Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sweet Valley Junior High #3: Soulmates

I somehow ended up with this book, one in the middle of the series, and the last five or six books. Since I had no idea this series even existed until a few years later, I had to do a little reading to get caught up.

Basically, this is the twins’ eighth grade year. Sweet Valley redid the school districts, and somehow the twins ended up at Sweet Valley Junior High, while all their other friends are still at Sweet Valley Middle School, including Winston who literally lives a block away, in the same direction as the new school. They no longer talk to any of their old friends because their new friends want nothing to do with them.

Salvatore is Todd 2.0. He’s the guy who draws funny cartoons that the newspaper constantly rejects, and since this is still a Sweet Valley book, he has a mad crush on Elizabeth. He thinks about her all the time and can barely function around her. None of this sits too well with his best friend Anna because she recently developed a thing for him.

All three are on the school newspaper, which apparently is nothing like the one at SVMS. There is one head editor, and she has complete control over what the paper prints. Elizabeth writes a few “funny” articles that get shot down, and Anna who handles editing on articles, can’t handle it anymore and quits. She gets a little pissed off when Elizabeth not only refuses to quit the paper, but actually takes a job working on an environmental article for them.

Anna hears through the grapevine that Sal and Elizabeth are spending a lot of time together. They even go to the mall together without *gasp* asking her to go. She starts avoiding them all the time, until she runs into his friend Brian. Brian realizes that she likes Sal, and he tells her that she can’t avoid them forever.

Elizabeth writes the big article for the paper, and the editor loves it. She suggests making her the permanent environmental reporter, and since this isn’t the Liz that we all hate, she decides that the job is too boring and something she doesn’t want. She asks if she can use a penname like Frieda Whales or Imma Frog, and when the editor turns them down, she tells them to pull her article completely.

She goes to Sal, who finally tells her that he got turned down on every cartoon he submitted. Elizabeth feels so bad for him that she gives him a hug and gets a gushy feeling. They ask Anna to go out for pizza with them, and she turns them down. She shows up anyway, and they start talking about how they wished they could put out their own magazine. The owner of the pizza place overhears, and she offers to buy ad space to help them out. Ah, now this sounds like a Sweet Valley book!

Meanwhile, Jessica is a complete loser with no friends. While hanging out at the mall by herself, she runs into cool girl Lacey and her little sister. Some older girls stop to talk to them, some guys nearby try flirting, and one steals the little girl’s stuffed rabbit and runs off with it. Jessica chases after him and gets the rabbit back when cute guy Damon climbs into the fountain and retrieves it.

Lacey suggests that she try out for cross country because she’s trying out too. She then tells her friend Kristen that she’s just using it as an excuse to hang out with her older friends and that Jessica will cover for her. Jessica goes to the first practice, and this girl Bethel treats her like a dumb cheerleader. Lacey picks on a heavy girl, and Jessica kind of laughs even though she doesn’t think it’s funny. Who the heck is this girl?

Jessica turns out to be a natural at running, and winds up doing almost as good as Bethel. The two girls have a slight rivalry, and Bethel challenges her to a race, which she almost wins. Jessica discovers that her cheerleading shoes are really uncomfortable, but her parents won’t buy her a new pair because she already spent a ton of money on clothes. The school sells off all the old items from lost and found, and she finds a pair of trainers.

Since she doesn’t want anyone to know she’s wearing hand me down shoes, she decorates them with markers. Bethel says that they look just like a pair she lost the year before. She keeps riding Jessica about the shoes until she sees her start crying. Later on, she decides that girls like Jessica never cry so it must have been a trick.

Even though Jessica keeps showing up for practice and working her ass off, Lacey frequently blows off practice. She keeps saying that she and Jessica should hang out, but then she gets pissed when she calls her house. When she finally does suggest they do something, she flakes and calls hours later. They go rollerblading, and Lacey introduces her to some older kids who are in some random band that Jessica loves.

One of the guys starts singing to her and flirting with her. Lacey tells them that she has the perfect excuse to hang out with them, and when Jessica starts to figure it out, Lacey decides that it’s time to leave. The coach picks the runners for the next meet and passes out shirts to the girls who are there. Jessica tries to take one for Lacey, but the teacher says that since she only came to 2 out of 10 practices, she can’t have one.

Lacey gets mad that Jessica didn’t get her a shirt, but she still wants to use her. She tells Jessica to tell her dad that all the girls are studying if he calls her house after the meet. The girls get out of school early for the meet, and Lacey starts to leave too, wearing a shirt that she stole from the locker room. Lacey starts to leave too, and Bethel calls her out in front of the teacher, saying that she isn’t a member of the team. Lacey asks Jessica to stick up for her, but she realizes that Lacey will always want something from her and tells the teacher the truth.

By this time, Ned and Alice decide that Jessica really does enjoy running, so they buy her the fancy new shoes. They go to the meet, and Jessica does really well until she trips and falls. Bethel helps her up while still running, and Jessica manages to finish in the top five. She finds that she has two copies of some weird Japanese girl group tape, and that the other copy belongs to Bethel.

Jessica gives Bethel back her tape, and Bethel comments on her shoes. She confesses that she actually did buy her old shoes, and they share a laugh. The book ends with Jessica realizing that she made her first real friend at Sweet Valley Junior High.

*Who are these weird Wakefield parents? They say that they have to split their money evenly between all three kids and that money is tight. Aren’t they the same parents who give their kids hundreds of dollars for random projects later on?

*Elizabeth’s jokes are lame with a capital lame. One of her articles is on proper etiquette on the school bus and another is a funny version of the cafeteria menu. It comes across as something from an old, old, old, old copy of MAD, but naturally everyone finds them hysterical.

*These might be newer books, but Elizabeth still has no clue! She can’t tell that Anna has a major crush on Sal, which is just ridiculous.

*Jessica as a running jock seems a little unbelievable, but she explains that she went running a lot with Steven over the summer.

*Speaking of Steven, it seems a little weird to hear about him driving some random Oldsmobile when it SVH, I believe he had a Dautsun LOL.

*The SVJH books are supposed to be more realistic and updated than the other books, which I completely get. I find them kind of entertaining, but I miss the craziness.

*I’ve heard from multiple people who read these books as teens and then read the other books and hated them. That just boggles my mind.

*Is it wrong that I really like Jessica in these books? I’d love them to do another series that bridges the gap between this one and SVH, so that Francine has to explain why Jessica went from bitchy cheerleader to nice jock to bitchy cheerleader again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chain Letter 2: The Ancient Evil (Christopher Pike)

Fran comes home from working at McDonald's to find a purple envelope in the mailbox. Naturally, it is a new chain letter sent just to her.

The book then jumps to Tony and Alison. They planned to both attend college in LA and stay together, but then Alison got accepted into NYU and decided to move across the country. They haven't had sex lately and they just keep fighting about her move. She's pissed that he brought it up yet again before they could have sex, while he's pissed that she's leaving him behind. He eventually walks out on her and seemingly breaks up with her.

Since she has plans to go shopping for school clothes with Brenda, she heads over to her friend's house. Brenda says that Fran called her, so they head over there. Fran tells them about the letter, which has her task hidden in a secret message in the classified ads. They read the message, and it tells her to drown her puppy. Alison calls the other friends, but no one answers their phones.

Tony heads to the mall, half expecting to run into Alison shopping. After grabbing some food, he sits down by the fountain and makes a wish. A random woman starts talking to him and introduces herself as Sasha. He lies, telling her he goes to UCLA and they do a little flirting, though he is supposedly guilty since he still has a girlfriend. Sasha says that he looks like he has a back injury and gives him her number, telling him to call if he wants a deep tissue massage.

Tony heads over to Kipp's house who just got a message from Alison. Tony calls Fran and Alison tells him about the letter. He offers to call Joan, but it turns out that she's on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere. They all wonder if someone in their group is playing a prank before wondering if someone knew what happened to them before.

Then, the book jumps to this guy Eric. He always wanted to be a detective, but he had ear infections that left him almost totally deaf. His uncle works as a desk jockey and gives him the code that lets him read the police files, which will supposedly help him when he starts working as a private investigator. He randomly comes across Neil's file and realizes that there's something wonky. Neil was identified by his emerald ring, but Eric knows that emeralds melt easily in heat. He contacts Neil's former dentist and gets a copy of his X-rays, which help him discover that the body found burned in the house was someone else.

Alison wakes up in the middle of the night and hears sirens nearby. The phone rings, and it's Fran's mom. The police called and asked her to come to the hospital because of Fran, but she can't find her glasses and her husband is out of town. Alison calls Tony and he picks up the mom, and they all meet at the hospital. They try to reassure her that she's fine, but then the doctor announces that she died.

Alison manages to track down one of the officers who grudgingly tells her that Fran hit a tree and was somehow decapitated in the accident. They all gather together the next day, and Alison is the only one who finds it odd that Fran died immediately after refusing to do what the note writer asked. Kipp got his message, which told him to burn the arm of his beloved little sister. They all agree that he should get out of town instantly. Tony and Alison exchange words, and he immediately storms off to take a run by himself.

When he gets back in the car, he finds Sasha's number and calls her. She invites him to meet her for a drink so he swings by her apartment. After noticing that it smells medicinal, she tells him that it must come from her working at the hospital and changes the subject. They go dancing, have a few drinks, and then she asks him about his girlfriend. When he says that Alison wouldn't be with anyone else, Sasha suggests driving by her house to check it out.

Meanwhile, Alison decides to take a drive to clear her mind and winds up by the lake. As she sKipps a few stones, a mysterious man pops up next to her. He seems to know her and invites her into his cabin for a cup of tea. He makes a few cryptic comments about how love will save them all and that there is someone who can help. She leaves, then checks the cabin, and finds that it's completely empty and looks like no one lived there for years.

One of the things that “Chris” said sends her back to Neil's house. She finds a weird guy poking around, which is actually Eric. He tells her that he works for the police, but finally admits that he found the file. They go to Denny's to talk about the case, and she ends up telling him what really happened and the notes they recently got. Eric uses the information to find the guy who they hit that night in the first book: James Whiting. He takes her number and agrees to help her, and she gives him a kiss on the cheek.

Tony sees it happen, and Sasha tells him that it's okay and takes him back to her place. She has him get undressed and gives him a long massage before he falls asleep. Tony has an intense dream of Kipp burning to death, wakes up, and calls him at his aunt's house. After getting off the phone, he tries to leave and Sasha basically seduces him. She takes him into the bedroom and makes out with him, and he confesses everything to her.

Alison wakes up to Brenda calling because Kipp is dead, burned to death early that morning. She's next on the list and wants everyone to stay away from her. Alison gathers everyone together for another meeting and Eric comes along. Brenda's message told her to cut off her trigger finger and give it to Joan. Tony gets belligerent and tries to walk away from the group. This is pretty much the moment that I start hating the fucker.

When she tries to talk to him, he calls her a whore and bitch. He tells her that he saw her with her new boyfriend and that it doesn't matter because he has someone new. He points out Sasha waiting in his car and says that he had sex with her. He gets in his car, they make out, and Alison realizes that there's something off about the woman.

Eric tracks down Whiting's brother who now runs his business and the man gives him the guy's former address. They go to see his wife Carol, and Alison tells her that they killed her husband. Carol is upset, but she tells them that her husband was already dead. It turns out that James was one a nice guy who got messed up in some weird shit.

He had an affair with a girl named Charlene who frequently came into his record shop. By the time his wife realized it, he was into drugs and other crazy stuff. She caught him using cocaine in their bathroom and threw him out. Charlene was a Satanist, which she discovered when she found dead animals buried in their backyard. She saw Charlene and her friends drag James out of the house one night and followed them to a warehouse.

They all came out alone, so she went to the police. The wife sneaked into the building and found blood, dead animals, and symbols everywhere. A few days later, she got a call that Charlene's body turned up. She killed herself by throwing her body on a knife, and her parents found her just before she died, giving her time to confess to his murder. She said that killing him would give her immortality. Alison immediately thinks about Sasha, and Carol explains that she knows her husband was already dead when they hit him, but she thanks them for trying to find his body.

Carol tells them that Charlene was actually named Jane, and they track down her parents. Her mother died, but her father still lives in the house. While Eric talks to him, Alison looks through the family pictures and realizes that Jane/Charlene is actually Sasha. Is anyone really surprised? Eric has to drag her from the house because she starts screaming and crying.

They decide to dig up Neil's body, but stop by Brenda's house first. She cut off her finger and delivered it to Joan, but she refuses to get medical attention. They rush off to the spot where Tony buried Neil in the last book. Meanwhile Tony has a nightmare that he's trapped in a metal room with Brenda who demands that he kill her or she will kill him. Then he sees Alison who tries to kill him before turning into Sasha. When he wakes up, Sasha tells him that Alison and her new boyfriend want to dig up the body and turn him into the police. Joan shows up, hands him a bag with the finger and one of her dad's guns inside, and tells him that it has his note too. The note tells him to blow Alison's brains out.

Sasha smacks Eric over the head and knocks him out, and Tony threatens to kill Alison. This recap is so long that I kind of want to just cover things quickly. Basically, they all fight, and Eric grabs Sasha's leg and pulls her into the grave. Tony keeps waving the gun around and pointing it at Alison. She flashes back to what the man said and realizes that Chris was probably Neil. She puts the gun against her chest and pulls the trigger herself.

That snaps Tony out of his little spell, and he shoots Sasha in the head. A man comes walking out of the middle of the desert and starts talking to them. Tony begs him to help and the man just keeps talking. A giant snake crawls out of Sasha's body and starts toward Alison, but the man steps on it and smashes it. He tells them that the Caretaker is now gone. He starts to walk off again, and Tony begs him again.

The man stops and tells them that Alison isn't actually dying. Joan switched the bullets with blanks to get back at the Caretaker. It tore up some of her skin, but she will survive. As he walks away, Tony realizes that the man is Neil and rushes to talk to him. Neil says that they will see each other again. Alison comes to and they help her to her feet. Eric wants to check on the gun, but Tony tells him to leave it alone and just believe in miracles, and then he and Alison kiss.

*Seriously Alison, you can't understand why Tony would be upset that you're moving across the freaking country? I guess if he suddenly up and moved to another city, you'd be fine with it.

*I'm not sure how Pike thinks colleges work, but most schools won't send a letter, telling a student that a spot opened TWO WEEKS before classes start.

*Carol handles things a whole lot better than I would. Giving the time frame in these books, it's only been about two years (or less) since everything happened and she's totally fine, she even still lives in their house!

*I totally want to believe that Tony was just an asshole who wanted an excuse to cheat on Alison. Eric didn't see the snake coming out of her head, so in my version of the story, he takes some drugs with Sasha and goes crazy.

*Supposedly, Charlene was embalmed before becoming immortal and she smells like embalming fluid. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't catch a whiff of that and believe it's alcohol like Tony does.

*Charlene apparently met Neil one day and kissed his knee, which led to the tumor that eventually killed him. Nice way to completely change the book series Pike.

*I'm not a big fan of this book at all. I enjoyed the first Chain Letter book, but this one feels unnecessary. It almost seems like he wrote one book and then decided that it needed to fit the craziness of his others. God forbid he just have a book about a guy who goes a little crazy and tries to kill his friends. Nope, it must be some ancient evil that took over his body.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spooksville #1: The Secret Path (Christopher Pike)

Adam and his family just moved from the big city to the small town of Springville. While helping his dad carry furniture into the new house, his dad throws out his back and gives him some money to run and grab a pack of Coke from the store. He runs into a girl who introduces herself as Sally, helps herself to one of his drinks, and offers him a tour of the city.

Sally tells him that all the kids call the town Spooksville because so many weird things happen there. She tells him about the girl who disappeared when a cloud came out of the sky and swallowed her whole, which her friend Watch saw happen. As they go near the grocery store, he sees a gorgeous black Corvette. As a shopping cart careens toward it, he throws himself in front of the car and Sally screams at him to stop.

The woman is Ann Templeton, and she seems to know everything about Adam. She tells him that he’s much more polite than the other kids in town, makes a few cryptic comments, makes rude comments about Sally, and then tells him that she’ll see him soon. Sally asks her about her castle home, which is right next to the cemetery and a big park, and she snaps and leaves.

Sally convinces him to meet Watch even though he kind of wants to just go home. Watch introduces him to an older man named Bum who starts talking about the secret path. Supposedly it leads to other worlds, and Watch wants to look for treasure, but Sally worries about what might happen to them. Bum gives them one clue, which leads them to the cemetery and a tombstone marking the grave of Ann’s ancestor.

The woman founded the city and was a witch who they burned to death. Watch disappears, and they try figuring out the clue. Eventually, Adam realizes that they need to walk around the tombstone backwards, which sends them into a weird world that looks like a darker version of their own. Sally heads to her house and finds that a tree fell down through the roof. Then they go to Adam’s house, and he finds bugs crawling all over and a huge spider the size of a cat in his bedroom. He also discovers the skeletons of his parents in their bed.

Before they can get too far away, they hear a horse outside. A black knight riding the horse comes at them and Adam passes out. He wakes up inside a jail cell next to Watch who disappeared when he found his way into town. A woman who looks like Ann with red hair brings them out of the cell and announces that she is a witch. They’re inside that world’s version of the castle where Ann lives.

The witch shows them a huge hourglass with mystical sand inside, and she tells them that in this world, time runs backwards. Sally manages to find them when they go back in their cell, and they try to get her to climb through the metal bars on the window to save them. After jumping onto a huge chandelier, she helps them escape and they run back to the cemetery.

The witch stops them before they can reach the tombstone. She threatens to rip Adam’s eyeballs out, and he somehow realizes that they need to walk around the tombstone the right way to get back home. She claims that he’s smart but he will never find his way there once she blinds him. She starts to poke out his eyeballs and he reveals that he stole a handful of magic sand from the hourglass. He blows it in her eyes and she screams in pain as they run away.

They get back to the cemetery, walk around the tombstone, and wind up back in their world. Sally realizes that the day looks even brighter, which means that it’s actually earlier than when they originally left. He heads home and his parents are surprised that he got home so fast. And then Sally calls to reveal that she likes him and wants to see him again.

*I’m not sure why I’m surprised that this book is a little dark given that it’s from Christopher Pike, but there are a few moments way darker than a Goosebumps book!

*There’s a whole subplot about how Sally likes Adam. His dad jokes with him about finding a girlfriend, but he says that he doesn’t want a girlfriend until at least seventh grade. In the end though, he decides that he wants to hang out with her some more.

*Bum is the former mayor of Springville, but he says it was a long time ago. No one finds it weird that he hangs out with a bunch of kids either.

*I read one of the later books in the series, and that book was a lot different than this one. I think as the series went on, you kind of needed to read each one to understand/follow the next.