#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.

cinderfella

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)

Sweet Valley Twins #113: The Boyfriend Game

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School; the set of Young Love

When are we? The lead up to Valentine’s Day.

boyfriend game

Recap: Elizabeth and other people involved with The Sixers are bemoaning the boring edition they’re about to put out, when they get exciting news. While in detention, Jessica eavesdropped on the vice principal, Mr. Edwards, and found out the school might get to be on Young Love, a teen dating show.

Mr. Bowman, the faculty advisor for The Sixers, shows up and confirms the rumour. Actually he amplifies it, providing additional details: the school will have to submit an essay explaining why they should be chosen, the winning couple will get a “dream date” at Dizzy Planet (an amusement park), and the show will throw a Valentine’s Day dance for the entire school.

Janet decides that the Unicorns should write the essay, because they’re known for their literacy. Ha, no, I made that up. She just thinks that no one else can make the school sound as unique and interesting. Having a private club that gets to act like an official school organization is pretty damned unique, all right; no actual school I’ve ever heard of would allow it.

The Science Club and the school athletes are also going to contribute essays. Elizabeth, meanwhile, offers to take the photograph of the entire student body that the Young Love people have requested. Jessica and Lila spoil the first two attempts, and Janet has to separate them in the third photo to get them to behave. Irritating.

Sophia Rizzo meets Patrick Morris for ice cream, and hatches a plot to win if they’re chosen as two of the contestants (who ask a series of inane question) and candidates (who answer the questions; the contestant then picks one of three candidates as their date). We don’t actually get to hear her plan the first time it’s introduced, because I guess the page count needs dragging out.

Elizabeth, Cammi Adams, Denny Jacobson, Mandy, and Tom McKay have to read all the student-submitted essays and choose which one represents their school. As well as the jocks, Unicorns, and science club, there are entries from the Foreign Exchange Students Association, the chess club, and the drama club. In the end Elizabeth constructs a poster from the school photo, with all the essays surrounding it.

So of course Sweet Valley Middle School is selected. Elizabeth gets a letter informing her she’s a contestant, and Jessica gets one saying she’s a candidate, and no one is allowed to talk about getting selected on pain of death or something (okay, on pain of having the dance cancelled). But Elizabeth works out that Jessica must be a candidate because she was looking for tips on how to lie about being honest and sincere. Ha. So Elizabeth suggests a twin switch.

Now we have two sets of cheaters, because aside from the twins lying about their identities, Sophia has come up with a pre-planned question-and-answer that will allow her and Patrick to pick each other.

Only on the night of the actual show, Patrick fumbles his question and doesn’t recognize Sophia’s answer, so he picks Maria as his dream date. Jessica-as-Elizabeth gets dazzled and manages to sound like an idiot, and then picks Todd as her dream date; Elizabeth-as-Jessica comes across as even stupider, hoping Aaron (whom Jessica likes) won’t pick her. He doesn’t–he picks Amy–and too late, Elizabeth realizes that if she’d gotten him to pick her, she and Jessica could have switched back on the day of their dates. Oops.

So at the end of the book everyone’s mad at everyone else, and they have horrible dates to look forward to, which is presumably what the next book is about.

Quotations:

She noticed that Todd was listening to the conversation from his desk nearby. He gave her a sympathetic smile. Elizabeth smiled back, relieved that someone else seemed to be avoiding taking sides on the issue. It reminded her once again of how wonderful Todd really was. She certainly didn’t need a TV show to tell her who her dream guy was! (p. 19)

Jessica shrugged. “He only makes fun of the losers,” she said. “As long as you’re cool and witty enough, he treats you just fine. And he’s such a total babe that he makes even the cute guys who come on the show look like dorks.” (p. 54)

“…so I guess if I could only do one thing to make the world a cooler place, I would donate all the makeup I never use to people who don’t have any.” Ellen Riteman smiled and tossed her head. “Then the world would at least look a lot better.

Elizabeth did her best not to groan. It wasn’t easy to sound less interesting than Ellen. (p. 115)

Sweet Valley Twins #68: The Middle School Gets Married

Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School: multidisciplinary project

When are we? It starts with a Monday morning assembly. I have no idea what time of year it is. middle school gets married

Recap: Mr. Seigel, science teacher, has called a special assembly to announce that the entire middle school will be doing a multidisciplinary project (math, home economics, social studies, and science, apparently) that involves him choosing pairs of names out of a hat, and then those students will be “married” for the duration of the project. Jessica and Lila think it’s “totally romantic.” Elizabeth and Todd exchange meaningful smiles and she drops her pencil from the sheer intensity of it all. Sophia, someone I’ve never heard of, thinks couples fight all the time and hopes she gets paired with Patrick Morris, the only boy she gets along with.

Sophia does get paired with Patrick, except they’re too busy being polite and accommodating toward each other to make any decisions. Elizabeth gets paired with Bruce, who initially is inclined to ignore the whole thing and let her do the work. Todd gets Lila, and Jessica gets Rick Hunter, an older boy she bickers with constantly.

Lila thinks it’s ridiculous she has to work on a budget, since she’s never going to have to live on a budget, because she has a trust fund. Ha.

At the next assembly each couple has to go on stage, where they’re given a name and instantly asked a question for points. Jessica and Rick get asked what they’ll name the egg, fight over it, and Jessica breaks their egg. She names the second egg Steven Fido the second (Steven was her choice, and Fido was Rick’s). Sophia and Patrick are asked where their egg-daughter should go to nursery school. They do the “what do you think? I don’t know, what do you think?” thing for so long they run out of time and lose points on their project.

eggs2

While working on their budget Jessica gets exasperated with Rick, because he wants to be a rock star and is goading her constantly, so she takes a swing at him and breaks their second egg (it was in his pocket).

Elizabeth invites Bruce over to work on their project. He shows up for dinner, and is dazzled by Mr. Wakefield’s ability (and willingness) to cook dinner and help them with their schoolwork. Bruce immediately develops a sort of man-crush and throws himself over-enthusiastically into being a better father and husband than his own. It’s amusingly written but also unexpectedly touching. Aww, Bruce. You idiot. Elizabeth starts to feel crowded out of her own project, and resents him for implying she can’t take care of their egg.

Jessica sits on, and breaks, their third egg. Meanwhile Sophia doubles down on her efforts never to express her own opinions, because she doesn’t want to sound bossy like Janet Howell.

Elizabeth points out to Jessica that what Jess is experiencing (having to be the responsible one because Rick won’t take anything seriously) is exactly what Elizabeth goes through with Jessica all the time. When Bruce is out of the room Elizabeth accidentally breaks their egg, and substitutes one from a bowl in the fridge. (Later he will discover it’s hardboiled and get mad at her.)

Sophia and Patrick go grocery shopping and are completely unable to decide what they should cook (each couple has to prepare dinner). Jessica and Rick go shopping, fight, and break another egg-child, and Bruce’s over-parenting is starting to drive Elizabeth to slam groceries around in irritation.

On their third unsuccessful trip to the grocery store Patrick and Sophia have an enormous fight. Jessica and Rick get told off for wasting time during their cooking session, break another egg, fight, and then Rick kisses her. Elizabeth has a tantrum and throws her plate on the floor because Bruce wouldn’t listen to her about hating spinach, and he responds by calmly telling her perhaps she hasn’t been getting enough sleep. She silently vows never to get married.

Sophia finds out her mother is getting remarried to the man she’s been dating (Sarah’s father–Sarah and Sophia are friends), and she tells them marriage ruins everything. Based on, you know, her extensive experience pretending to be married to Patrick.

Rick is now being polite and friendly to Jessica, instead of telling her to lay off the pasta or she’ll get fat, or telling her she has no brains. So now she starts to lose interest in him. Jessica is like a case study of bad romantic choices.

In the end the students (all of them, not just the ones getting page time) rebel during assembly, yelling that the project is impossible. Mr. Seigel is pleased, because apparently the point of the project was to demonstrate that marriage isn’t just romantic, and it can’t work unless both partners know each other well and are clear about what they expect to get out of the relationship. Wow, that is both manipulative and futile, since you just know Elizabeth (for instance) will walk away thinking the whole thing would have worked perfectly if only she’d been paired with Todd…

The tragic outcome when you get your sex education from Sweet Valley Middle School.
The tragic outcome when you get your sex education from Sweet Valley Middle School.

Quotations:

Bruce shook his head regretfully. “I’m going to make a copy of that article on spinach for Mr. Seigel. Maybe he doesn’t know how hard it is to get enough iron. You know what else? The manual said most people don’t get enough calcium, either.”

He chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. “Come to think of it, Elizabeth, I haven’t seen you drink any milk lately. But don’t worry. I’m going to start reminding you to drink some every day at lunch.” (p. 89)

I’m sorry, that is adorable.

“So listen,” Bruce said, trying hard to keep his voice casual. “This husband and fatherhood thing was cool and all, but I’m afraid its time to go back to my bachelor ways.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth said agreeably.

He studied her for a moment. “But, uh, even though we’re not married anymore, remember what I said. OK?”

“About what?”

“Calcium and iron,” he answered. (p. 130)

Unexpectedly Charming

Title: Unexpected Family

Author: Jill Kemerer

Harlequin Love Inspired

September 2015

Unexpected-Family-SmallReasons I Might Actually Remember This One: I unabashedly loved this story of ordinary flawed people who’ve grown up since their divorce, but my single favourite scene was the Parents Night. Stephanie scrambles to get herself and her four-year-old there; Tom shows up late, yet the teachers and parents fall all over him. It’s an important scene in the book, since it brings up Stephanie’s issues with his previous absence from their marriage and her own mother’s absence from, well, everything. But more than that, it was achingly real. I don’t know a single mother who doesn’t have a story like that, because dads get credit just for  showing up. I even understand, a little, why we do it: we want to encourage men to be involved in parenting, so we go overboard praising even minimal efforts, whereas somehow we just expect mothers to parent. But it stings sometimes, and I appreciated the book for acknowledging it.

Active Ingredients:

Pumpkins

Secret Baby

Sequel-Ready Family

Circumstantially Celibate

Divorced but not Forgotten

Mommy Issues

She Works Hard for the Money

Plot Moppet

Christianity

Sweet Valley Twins #53: The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley

Where Are We? Sweet Valley Middle School: Mr. Bowman’s English class

When Are We? Some indeterminate point during the school year. This book starts on the Monday after a “big social studies project” and a “big science project.”

Recap: Jessica tells Mr. Bowman that they’ve been doing too much reading and slimewriting in English class and they should do something fun. Instead of laughing uproariously or turning to drink he entertains suggestions from the class, and shy Leslie Forsythe suggests they make a movie. Elizabeth suggests they use a camcorder and the VCR from the school library.

After school Elizabeth, Leslie, Amy, Brooke and Sophia go to Sweet Valley Video to talk to the manager, Leslie’s friend Deirdre, who studied acting at UCLA. Nice to see that career choice worked out for her. They look at movies to get an idea what kind they want to make.

Ultimately Elizabeth talks the class into combining “a love story and a horror story in a comedy.” Okay then. They’re having auditions, and naturally both Jessica and Lila want the lead. Elizabeth wants to be the scriptwriter. Leslie secretly wants to audition as well, but is nervous.

Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield reveal that sometime soon (but not until after the movie) they’re going to Mexico without the children. Steven thinks he’s old enough to look after Elizabeth and Jessica without help. I wouldn’t agree to look after Jessica without a stun gun, even now that I’m an adult.

Pete has been playing pranks in English class. He made a cricket noise one day, and on the day the students are all listing their three job choices (for the movie) in order of preference, he uses a string to make an easel fall over.

Amy suggests the title while she and Elizabeth are brainstorming on the phone. They both agree it’s perfect because the Unicorns will hate it.

Jessica and Lila both volunteer their parents’ camcorders because Mr. Bowman says the school library one is old and doesn’t record sound very well. Mr. Bowman has the class watch Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so they can discuss camera techniques. Pete makes the VCR turn itself off and on again several times. Afterwards the students brainstorm ideas for their slime movie. Mr. Bowman suggests he and the principal take part as victims of the slime monster.

At the auditions Lila is wooden, Jessica and Randy are great, and Dierdre is too shy to try out (plus she secretly really likes Randy) so she sneaks away and cries. Awww. Poor kid. I was that shy once too.

Jessica feels so confident after the audition that she goes home and makes a salad without being asked. Then she peels potatoes. Maybe this is why everyone always gives her whatever she wants. Which happens again: at school the next day Mr. Bowman announces Jessica is playing the female lead.

But all is not perfect. Randy Mason gets the male lead, even though Jessica thinks he’s a “first-class nerd.” Lila gets offered the part of the Slime Monster, but turns it down (boo, hiss: a real diva would have run with that role, Lila), so Winston Egbert gets it. So Jessica gets to act with two boys she can’t stand.

Elizabeth, Amy, Leslie and Maria are the scriptwriters. Lila is in charge of clean-up. Bet that Slime Monster’s looking pretty good now, huh? But she refuses, saying she’s going to operate her father’s camcorder. WHY is she allowed to get away with that? She’s still stuck on the clean-up crew as well, though, just not in charge of it.

When Jessica’s in the lunch line on Friday Janet Howell comes over and pompously congratulates her, telling her she’s sure Jessica will make the Unicorns proud. On Saturday Lila drags the camcorder around everywhere, filming her friends at awkward moments in the name of “practice.”

Elizabeth, Amy, Maria and Leslie work on the script. Elizabeth and Amy are determined to solve the “mystery” of why Leslie didn’t audition, since she loves movies and all. Shyness must be so rare in Sweet Valley that they literally cannot identify it.

By Monday everyone is sick of Lila filming them in embarrassing situations. Also, the script is finished. Elizabeth lets Jessica read it that night, and Jessica freaks out because she discovers she’ll have to kiss Randy and Winston.

Later she confides to Mandy that part of the reason she’s so upset is that she’ll have to have her first kisses on-camera. Although in the middle of that explanation she also says she was kissed by a high school freshman,  but that doesn’t count somehow because she didn’t kiss him back.

At rehearsal she deliberately keeps interrupting with stupid requests for water and to have the lights turned down, and they don’t make it all the way to the kiss scene. At the second rehearsal she fakes a coughing fit. Mr. Bowman (probably guessing what’s going on) says they’ll just rehearse the lines, not the action, for the kissing scenes.

Lila pretends to be nice, and gets Jessica to come over to her house and practice fake-kissing a pillow. Which Lila films. And then she offers to keep the film at her house so Steven can’t see it. Oh, Jessica. How can you not know this is a set-up?

Leslie stops by the video store, and admits to Dierdre that she was too scared to audition. Dierdre explains to her that she gave up acting because she was too afraid to audition, and has regretted it ever since.

The four scriptwriters get together to watch what there is of the movie so far, and also a real movie, which Leslie recites big pieces of, making them all realize she can really act. She admits to the others that she was there during auditions but got scared and left, and also tells them about her crush on Randy. Maria (who has actual acting experience) tells her that even real actresses lose their cool when they get near somebody they like a lot. They all bemoan the fact that it’s too late for Leslie to try out.

Lila invites everyone over to her house and shows off her videos of everyone’s embarrassing moments, including Jessica’s kissing practice with the pillow. Jessica is so humiliated that on Monday she quits the movie (and ends up being assigned to work on the costumes). That afternoon Leslie tries out and gets the part. She also enlists Pete’s help to get back at Lila.

That weekend the Unicorns have a sleepover to celebrate the end of filming, and everyone talks about how special it is to be in front of the camera until they’ve convinced Lila she needs to try it. So she does the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, passionately, using a dust mop as Romeo.

On the night of the screening of The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley, which the entire school attends, Pete has made the video of Lila into a “coming soon” ad at the start of the film.

Quotes:

The Unicorns seriously over-estimate their importance to other people:

Leslie giggled. “Did you know that Lila and Jessica tried to bribe me not to sign Winston’s petition? They promised they’d wave at me when they saw me in the hallway if I didn’t.” (p. 9)

Elizabeth seriously over-estimates the abilities of a sixth-grade English class:

“Hey, I’ve got the perfect solution to the argument,” Elizabeth said. “We’ll make a comic spoof of a horror-story plot with a love-story ending!” (p. 17)

I sort of love Jessica, though:

As Jessica started out the door, Lila caught up with her. “Did you hear?” she asked, smiling sweetly. There’ll be bit parts, as well as the lead. I’m sure you’ll get some kind of role, Jessica.”

“Yes,” Jessica said coolly. “I’m sure I’ll get the lead role. And I hope you’ll enjoy your bit part, Lila.” (p. 28)

Way harsh, Mr. Bowman:

“How do you audition for the part of a Slime victim?” Caroline asked.

“Just be yourself, Caroline,” Mr. Bowman said as the bell rang.

I’m side-eyeing Elizabeth so hard right now:

“Brian kisses Sherri?” Jessica shrieked. “You mean, I’ve got to kiss Randy Mason, on top of Winston Egbert?”

“Not on top of Winston, exactly,” Elizabeth said, this time not able to control her grin. “More like beside him.” (p. 87)