March 2015: romances read

This is really a “just for me” post. I’m trying to ease back into my regular reading habits, after a period of distraction, so I’m flailing around a bit grasping at possible motivating habits to keep myself on track.

Romances this month:

best friend to wife

Best Friend to Wife and Mother by Caroline Anderson. I hate the title (so much so that I’m puzzled as to why I pre-ordered it, actually), but I ended up liking the book quite a lot. The relaxed visit with a large Italian family did wonders for my nerves (and filled me with envy tbh), and the baby was neither an annoyingly precocious moppet nor one of those “wonder babies” that show up in books needing no care whatsoever. I mean, she was still a terribly GOOD baby, but not inhumanly so.

a pregnancy a party a proposal

A Pregnancy, a Party & a Proposal by Teresa Carpenter. Did someone else pre-order a bunch of books for me? Because these titles are really, really terrible, and don’t appeal to me personally at all. Although I suppose this one has the virtue of announcing its contents precisely, because that’s exactly what happened. This was nice and readable, and kept me up an hour past my usual bedtime because I was in the mood to gulp down a romance in one evening (which hasn’t happened in a long time), but I’ve forgotten the details already.

mother by fate

Mother by Fate by Tara Taylor Quinn. Ha. That title’s not just bad, it’s threatening. Like children might just start SHOWING UP in your life because you are FATED to be a mother and that’s all there is to it. But the book itself was wonderful. This is easily my favourite of the romances I’ve read in the last while (not that I’ve been reading many. *sigh*), and I can’t even explain why without getting mildly incoherent with enthusiasm. The heroine works at a women’s shelter, and I SO WISH that The Lemonade Stand was real so I could volunteer or donate or something, because it’s wonderful. A well-funded, well-run, perfect-in-every-respect shelter is a nice bit of fantasy. The heroine is also admirable, and appears to have swallowed The Gift of Fear at some point, because she has way better self-control and gut instincts than many heroines (or actual people–I was nowhere near as careful and self-possessed when I was younger). I want to shove the book into people’s hands and say “This. This is what I mean” during conversations about being careful and taking precautions. She’s also dealing with a horrible ex, and yet dealing with him in an adult, appropriate way that avoided that “Saint Doormat who lets horrible people treat her horribly” standard of behaviour still found in way too many romances.

Sweet Valley Twins Super Chillers, OMG

Wow, February was pretty much a total write-off for me. All I did was shovel snow and read children’s books. For a variety of reasons I won’t bore you with (they boil down to stress and busyness) I couldn’t concentrate on anything any more demanding than Sweet Valley Twins.

They are SO CUTE. Okay, I never actually read any of these before now, but I recently binge-purchased a whole stack of them, and February being what it was (dreariness and suckage, though also thankfulness for my family and my neighbours) I finally tackled them. So far I’ve read five Super Chillers. (Eventually I will track down the four I’m missing, but right now I’m sticking to reading the stuff I own already.)

ghost in the graveyard

In The Ghost in the Graveyard a second set of twins–separated as babies–are haunted by the ghost of their grandfather, and eventually they prove their ownership of a huge old house. I’m making that sound boring, I know, but that’s because it was. The actual haunting all happened to Sam and David, not to the Wakefields, so though it was a comfortable “let’s escape reality for an afternoon” read it wasn’t terribly compelling.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_04_the_ghost_in_the_bell_tower

The Ghost in the Bell Tower was much more fun, possibly because it felt like such a classic “children and ghosts and summer vacation” kind of story. I would have loved this to bits when I was a kid. I kind of still did.

The Curse of the Ruby Necklace was actually the one I read first, because even when I have five clearly-numbered paperbacks in my hand I can somehow manage to read them out of order. Oops. It featured the twins acting in a movie, a thing I feel like I have read a thousand times. The movie is based on an old murder curse of the ruby necklaceso of course the Wakefields solve it, finding the true killer with the help of a ruby necklace that Jessica finds on the beach, because if you’re a perfect, perfect Wakefield twin haunted jewellery just washes up out of the ocean for you.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_07_the_haunted_burial_ground

The Haunted Burial Ground annoyed me at first, with its conveniently-visiting Native American girl who gets befriended by Elizabeth just in time to be part of events surrounding an obviously-this-will-turn-out-to-be-a-Native-burial-site. But it was as respectful as it could be, given the time and the age range of the intended readers, and Mr. Fowler gets a chance to be unexpectedly awesome.

Evil Elizabeth was like Dear Sister, only instead of a head injury there’s an evil sweet_valley_twins_chiller_09_evil_elizabethmask, and instead of glomming onto rapetastic Bruce Patman she starts hanging out with Betsy Martin. Jessica gets to look on in horror as her twin turns into a living embodiment of her own worst impulses. I guess this was kind of a practice session for later.

Which brings me to a very important question: why don’t the Wakefields remember any of this stuff? I mean, why don’t they ever reflect on how, when they were kids, they encountered ghosts? How come they never discuss that time Liz was evil? (Okay, I know the Doylist explanation is “because the SVH books were written first, so the ghostwriters had no way of knowing what would be in the spin-off series that didn’t even exist yet,” but what’s the Watsonian answer?)

Goosebumps S01 E04: The Girl Who Cried Monster

So for reasons I won’t go into I’m having a month of “no ability to concentrate,” which means my reading time has been devoted entirely to Sweet Valley and similar fluff, and I’ve been watching television.

Well, actually I’ve been watching DVDs and Netflix, but in my head it’s all categorized under “Watching Television,” that faintly forbidden time-wasting activity I wasn’t allowed to do much of as a child.

As a result all sorts of stuff everyone else has already seen and practically memorized is brand new to me, and I actually get excited about it. It’s fairly pathetic, but at least it keeps me entertained.

I shamelessly love the opening credit sequence.
I shamelessly love the opening credit sequence.

So I’ve started watching Goosebumps. I literally had no idea this had ever been a show until about a year ago. Netflix starts off with what wikipedia swears is episode four. I won’t argue. Continue reading

Jessica Wakefield Changed my Life: Rereading Sweet Valley High

So, I’ve started rereading SVH as part of my desperate effort not to buy new books this year. It is definitely distracting, I’ll say that for it. The books are both better (more hilarious, more deliciously dramatic, more wholeheartedly ridiculous) and worse (more rape-y, creepy attitudes) than I remembered.

blog 001

A few thoughts, now that I’m on book seven.

1. The books are as big a tease as Jessica is supposed to be. I mean, come on: “Double Love”? “All Night Long”? Those titles definitely give the impression that more goes on in these books than is ever actually the case. But nothing ever happens to justify those titles.

doublelove1

2. The first seven books have more of an over-arching plot than I’d expected. Elizabeth starts out annoying, with no evidence of a backbone or any will of her own. She reaches Peak Doormat in book five (All Night Long), setting her up to be martyred in book six (Dangerous Love) and then to give Jessica a taste of her own selfish, sociopathic behaviour in Dear Sister. It’s…surprisingly satisfying, when you sit down and read them all in a row.

3. I had the most dreadful, melodramatic taste back when I first read these.

4. I think I still do.

5. Jessica Wakefield did more to shape my teenage-and-early-adult life than you’d think a two-dimensional series’ character could. But it’s true. Let’s face it: I was a total Elizabeth, bookish, chronically “nice,” and well-trained to think “selflessness” was the ultimate ideal (for girls). Then I read a metric tonne of these books, and started to think selflessness wasn’t always a great or healthy option, and selfishness (at least, enough selfishness to admit you HAVE wants and to pursue them) could be rewarding. And you know, I think I ended up happier than I would have otherwise.

This ALSO comes up when searching for "double love." Yum.
This ALSO comes up when searching for “double love.” Yum.

TBR Challenge: Cherry Marbles by Shukie Nkosana

I’m doing Super Wendy’s TBR challenge this year, in part because my own to-be-read pile has engulfed practically an entire room of my house, and I needed some extra encouragement to get started on it.

This month is for category romances/novellas/short stories, so I chose Cherry Marbles, which is two of those things: a category romance and a novella. And I LOVED it.

The book: Cherry Marbles

SAM_2022
Also shown: The Bridesmaid’s Lover.

The synopsis: Langa Buthelezi owns her own events company and lives in a fabulous New York-style flat in Quinn Street, Johannesburg. She is engaged to Richard, a cameraman for the SABC. One Sunday afternoon, on her way home from church, she has an embarrassing encounter with a handsome stranger–to whom she is very rude. During a major event proposal a few days later, Langa comes face to face with the very same handsome stranger–Regile Mabhena, owner of Mabhena Oil Limited, who will decide whether she gets the contract. It’s while organizing the event that Langa finds herself working intimately with Regile, realising at last what true love is…

How this ended up in my TBR pile: Last year I scooped up everything by Sapphire Press that I could get my hands on. They’re a romance imprint of South Africa’s Kwelo Books, and basically they do local (local to SA, I mean, not to me; I’m on the other side of the globe) romance novellas of about 30,000 words. I’d read a couple, liked them, and bought up all the others I could find. The ones I’ve read are making their way through my family, because even the non-romance readers (like my mother) are loving them for their setting. It’s impossible to explain how much these books give you a flavour of South Africa; it’s kind of like what old-school Harlequins tried to do, only instead of “exoticizing” the place these books give you a taste of insider-perspective that is just delicious.

Which makes it sound like this book was appealing mostly for its culture and setting, but that’s not true either: it completely holds its own as a short, hilarious contemporary romance, setting aside.

Opening paragraph: An unexpected case of inflamed vaginal thrush and the Sunday paper brought the two together in a Parktown pharmacy. Langa had burst into the pharmacy, fresh from church, the ailment in question behind the manic and illegal parking of her Volkswagen Beetle on the pavement. She cursed under her breath despite the holy anointing she had just received as she made for what she felt was refuge.

One more quote for the road: “I’ll have you know I’m engaged,” she said as she opened her car, uncertain why she felt she had to justify herself. Then Langa flashed her diamond ring at him before uttering, “I also recently found Jesus!”

Which, let’s be honest, sounds like exactly the sort of painfully awkward thing I’d blurt if I dumped two tubes of yeast infection cream at the feet of a gorgeous stranger. Langa is entirely believable as the successful-at-work but still easily embarrassed heroine. Her doomed engagement is treated sympathetically: neither of these people are a villain, they just don’t love each other enough to be getting married. And exasperating younger sister Nandi, and supportive best friend Naledi, make Langa’s life feel realistic rather than romance-land-y.

This is a book with homework, though, at least if you aren’t from South Africa and want to know who the pop stars, designers, brands, places, and cultural touchstones are. I personally enjoyed that part, and so do my footnote-loving family members (I started jotting my own notes in the book in case my aunts don’t feel like going on Wikipedia while they read), but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Mail!

blog 001So although (thanks to my stupid New Year’s resolution) I’m not BUYING any new books this year, the stuff I had ordered back before Christmas has finally escaped the holiday mail-pile and is trickling in. That’s a picture of what arrived today. Yes, that’s a bunch of Sweet Valley Twins books and a little machine for making stickers.

Apparently my inner ten-year-old had control of the credit card some day back in December.

rereading: Sweet Valley High Super Edition: Special Christmas

I promised myself that in 2015 I was going to reread the Sweet Valley books heaped on a top shelf in our library, and then I got overexcited and couldn’t wait for the start of the new year. So I semi-cheated: I read one of the Christmas special editions, since it’s Christmas.

It has such a pretty cover.

It's a little creepy how excited they both are by that gift.
It’s a little creepy how excited they both are by that gift.

It’s really different reading this book as an adult. When I read it as a teenager, I HATED that Todd ended up with the evil Suzanne Devlin. It felt like she “won.”

On rereading…Todd isn’t such a prize. The part where he accuses Elizabeth of starting an argument (for trying to find out why he’s acting so weird around Suzanne) instead of just telling her the truth made me want to reach right into the book and slap him.

Also, Elizabeth sounds so trapped by her long-distance relationship with Todd that it comes as a relief to see her escape it.

Still, it had been a long time since she had been on her own–really on her own, without Todd to think about. She wondered now how it would feel to get excited about seeing some guy in the hall, to spend hours getting ready to go out…

That’s just really depressing, coming from a sixteen-year-old girl.

Also, Elizabeth is too damned nice. Charged with phoning Suzanne to let her know that they don’t want her to visit, she instead waffles on about how Suzanne will be bored in Sweet Valley. She’s the first to feel sorry for her, the first to forgive her, and hands over the gently used Toddster at the end like a saint–no tears or anger or sarcasm to make anybody else feel guilty or uncomfortable. And it just strikes me as really unhealthy.

I’ve seen people remark on how this series does a lot of fat-shaming and body policing (which it does, though less obtrusively in this book), but I think it’s also worth noting that it presents “constant niceness and selflessness” as unexamined Good Things for girls, which isn’t great either. The ideal teenage girl as modeled in this book looks beautiful and acts so accommodating, she might as well not be there at all. It’s creepy, and I wanted therapy for poor Liz.

I loved Jessica in this, though. I mean, she was wrong in thinking Elizabeth would be devasted-unto-death by losing Todd, but it wasn’t an entirely stupid thing to think, given how invested everyone is in Liz-and-Todd as a couple. And at least she didn’t roll over immediately in response to “niceness.” Sometimes “nice”-seeming people really are awful, but Jessica is the only one who takes that possibility seriously.

Things I would not have been allowed to have when I was sixteen:

  • a bottle of champagne, especially when my parents weren’t in the house
  • a Secret Santa exchange that took place over the Christmas break–there’s no way that would have worked. People would have forgotten it, or blown it off, or used it as an excuse to be horrible since it wasn’t happening under school supervision.
  • a school dance that took place at one person’s home, for similar reasons.
  • a week-long Christmas visit from an out-of-town boyfriend.

Now you need to go read this post at Cliquey Pizza I just found.