soon becomes obvious what Jess is really after, though, when she starts harassing the poor man every chance she gets.

Cara’s always been hot for Steve, so with Tricia out of the way, Jess decides to throw her bestie and her brother together. Initially, Steve stays true to the memory of his ex, but before long he’s snogging Cara and taking her to college parties, despite still thinking she’s shallow and annoying. As you can see, using people runs in the Wakefield family.

Liz finds out Tricia’s secret when she runs into her at the hospital, but Tricia makes Liz promise not to tell anyone. Here’s one of the few times where the Sweet Valley books actually teach their junior readers a valid lesson, because it’s made very obvious that some promises are damaging and shouldn’t be kept. Liz angsts about it for a few chapters, pausing occasionally to scheme with Jeremy Frank about frightening Jessica into getting over him by proposing.

She says yes, but it’s a very short-lived engagement.

Eventually Liz decides to tell Steven the truth about Tricia’s strange behaviour and the two crazy kids are reunited, pausing only for Steven to thoroughly criticise Cara, never once thinking that perhaps his own rebound behaviour could be called into question.

Everything ends happily! Except for Cara, who’s been dumped by the guy she’s been crushing on forever. And for Tricia, who’s still dying. Oh, and for Elizabeth, who’s just been kidnapped by Creepy Carl the hospital orderly she was stupid enough to be nice to once.

Cliffhanger time!

This is one of the best early books in the series. There’s a light-hearted Jessica plot to counter all the doom and gloom of Steven and Tricia’s star-crossed love, and Cara gets to have her first featured role. As is often the case in Sweet Valley, everything could have been sorted out in a tenth of the time if people actually communicated honestly with each other… but where would be the story in that?

Moral of the Story? Don’t accuse your girlfriend of cheating. She could just be dying and then how would you feel?

Recap: (SVH9) Racing Hearts – Francine Pascal

Racing Hearts coverAre you reading these books in order? Well, you probably already know most of the plot of this one, as much of it’s repeated from the novel you only just read: SVH8 Heart Breaker. Switch Roger in for Bill, Lila in for Jessica and running for surfing and you’re on your way.

Roger Barrett is scruffy and totally in love with Lila Fowler. I mean, who could blame him? She’s the best brunette Queen Bee around. The trouble is, Lila has zero time for him—that is, until he races right into her heart by becoming the favourite to win the Bart: the prestigious Sweet Valley footrace that awards a scholarship to college. Suddenly, Roger’s super famous and, just as suddenly, Lila decides he’s actually rather cute after all. The only problem is, he’s about as shy as he is good at running, which means he spends most of the book running from his beloved Lila’s advances.

If you did read the last book, you’ll also remember that Roger Barrett is a (gasp!) janitor at Ned Wakefield’s office building. Rich girl Lila is about as tolerant of poor people as she is of last season’s fashions. So nothing good is likely to come of Jess deciding that she’s going to get her legal career started early by working at her father’s office after school, given that she’s sworn off boys completely after the Bill Chase incident. The inevitable happens and Jess hooks up with a boy (operative word: boy) from one of the other offices… and runs into Roger in his full janitor regalia.

Jess and Lila are the original frenemies, so this bit of information is delicious to Jess. Liz somehow persuades Jess to keep it to herself, though—at least for a while.

This book’s DeeDee is Olivia Davidson, the arts editor for the Oracle, who is known for her truly ~individual~ (read: awful) fashion sense. She’s Roger’s best friend and madly in love with him. With Lila after him now, though, does she have any chance at all?

If you read Heart Breaker, you can probably answer that yourself.

This has to be a good SVH instalment because it’s full of Lila, with plenty of Jess as well and not a whole lot of Elizabeth. Oh, and Lila’s poem about Roger is pure gold.

Moral of the Story? Thrift store threads trump Gaultier glamour.

Recap: (SVH8) Heart Breaker – Francine Pascal

Heart Breaker coverFirst things first: take a look at that absolute hunk of manhood on the front cover. I’m not sure whether standards were just that different in the early eighties or whether the cover artist was playing a joke on all the readers who had to read about Bill Chase being good looking without bursting into laughter every time they caught sight of his portrait.

The book itself follows one of the most popular SVH patterns: someone suddenly becomes more interesting to the general school populace and Jessica or one of her friends decides to make a play for them. (See also: Racing Hearts, Rags to Riches, etc etc etc) This one has the added element of Jess doing it all for sweet sweet revenge because Bill was stupid enough to refuse her invitation to accompany her to a school dance, once upon a time. Revenge in this case is Jess making the foolish boy fall desperately in love with her, and then dangling him on a string for the majority of the book.

There’s also one of the first big continuity issues with the books, courtesy of Jess getting surfing lessons from Bill when one of the early books talk about how excellent a surfer she is.

Of course, over on the sidelines, there’s a girl who has always been there for the boy, and in this case that’s DeeDee Gordon, who artfully conspires to almost drown in order to get some mouth-to-mouth from her crush. (Except this isn’t Jess we’re talking about, so she really does almost drown. But it’s okay—there’ll be a fake drowning in a few books’ time.)

Meanwhile, Liz is having conniptions because Todd’s ex-girlfriend is back in town, and she is far too beautiful for Liz’s liking. Everyone feels the need to tell Liz how in-love Todd and Patsy used to be, and Liz decides that one hug means that Todd is absolutely cheating on her and refuses to so much as speak to him ~forever~, conveniently forgetting that in the last book she was hooking up with every boy in Sweet Valley and letting 1BRUCE1 touch her boobs, while I doubt Todd’s even allowed to look at them.

Another continuity issue here, although this time it’s an inter-series one, with Todd apparently having been with Patsy before he even knew Liz, whereas we Sweet Valley tragics know he was her first kiss in Sweet Valley Twins and one of her good friends in Sweet Valley Kids. I guess it’s like the different Marvel universes. Sweet Valley 616?

This is one of my less-favoured early books, largely due to me finding Bill Chase extraordinarily dull. Duller even than Todd Dull As Dishwater Wilkins.

Moral of the Story? Drowning is super sexy.

Recap: (SVH5) All Night Long – Francine Pascal

All Night LongThis is one of the many early Sweet Valley books where a boy goes way past a girl’s boundaries, doesn’t care about her protests, and tells her off for leading him on because apparently going on a date with someone is agreeing to sex. In this one, it’s particularly bad, because the boy in question has an eighties pornstache.

The All Night Long part only takes up the very start of the book, with the rest of the focus being on Liz pretending to be Jess so that they can both get jobs as tour guides (which is immediately forgotten once the book is done). In the middle of it all, Liz and Todd have a blazing row (as always) and Liz is thus in no state to be sitting tour guide tests. She’s lived in Sweet Valley all her life. How hard is it to remember stuff about your home town, anyway?

Jess gets a double-comeuppance in this one (the job stuff and a whopping case of poison ivy), while Liz gets away with everything, as always.

Now with added Enid-being-totally-in-love-with-Elizabeth and a Sudden Surf Championship!

Moral of the Story? If you date a college boy, you’re asking for it.

Key Characters: Jess & Liz, with a side of Todd

Review: All American Girl – Meg Cabot

All American Girl book coverI’ve never read any of the Princess Diaries books. My library never has the first one in, and the movie put me off them a bit, because Anne Hathaway bugs me, and I’m exceedingly shallow. So I think All American Girl might be the first full-length Meg Cabot book that I’ve ever read. I picked it up at a library book sale, expecting it to be a light and fluffy read that I could then pass on, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. It’s a clever and fun contemporary romance, which I shan’t be giving away after all!

Sam is an enjoyable heroine, who has a strong personality. My favourite part about the novel was the way that she grows throughout its pages, learning to see the world and the people around her in a more mature way. Although All American Girl is not strictly a coming-of-age story, there is still a great deal of character growth shown here. Sam’s art lessons, and her struggle to paint what she sees, instead of what she believes she knows, form a perfect metaphor for her parallel reassessment of her family, her long-term crush, and the other people in her life.

I can’t stand the phrase “Leader of the Free World” as a synonym for “American president”, because the US president is not my leader, thankyouverymuch. It’s used multiple times in All American Girl, but I get the impression that Cabot uses it ironically, given the way she portrays the president and his actions. If so, it’s another example of the clever writing and characterisation that makes the novel stand out a little from the crowd of contemporary romances.

Speaking of the romance, it’s also nicely done. There’s a love triangle of sorts, but only in the sense that Meg is torn between her long-held “love” for Jack (her older sister’s boyfriend) and the “frisson” between her and David. I particularly enjoyed the way that Jack’s character failings are never specifically detailed, but rather the reader is allowed to form their own conclusions from his behaviour.

All American Girl is, indeed, fluffy teen romance, but it’s a strong example of the genre. Perhaps I should try the Princess Diaries after all!

Review: Ex-mas – Kate Brian

Ex-mas book coverEx-mas is enjoyably fluffy. Like many contemporary romances, it’s rather predictable, but the storyline is pleasant and the writing style is low-key and unobtrusive. I read it on public transport, and it’s the perfect sort of book for that situation. You don’t have to think too much, and it’s likeable enough that the time passes quickly.

I’m a big fan of queen bees, so I got excited when I realised that Lila was one of the two most popular girls in her school. This isn’t a story about popularity, however, but rather one about the choice between being popular and being yourself. In this sense, it has a good message, but I found Lila’s dilemma a little unconvincing, given that she’d spent three years working at gaining and maintaining her place in the social hierarchy of her school. That shows commitment!

I struggled to find the connection between Lila and Beau convincing as well. For starters, their background is that they dated through middle-school and into their freshman year, and this is represented as having been an extremely serious relationship, with them being in love with each other. I really needed them to be aged up a little if I were to believe in their past and their rightness for each other. In contrast, Lila’s three year relationship with Erik is written more like a three month relationship. I know dating is different in America, but it still didn’t ring true to me – especially as Lila’s memories of Beau being controlling are never really addressed.

Then again, it never pays to think too deeply about a lot of novels, and Ex-mas is entertaining enough that I was able to put aside my questions and enjoy the plot. Road trip stories are always fun, and here the purpose for the trip adds an extra element of interest to the story.

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