Sweet Valley Twins books

  1. Best Friendsswt
  2. Teacher’s Pet
  3. The Haunted House
  4. Choosing Sides
  5. Sneaking Out
  6. The New Girl
  7. Three’s a Crowd
  8. First Place
  9. Against the Rules
  10. One of the Gang
  11. Buried Treasure
  12. Keeping Secrets
  13. Stretching the Truth
  14. Tug of War
  15. The Older Boy
  16. Second Best
  17. Boys Against Girls
  18. Center of Attention
  19. The Bully
  20. Playing Hooky
  21. Left Behind
  22. Out of Place
  23. Claim to Fame
  24. Jumping to Conclusions
  25. Standing Out
  26. Taking Charge
  27. Teamwork
  28. April Fool!
  29. Jessica & the Brat Attack
  30. Princess Elizabeth
  31. Jessica’s Bad Idea
  32. Jessica on Stage
  33. Elizabeth’s New Hero
  34. Jessica, the Rock Star
  35. Amy’s Pen Pal
  36. Mary is Missing
  37. The War Between the Twins
  38. Lois Strikes Back
  39. Jessica & the Money Mix-up
  40. Danny Means Trouble
  41. The Twins Get Caught
  42. Jessica’s Secret
  43. Elizabeth’s First Kiss
  44. Amy Moves In
  45. Lucy Takes the Reins
  46. Mademoiselle Jessica
  47. Jessica’s New Look
  48. Mandy Miller Fights Back
  49. The Twins’ Little Sister
  50. Jessica & the Secret Star
  51. Elizabeth the Impossible
  52. Booster Boycott
  53. The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley
    In which the twins’ English class write and produce a comedy sci-fi romance movie, using camcorders.
  54. The Big Party Weekend In which the Wakefields discover that hosting a house party sucks, and endure the world’s worst babysitter.
  55. Brooke & her Rock-Star Mom
  56. The Wakefields Strike it Rich
  57. Big Brother’s In Love
  58. Elizabeth & the Orphans
  59. Barnyard Battle
  60. Ciao, Sweet Valley
  61. Jessica the Nerd
  62. Sarah’s Dad and Sophia’s Mom
  63. Poor Lila!
  64. The Charm School Mystery
  65. Patty’s Last Dance
  66. The Great Boyfriend Switch
  67. Jessica the Thief
  68. The Middle School Gets Married
    In which the entire school do that “pretend this egg is a baby” project with randomly assigned spouses, and Bruce is adorable.
  69. Won’t Someone Help Anna?
  70. Psychic Sisters
  71. Jessica Saves the Trees
    In which Jessica turns activist in order to get attention, and Elizabeth has her spirit crushed because she fails to be completely objective while writing for a middle school paper.
  72. The Love Potion
    In which Jessica is driven to weird lengths by her desire for Johnny Buck concert tickets, and Mary gets an Elizabeth-approved boyfriend.
  73. Lila’s Music Video
  74. Elizabeth the Hero
  75. Jessica and the Earthquake
  76. Yours for a Day
  77. Todd Runs Away
  78. Steven the Zombie
  79. Jessica’s Blind Date
  80. The Gossip War
  81. Robbery at the Mall
  82. Steven’s Enemy
  83. Amy’s Secret Sister
  84. Romeo and 2 Juliets
  85. Elizabeth the Seventh-Grader
  86. It Can’t Happen Here
  87. The Mother-Daughter Switch
  88. Steven Gets Even
  89. Jessica’s Cookie Disaster
  90. The Cousin War
  91. Deadly Voyage
  92. Escape from Terror Island
  93. The Incredible Madame Jessica
  94. Don’t Talk to Brian
  95. The Battle of the Cheerleaders
  96. Elizabeth the Spy
  97. Too Scared to Sleep
  98. The Beast Is Watching You
  99. The Beast Must Die
  100. If I Die Before I Wake
  101. Twins in Love
  102. The Mysterious Dr. Q
  103. Elizabeth Solves It All
  104. Big Brother’s In Love Again
  105. Jessica’s Lucky Millions
  106. Breakfast of Enemies
  107. Twins Hit Hollywood
  108. Cammi’s Crush
  109. Don’t Go In the Basement
  110. Pumpkin Fever
  111. Sisters at War
  112. If Looks Could Kill
  113. The Boyfriend Game
  114. The Boyfriend Mess
  115. Happy Mother’s Day, Lila
  116. Jessica Takes Charge
  117. Down With Queen Janet!
  118. No Escape!

Super Editions

  1. The Class Trip
  2. Holiday Mischief
  3. The Big Camp Secret
  4. The Unicorns Go Hawaiian
  5. Lila’s Secret Valentine
  6. The Twins Take Paris
  7. Jessica’s Animal Instincts
  8. Jessica’s First Kiss
  9. The Twins go to College
  10. The Year Without Christmas
  11. Jessica’s No Angel
  12. Good-Bye Middle School
  13. Elizabeth: Next Stop Jr. High
  14. Jessica: Next Stop Jr. High

Super Chillers

  1. The Christmas Ghost
  2. The Ghost in the Graveyard
  3. The Carnival Ghost
  4. The Ghost in the Bell Tower
  5. The Curse of the Ruby Necklace
  6. The Curse of the Golden Heart
  7. The Haunted Burial Ground
  8. The Secret of the Magic Pen
  9. Evil Elizabeth

Magna Editions

  1. The Magic Christmas
  2. A Christmas Without Elizabeth
  3. BIG For Christmas

reading: A Dangerously Sexy Christmas

Title: A Dangerously Sexy Christmas

Author: Stefanie London

dangerously sexy christmasHarlequin Blaze November 2015

Reasons I might actually remember this one: Certainly not the title, which I managed to forget several times while reading it. But the heroine’s self-confident ability to shrug off her clothes and enjoy sex (even while angsting that the hero, like everyone else in her life, would leave her when it was over) was enviable and well-written. Also, the happy ending puts her down in Australia after 24 hours of travel; I am a sucker for all Australian settings, but even more so for the realistic acknowledgement of the travel hell that it takes to get there.

Active Ingredients:

nearly-orphaned heroine

shady father

large diamond

hunky security guy

former cop

dead partner



reading: Christmas Stalking

I admit I bought this partly because of the title. And because I love romances set during a holiday (Christmas especially, but honestly I’d love to read more set at other holidays). And because lately I’m having a streak of good luck when it comes to reading Harlequin’s “Love Inspired” line, which at first I approached very tentatively.

Title: Christmas Stalking

Author: Margaret Daley

Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense

November 2012 christmas stalking

Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One: A female bodyguard with military training and a difficult background, Ellie St. James spends the Christmas holidays protecting cosmetics CEO (and product creator) Mrs. Rachel Winfield.

At seventy-three, Winnie is working on one last product before she retires; she doesn’t know it at the outset of the book, but someone’s been sending her threatening letters, and her business manager hires Ellie without consulting her. Winnie’s old but not helpless, and she’s written marvelously: kind but never twee or sacharin; invested in her adult grandson (the hero) but not overly interfering; in charge, but aging gracefully and stepping down intentionally once she’s finished a project that had meant a lot to her late husband.

Ellie, meanwhile, has a touching background that contains tragedy without being drowned by it. Her handicapped brother was bullied and died young, but instead of destroying her his life pushed her to become a strong woman, committed to protecting those who need her care.

More than anything this reminded me of a Nancy Drew mystery, only with an adult heroine. The mystery is complicated enough to be entertaining, but not written to be so creepy or gore-laden that it’s disturbing. There are set pieces (an elegant winter ball where a suspect shows up, for instance) that really, really brought Nancy to mind (and in case it’s not clear, I mean that as a compliment).

Active Ingredients:

missing or emotionally neglectful parents

raised by grandparents

time to provide grandchildren, you two

girl detective


snowed in


#tbrchallenge: October. Death is a Red Rose.

death is a red rose
Is anyone else having an overwhelming urge to go shopping for nightgowns right now?

Title: Death is a Red Rose

Author: Dorothy Eden

Published: 1970, Ace Books

October TBR Challenge theme: Paranormal or romantic suspense

Does this fit the theme? Hell, no. I have read some romantic suspense lately, but since it’s October I thought this might be a good time to clean out some of my backload of Gothics.

death is a red rose 2
My copy has this cover.

Summer before last (so, the summer of 2014, when neither of my children had yet started school but kindergarten for the eldest was looming over me like a storm cloud of hormones and sentimentality, threatening rain and tears every time I thought these are his last months of real freedom and babyhood) I went on a gothic-novel binge. I’m sure a psychiatrist could unearth a lot from that statement. Anyway, September rolled around and I got frantically busy, and then moved on to other things, leaving me with twelve or fifteen paperback Gothic romances still in the stacks.

Reading these does nothing to reduce the crowding on my shelves, because I can’t bear to get rid of them. I’d actually like to find some way to frame them, because the covers are amazing. But at least I can shift them out of the TBR column.

The book opens with an elderly lady named Arabia Bolton. You know the gently eccentric, meddling old ladies of Small Town romances? Arabia is their polar opposite. She’s had a long, eventful life; alludes to past lovers, including a sheikh; lies and exaggerates; manipulates people into arguments when she gets bored; and keeps secrets, including some pretty dark ones. I can’t say I liked Arabia, exactly, but she’d definitely be interesting to know.

She misses someone called Lucy, so she places an ad saying she has a ground floor flat, but it’s only available to someone named Lucy Cressida. (She has other tenants, as well, but when the book opens she’s feeling bored with them). The heroine, Cressida Barclay, is actually named Cressida Lucy, and she needs a place to live (and a job) because she’s had a fight with her insufferable fiance, Tom. I can’t do justice to him, so I’ll quote a bit:

“Oh no. We’re only engaged. We’re going to be married on the twelfth of June in 1957.”

“A long-term plan?” Jeremy put down his glass and picked up a pipe. “Do you mid if I smoke?”

“Not in the least.” Pipe smoke, drifting fragrantly about, would add to this pleasant illusory sensation. “Tom’s very cautious,” she said.

“I gather he must be. How old is he?”

“Thirty, but I’m only twenty-two. He says twenty-four is a better age for me to marry, and by that time, of course, he’ll have paid for the house and furniture. We bought a bedroom suite the other day.” (p. 16)

The whole engagement to Tom sounds so stifling I almost asphyxiated every time the book mentioned him. I mean, it all sounds very safe, but when I was twenty-two I don’t think I wanted that much safety. Or that much furniture.

The pipe-smoking Jeremy, by the way, is the ground-floor (basement, that is) tenant in Arabia’s house. You can tell he’s the hero because he argues with Cressida, and helps her solve the mystery of what happened to Lucy. but he doesn’t actually profess his love until the ending. There are hints he finds Cressida attractive, but they’re mostly buried in affectionate arguments.

The other people in the house are a violin player named Vincent Moretti; a widow named Mrs. Stanhope who has something wrong with her throat and can’t talk; Mrs. Stanhope’s fifteen year old son, Dawson, who is obsessed with chemistry and murders; Miss Glory, a plain and plainspoken woman whom Moretti flirts with; Arabia herself; and above all else, Arabia’s deceased daughter Lucy, whose room has been left untouched because Arabia claims it makes her feel as if Lucy isn’t dead, but merely late getting home from her last dance.

The whole thing is divinely morbid and creepy, and [highlight for SPOILER] as it turns out, Lucy wasn’t really Arabia’s daughter, and isn’t really dead. Far from being an innocent girl who died tragically, Lucy is a murderer, and she’s still in the house.

So basically this was perfect Halloween reading. It had that vaguely-familiar feeling that all 70s Gothics do once you’ve read a few of them, but this was memorable both for being well-written and for genuinely giving me the creeps at a few points.

reading: Her Stolen Past

Title: Her Stolen Past

her stolen pastAuthor: Amanda Stevens

Published: Harlequin 2002

I’m fairly sure I bought this because I was on a brief “small town romance” spree, and this is one of several books (by different authors) set in “Cooper’s Corner.”

But it’s actually romantic suspense, even if it is set in a dreadfully wholesome small town. In spite of the publication date some elements of this really, really felt like they’d been plucked from the late 80s/early 90s; that might be why I feel into it so contentedly.

Comforting elements: amnesia, a reclusive piano playing composer, the heroine being driven off a cliff (and left for dead) in a storm. We also have a stalker (who turns out to be a victim, not the villain of the piece) and a personal assistant (our amnesiac heroine, also a victim of the madwoman composer). I’m making this sound like an assemblage of cliches, and in some ways it is,  but they’re perfectly deployed. I could even overlook the matchmaking teenage boy, even though I hate all matchmaking children on principle.

Active Ingredients:

left for dead, or at least soggy


kindly elderly dying lady

former cop (hero’s sister)

stalkers everywhere

ongoing larger plot in the background

sad tinkling piano music of sadness, which is also a clue

Sweet Valley Twins #56: The Wakefields Strike It Rich

The Wakefields Strike It Rich Where Are We? Mostly at the mall, and briefly at a swanky restaurant called Jacqueline’s.

When Are We? Immediately after the weekend when they had to clean the house because of their disastrous party.

Recap: Elizabeth and Jessica go to Casey’s to avoid having to clean the house again, and see Steven staring longingly at some blonde girl named Jill. Janet informs them Steven doesn’t stand a chance with her because Janet’s brother Joe also likes her, and Jessica is displeased. I love Jessica’s insane competitive streak over things that are none of her business.

Jessica has to borrow two dollars from Lila to pay for her food, and when Lila tells her she needs to learn to manage her money Jess argues that if she had money, she’d be more generous to her friends.

Great-Aunt Helen arrives for a visit; she has a broken arm, but is vague about how it happened. She gives Jessica, Elizabeth, and Steven $100 each to spend however they want.Liz wants to put some of hers towards the camera she’s been saving up for.

Jessica also brags that they met Coco, the “best singer in the world” who also happens to be Brooke Dennis’ mom. That makes one mention of Brooke prior to book #55, and one after it, so my guess is we’ll never hear of her again.

Elizabeth and Amy go bookstore shopping. I am still such an Elizabeth at heart. She buys herself the latest detective novel by Amanda Howard, and buys Amy a biography of Johnny Buck.

Jessica, meanwhile, treats her friends to food at Casey’s and then buys them lots of little things (bracelets, posters), basically blowing rapidly but generously through her money. Lila warns her not to, but Jessica’s enjoying herself, and I sympathize. I like spending money on people, too. She’s also consciously not making people pay her back because she wants to be more generous than Lila, so I suspect she’s basking in the unaccustomed sensation of being kinder than someone else.

Steven goes into a jewelry store and after being shown some expensive earrings settles on a pair of simple gold ones for $28. They sound pretty, but that’s still a chunk of money to spend on a girl who barely speaks to you. The salesman snarkily says if he wants anything cheaper he’ll have to go to the five-and-dime (that’s archaic for “dollar store”), and you know, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SMARTER. Lots of fourteen year old girls love costume jewelry.

Elizabeth invites Aunt Helen to go with her to the bookstore, where Amanda Howard will be appearing in person and autographing books. Aunt Helen declines, and dodges further questions about how she broke her arm.

Jessica tries to make Steven tell her and Elizabeth what he bought for Jill Hale. She also suggests he buy her flowers and take her on a date to a really fancy restaurant.

Elizabeth overhears her father assuring Aunt Helen that if she can’t retain a good lawyer from his list of suggestions hell fly out there and handle her case himself, and that she needs to be protected from “those sharks,” and can’t let them bully her.

Jessica leaves Steven a magazine with an article called “My Dream Date,” along with a note telling him to read it. It’s the same dinner-and-jewelry-and-flowers-and-dancing kind of overblown date she was suggesting earlier, and I honestly can’t think of anything two fourteen year olds would be less likely to enjoy. It would bore me rigid, and I’m ancient.

He asks Jill out, despite her having shown no interest in him whatsoever and she responds, “I guess that would be okay.” Wow. Cancel, Steven, and give the earrings to someone else. Anyone else.

Aunt Helen gets an envelope in the mail but won’t open it in front of everyone. That is not suspicious, Elizabeth, that is fairly reasonable. (Elizabeth does not hear me and would not agree even if she could.)

At the book signing Amanda Howard tells Elizabeth there are mysteries going on “right under our noses,” which is all the additional encouragement Liz needs to decide Aunt Helen is in trouble and she should investigate. Then she catches Aunt Helen crying over an episode of Days of Turmoil, and has trouble believing that’s the whole reason for her tears. So Liz confides in Amy, who in turn decides they have to STEAL AUNT HELEN’S LETTER and find out what is going on.

At the Dairi Burger Jill is more or less ignoring Steven and laughing at Joe’s jokes, while Cathy is being friendly and laughing at Steven’s jokes. Joe buys Jill fries. Steven accidentally squirts ketchup on her. I don’t know why he even likes her, other than that she’s pretty, because she’s downright unfriendly to him most of the time.

Jessica’s down to fifteen dollars. She’s bought stuff for all her friends, even earrings for Lila (and a matching pair for herself, which she doesn’t actually even like).

Elizabeth finds out Aunt Helen is having trouble sleeping. She and Amy elaborately coax her to help her choose an outfit while they go through her purse, and they find a picture of a man they decide looks unfriendly.

Jessica talks Steven into giving her ten dollars, since she helped him plan his date and pick out what to wear. Ha.

Elizabeth and Amy watch an old movie called Don’t Talk and decide Aunt Helen witnessed a crime and that’s what’s going on. They think the “mean man” in the picture broke her arm. Oh, Liz. At what point do you imagine him giving her a photograph? Do you think thugs hand them out to all their victims?

Steven’s date is both boring and awful, and he runs out of money (the cab cost forty dollars because Jill wasn’t even ready when he got there to pick her up) and has to ask her to chip in.

Aunt Helen finally explains to Elizabeth that she broke her arm in a car accident. The insurance company are trying to say she hadn’t paid up on her claim, so she has to hire a lawyer to help her prove that she’d made all her payments. They guy in the picture is her boyfriend, Thomas. Elizabeth offers to give back the seventy dollars she has left, which is sweet. Aunt Helen refuses, of course.

Elizabeth buys her camera. She and Jessica chip in on a gift for Aunt Helen (a card and a picture frame), and Liz agrees to buy Jessica the shirt she likes but now can’t afford (it costs $40) if Jessica will give her a blue sweatshirt she bought when they visited their father’s college.


“Lila, you are not going to believe what happened,” Jessica said when her friend picked up the phone.

“You found some more change on the way home?” Lila said. (p. 16)

I am sensitive about money but that still made me laugh. So did this:

“I could spend a hundred dollars in an hour,” Lila said.

“Yeah, but that’s because you practice,” Jessica replied. (p. 25)

It’s such a perfect 80s/90s portrayal of a rich girl. I love it.

“I’m just trying to give you some good advice,” Lila said. “I know what I’m talking about. No one will remember that you bought them stuff.” (p. 64)

It’s sad that she’s so cynical at such a young age, but she’s not wrong, exactly.

“What about Jill? How did she get home?” Elizabeth asked.

“Her father came and picked her up at the restaurant. After he told me what an irresponsible jerk I was,” Steven said. (p. 120)

Wow, imagine going off on a fourteen year old after he’s spent a bunch of money on your brat of a daughter. No wonder Jill’s such a raging bitch: she learned it at home.

Sweet Valley Twins #54: The Big Party Weekend

big party weekendWhere Are We? The Wakefields’ house, mostly.

When Are We? A five-day period when the Wakefield parents are in Mexico without their children. At the end of The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley they were discussing maybe having a party while their parents were away, so yay, continuity!

Recap: Jessica thinks they’re going to have five days of freedom, so at school she starts inviting people to a party on the weekend. Steven is doing the same thing, so they agree to combine parties.

Elizabeth asks if their parents have any chores for them to tackle while they’re gone. They suggest the kids clean out the garage and have a yard sale, which they agree to because they need money for party supplies.

They night before they leave the Wakefield parents reveal that someone called Mrs. Brown will be staying with the kids.

I don’t object to having someone stay in the house while the parents are out of the country, but Mrs. Brown is so awful I could barely finish this book. I don’t know, maybe target-age readers are able to enjoy wallowing in the fantasy of being sorely mistreated by an adult, but reading this AS an adult was horrible. How could they leave without setting ground rules like, “Do not make up a bunch of house rules that aren’t ordinarily in place, and here are the usual things we eat”?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jessica makes Liz promise not to tell everyone at school that they aren’t having a parent-free bash after all, because she’s embarrassed.

At home, May (Mrs. Brown, the babysitter) has set a new bedtime, a new limit on time spent watching television, and won’t allow after-school snacks. Because that is a totally reasonable way to approach a babysitting job: change all the house rules, and then yell at the kids for “having no manners” when they object.

Jessica puts purple dye in May’s shampoo, and I don’t actually blame her. I mean, it’s horrible, but so is cooking stuff people hate and forcing them to eat it. Bodily integrity: it’s a thing. She’s also waking them up at 5:30. I’d run her over with a truck.

Elizabeth sets May’s clock radio for 3:30, and tunes it to “the station that played the loudest and most obnoxious heavy metal music.” I can’t believe this ghostwriter has written an adult so awful I’m siding with the kids on this. Well done, ghostwriter. Or Francine, if this was in an outline that she wrote.

Steven makes her coffee undrinkable by adding garlic powder and stuff. May won’t let them use the phone.

On Thursday afternoon they have their garage sale, and they earn a lot of money but Jessica accidentally sells a carved wooden rose that belonged to their mother’s great-great-grandmother, so Elizabeth starts trying to track it down through antique dealers.

Meanwhile in the background of all this, Amy has been warping her personality out of shape over some guy she likes named Rob.

Jessica has a plan for getting rid of May on the night of their party, and Steven goes along with it. At dinner Elizabeth is confused that her siblings are trying to be polite and agreeable.

Elizabeth has a “setting up the next book” conversation with someone named Brooke who has divorced parents; her mother might be coming to visit, all the way from Paris.

Amy talks Elizabeth into bringing Todd along to Casey’s so he can meet Rob. They do, and he’s obnoxious.

Elizabeth talks to a man named Martin Hannaford at Valley Antiques; he hasn’t seen the wooden rose, but offers to call her if it turns up. She has to tell him not to call until after Sunday (because she’s not allowed to answer the phone in her own house while May’s in charge). Later she has a conversation in which May obviously doesn’t believe she stayed after school to work on the newspaper; it’s patently obvious to the reader that May has seen her at the antique shop. She sends Elizabeth to her room, and Elizabeth tells Steven and Jessica that she wants in on whatever plan they have for getting rid of May.

The night of the party Steven takes a backpack and pretends to run away, and a few hours later calls, saying that he’s at a convenience store near a friend’s house in Palilla Canyon. May leaves to pick him up, and apparently this will keep her away from the house for long enough to have a party.

The party is a disaster: people they don’t even know show up, there are food fights, the house and pool get trashed, Rob is obnoxious and tries to steal CDs, and May shows up before it’s over.

She’s so mad at the kids she packs to leave, which is a completely sane adult reaction! No, I’m kidding: it’s nuts and wildly irresponsible, and she could probably be charged with something (child abandonment?) for walking out of a house before the parents have returned from another country.

They apologize, she blows her whistle and drives all the horrible party guests out of the house, and then she has a heart-to-heart with the Wakefields and confesses  she’s never looked after older kids before so she thought she had to “keep them on their toes” right from the start. Because “make the children hate you” shows up in so many guides to childcare, I guess.

May offers to help them clean the house, but the children insist on doing it themselves. Well, Elizabeth insists, but the others agree.

The next day after they’ve cleaned May shows up with the antique wooden rose. The guy from Valley Antiques called, having seen the rose at an auction, and after he told her the whole story May drove up and bought it back for fifty dollars (Jessica had originally sold it for seventy-five). I think we’re supposed to applaud her “toughness” now that it’s being used for good, but honestly I haven’t forgiven her yet for being the least responsible, self-controlled adult I’ve yet encountered in Sweet Valley. And that’s saying something, I know.


Jessica threw up her hands. “Those rules are unbelievable! Why did Mom and Dad pick this woman for us? Do you think they’re mad at us about something?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m sure they didn’t know she was like this. When they met her, she was probably nice. She just forgot to tell them that she hates kids!” (p. 31)

Super adulting from both the Wakefields and this woman, there.

May frowned. “Honestly, I don’t know why you have to look so much alike.” (p. 55)

Idk, genetics?

“That depends. What music do you like?” Elizabeth asked.

“Everything except the Emerald Girls, or whatever they’re called,” Rob said, naming one of Amy’s favorite groups.

Any giggled. “Oh, I hate them, too.” (p. 59)


“It worked on ‘Days of Turmoil,'” Jessica said. (p. 70)

Words to live by.

#TBRChallenge: Cinderfella

This is late. But this is also SEPTEMBER, and I feel like all I’ve done for a month is drive children to and from school and activities and registration for various things. So I’m happy just to be doing a TBR Challenge post at all.

September Suggested Theme: Historical

Does this fit the theme? Not in any serious sense, no. It’s set in Kansas in 1895, but the historical setting is never more than a mechanism that allows the story to gently mock a career-minded woman who disparages sex and romance (and, interestingly, romance novels). In a contemporary the fun the story has at the heroine’s expense might feel a little too pointed, but back in “long ago and far away” the jokes aren’t treading on any toes. Well, not treading as hard, anyway.

But the novel does manage to capture the flavour of early, enthusiastic feminism-and-sexual-education advocates, so there’s that.


Title: Cinderfella

Author: Linda Jones

Published: September 1998, Love Spell

By now its pretty obvious that my To Be Read pile is full of crack. In fact, it would be fair to wonder if I was actually stoned on something-or-other when I purchased some of these books. But I didn’t buy this one, I swear. My husband found it in a rack of used paperbooks, and thought it looked like something I needed to own.

He was right, too. Not just for that cover (although LOOK AT THAT COVER), but because this was a really enjoyable read. It is, as some snippy annotationist has written in the margins of my copy, a silly book, but it owns its silliness and has great fun with it.

As the title suggests, this is a Cinderella story, at least for the first third. Once the relatively poor Ash Coleman (savour that; he also has a godfather who owns a horse named Pumpkin) has been unmasked and forced to marry the heroine at gunpoint, the story shifted slightly. It owes more to Emma than anything else I can think of, although it’s painted in bolder, sillier, more neon strokes.

The hero and heroine learn to get along and to communicate. He appreciates her efforts on the farm, and acknowledges he prefers beautiful, argumentative, slightly clueless Charmaine to the practical farmwoman type he’d loosely envisioned marrying. She finds out how to cook, sew, and milk a cow.

Much more importantly, she discovers she hasn’t really understood people at all, in general or in particular, and that the tract-waving anti-sex brother-in-law she so admired is a) beating her sister and b) planning to marry her, Charmaine, once the divorce is through. It shocks her into seeing that her ideal sexless marriage isn’t ideal at all, just some second-rate philosophy from a rather nasty man, and that romance (and lust) isn’t some character flaw she needs to avoid.

Quotations always help:

There would be no seminars, no heated discussions of the latest manuals over coffee and cake, no theater, no concerts. Why, if she were to discuss the latest thoughts on women’s rights, she would likely shock all Salley Creek. If she were to discuss the latest findings on the more intimate aspects of marital relations, she’d likely be run out of town on a rail. (p. 19)

There is no railroad in my hometown, so I personally have no fears of ever being run out of town on a rail, because no one is so interested in my opinions as to suddenly start laying track. But I’ll tell you, if I were to suddenly burst into a lecture on marital sex during a visit home, people would undoubtedly find some less labour-intensive way of letting me know I was nuts. And if I started lecturing them on women’s rights, they’d fall asleep en masse.

But things like this are why I love this book. Charmaine is utterly ridiculous, and the book knows it, and pokes gentle fun at it. Her opinions on everything are as unsubtle and enthusiastic as every undergrad you have ever seen return home, newly bursting with all the “right” opinions and determined to re-educate the world, and it is so well done I cringed several times, remembering that period of my own life.

How could poor Eula be truly happy? She was a virtual slave to her husband’s whims, working in his store, keeping his house, bearing and raising his children. And yet she seemed to be happy, poor thing. (p. 26)

“Marital continence, for one.” She tried not to blush, but this was, after all, her father. “Contraception, if the more desirable self-restraint is impossible. The unhealthy influence of the bicycle and romantic novels on young women, for another. Then there’s the physical detriment of the corset, and the–” (p. 29)

And so it had fallen to Charmaine to stand at Howard’s side and do her part to convince the uneducated that a woman had more to offer this world than servitude to a man. That a pure marriage was a higher calling, and that baser impulses could and should be ignored. (p. 76)

The clock was pealing the last reverberating strain of midnight, as Ash limped on one booted foot and one in only a sock to the alley where he’d left Pumpkin. (p. 130)

Her heart caught in her chest, her blood roared, and reminded herself of everything that Howard and his manuals had taught her. Magnetic currents, that’s all this was. (p. 188)