Friday, July 21, 2017

Sweet Valley Kids #32: Left Back!

Elizabeth and Jessica cannot wait for school to start because there's a new boy joining their class. Kisho turns out to be super cool. He was born in Japan and moved to New York as a kid. His parents are college professors and moved a lot, but they most recently moved from Oklahoma.

All the kids in school think he's super cool. When he tells them that his birthday is coming up and that his parents want to throw a party at the park, Lila convinces him to do it at Secca Lake instead because it's bigger and has more room. He makes friends with both the boys and girls, and both the twins like him.

That all changes when they do some math problems in school. He's so good at math that the teacher gives him advanced problems to do. Kisho says that he learned this before. Jessica asks if he learned it in first grade or if he studied it earlier in the year, but he finally confesses that he was held back and that this is his second time in second grade. Cue the bullying.

First up is Lila. She calls him a dummy and turns everyone else against him. When Liz remains friends with Kisho, Lila tells Jessica that her twin must be a dummy too. All the kids gang up on him, make fun of him, and call him stupid all the time. The only kids still on his side is future shoulder patter Liz and Charlie. Liz – and me – think it's weird that Charlie, who makes fun of anything that moves, still wants to be friends with the new kid.

Kisho invites them both over to his house the next day. Jess is less than happy to see her twin hanging out with the dummy and doing things without her. They hear him speaking Japanese to his grandmother on the phone and learns that he speaks the language fluently. He actually has problems with English because he learned Japanese first and because his parents still speak it at home. Kisho shows them some of the Japanese books he has. Charlie then admits that his grandfather is Italian and still speaks with an accent. People make fun of him, which is why he wanted to be friends with Kisho.

At school the next day, Jessica calls Kisho a dumbo in front of a bunch of kids. Caroline then picks up on it and makes fun of him, not knowing the teacher is behind her. Liz and Charlie come up with an idea and lord it over the other kids, especially Jessica, that they'll find out what it is later. The teacher gives a speech about not picking on each other and how all people are different, which seems to affect no one but Jess.

The plan the kids had is a special presentation. Kisho brings in his grandfather, and Charlie brings in his too. The two men talk to the class about their first impressions of America and how much they loved the country right off the bat. They also talk about some of the problems they faced, which makes the kids realize that they're all a bunch of stupid heads.

Jessica feels so bad that she suggests buying Kisho a 64-count box of crayons for his birthday because he really loves drawing. All the kids go to the lake for his birthday and have a good time. He also manages to get Jessica to eat one of those dumplings with red bean paste inside and laughs at her expression when she finds out what it is. I think he'll fit in just fine.

*Am I the only one who totally pictures Kisho as Stephanie's friend from Full House?

*There's a horrible scene where Lila, Ellen, and some other girls are on the swings. When Kisho comes over, Lila loudly says that she doesn't play with dummies and convinces the other girls to leave. Kisho gets sad and goes off by himself, which causes her to say they can stay and play after all. Second grade Lila needs a smack upside the head!

*Kisho draws a card for his grandfather with a picture of himself on the front. When he can't find the black crayon, he gives himself blue hair. Winston then confesses that his grandmother really does have blue hair.

*Jessica really isn't the sharpest crayon in the box and neither is Lila, so I don't know where they get off making fun of someone else.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #173: Danger on the Great Lakes (2003)

Carson surprises Nancy with a cruise around the Great Lakes for her and her friends, and she surprises Bess and George by jumping out at them in a new bikini, seriously. After delivering the news, she suggests that they head to this new boutique where she got her swimsuit to get some new clothes for their trip. They meet Amber, another woman heading off on the same cruise. She explains that her boyfriend, Craig, works on the ship and got her a discounted ticket. They shop together and agree to meet up later.

Almost as soon as they board the ship, they see Craig and Amber in the middle of a big fight. Amber keeps complaining about him to her new friends because even though he's working, she thinks that he should spend more time with her. When Craig learns who Nancy is, he gets her alone and reveals a big secret. He's actually an Interpol agent working undercover on the ship to catch a jewel thief. Nancy agrees to help after seeing his badge and fills her friends in on the case.

The only problem is that this causes them to sneak around together a lot. Amber picks up on it and accuses the two of them of having an affair. She stops spending time with Nancy but does stick to Bess and George. Bess meets an older woman named Laura, who always wears a gold necklace and nail polish that matches her outfit. She encourages Bess to design clothing and says she'll even buy some of her pieces. When she comes to look at Bess's drawings though, she hates everything and acts like a bitch. The next time they see her though, she's completely back to normal and acting like their best friend. Bess and Nancy both wonder if she has an emotional disorder like split personality disorder.

At one shore excursion, Laura tells them to visit one particular shop and to check out all the amazing finds in the basement. While down there, someone locks them in a room and they almost don't get back to the boat before it leaves. Nancy also gets a note from Craig about how Amber is sick and wants to see her but she should take a specific set of stairs to get there. Bess goes in her place, falls down the stairs because someone left slick stuff there, and ends up on crutches for the whole book.

After another excursion, they come back to the boat to find Amber in tears. She tells them that she and Craig went out to dinner, he went to the bathroom, and just never came back. Since he's been acting weird and pulling away from her, she assumes that he dumped her, which might explain why he didn't even come back to the ship. Nancy calls her dad for help because now she wonders if Craig even works for Interpol.

Then, the other shoe drops. Amber comes to her and confesses the true story. Craig really isn't an Interpol agent, he just told her that to throw her off his scent. He and a friend case the ship to find the most expensive furs, purses, jewelry, etc. and steal it. Craig planned one last job and asked Amber to come with him. They agreed to meet at a restaurant after he walked off with the riches, but he never showed up. Since she had nowhere to go, she came back to the ship.

That night, a storm hits right above the ship. Nancy is snooping around outside when someone grabs her and tries to push her overboard. They succeed, but a wave moves the boat in a way that she just lands HARD on the floor below. Unlike other books, where she would just get up and brush herself off, this Nancy is actually so hurt that she can hardly move for awhile.

Laura tells the girls about all these delicious candy shops at the next stop and how she wants to check them off. Since she's acting weird again, the girls follow her but lose her when Amber tries to catch up to them and falls down. By the time they take care of her skinned knees and get her back to her room, Laura is waiting there with a gun.

I bet you're wondering what the hell is going on, right? Apparently, Laura is Amber's mother, and the two worked together to steal a bunch of diamonds, the same diamonds Craig wants. He really is an Interpol agent too. Amber arranged to meet him and make him fall in love with her, both to confuse him and to make sure that she was on the boat. I guess actually buying a ticket was way too hard. She met him at the arranged time, drugged him, and left him in an abandoned house with some food and water.

Amber, seeing all the boxes of chocolates, makes a comment about if those are the gifts for Uncle CN. They then tie the girls up and put them in the bathroom, saying that the porters will eventually find them but not until they get off the ship. They jam the door lock to prevent a key from working, which means the porters will need to remove the whole door to get inside. That happens much sooner than anyone expects, and the door opens to reveal both Carson and Craig.

Craig had a tracker in his watch, and when he didn't call Interpol at his appointment time, they tracked him down. He looked up Nancy's name and learned that she was that girl detective and the daughter of Carson, who is apparently super famous, so he called him. Nancy remembers the Uncle CN comment and realizes that the women are at the CN Tower.

Everyone rushes over there and finds the two about to sell the diamonds, which Laura hid inside boxes of chocolates, to some international man of mystery. Craig makes a call, the cops come, and everyone gets arrested. We also learn that Craig knew Amber was in on the crime the whole time and only “pretended” to fall in love with her. Oh, and the reason Laura acted so weird is that she was actually her much nicer twin sister who allegedly knew nothing about the crime sometimes. Since they're already there, Carson decides to treat everyone to dinner.

*Ned is in New York and doing an internship for an insurance firm. Ugh, how can someone so awesome work in insurance? He's on his way to Oklahoma City for a work trip and takes time out just to take a layover in Chicago so he can drive to River Heights and surprise Nancy with a bottle of expensive perfume. Aw.

*God love Nancy. Bess picks up on random things wrong with Laura like how she quit wearing her necklace and stopped wearing matching nail polish. Nancy's first instinct is a mood disorder or maybe split personality disorder before even considering it's two different women.

*George keeps going to the pool and tells them that she needs to stay in shape to make the swim team next season. Wait, what? Are they in high school and ready to start senior year, or are they getting ready to go to college? Since they keep taking trips like this, I assume they're out of school, but if it's already warm enough for swimming in the Great Lakes region, George should know if she made a college team already.

*When she tells George about Laura's reaction to Bess's designs, George points out that this is an adult woman with lots of money who maybe just doesn't like the clothing an amateur designed.

*They go out to dinner, so both Nancy and Bess wear elegant dresses, but George sticks with brown slacks and a striped button up shirt.

*George meets a professional football player on the ship and starts spending all her free time with him. Bess thinks they like each other, but George explains that he's married with kids and just likes talking about football. Um no. Professional athletes don't just hang around with hot teenage girls because they like talking about sports. To make it even worse, he gives her tickets to the next big game and says he can't wait to see her. Friends, my ass!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sweet Valley Kids #31: Elizabeth and Jessica Run Awayk

Ned's old friend from law school, Mr. Nelson, has two sons: Eric and Wesley who are the same age as the twins and one year younger. Since he and his wife want to attend a conference in LA, Ned and Alice agree to watch his kids for the weekend. The twins actually can't wait to meet some new people and plan all the fun things they can do together. Jess is a little hesitant though because she doesn't really like hanging out with boys.

While hiding out in their fort in the woods, they hear their mom calling because the boys are there. They almost immediately start pulling pranks on the twins. Jessica freaks out when she realizes that her stuffed bear, the one she always sleeps with, is missing. After searching the whole house, the boys tell them that they stuck it in their parents' car and that the bear is now on a trip.

The guys also replace the sugar bowl with salt, which leads to Liz and Steven putting salt in their lemonade. To get back at them, the girls make a bunch of water balloons, hide upstairs, and then toss the balloons at them from the window. The guys get drenched just after drying off and changing clothes after a swim. Ned lectures the twins on how they need to be nice to their guests.

Eric and Wesley then put a bunch of bugs in the bathroom. They think all the bugs are fake until a grasshopper almost jumps on them. When they try to leave, the boys hold the door closed. Alice and Ned finally hear their screams and just roll their eyes at the situation. The twins get a lecture on how they shouldn't overreact and how boys will be boys.

What really sets them off is when they see Eric and Wesley playing in the living room. Apparently, Alice recently spent a lot of time and money on redecorating the room and made it a rule that no one can play there. You're right Alice, who actually lives in a living room? The boys keep goofing off and break her new vase. Alice lectures the twins and tells them they should have told the boys not to play there.

After stomping upstairs, the twins decide that their only choice is to run away. They pack some food, leave a note on the refrigerator, and run away to the fort. It doesn't take long before they run out of food, and both get scared by the sounds they hear outside. They finally hear their parents calling for them and decide to keep hiding for a bit, but then the boys find them.

Everyone compliments them on their awesome fort. Ned apologizes for not listening to them, and Alice says that she probably should have told the boys about the no playing in the living room rule. Gee, you think? The boys apologize too, and everyone gets along until their parents come home and Jessica gets her bear back.

*Steven is kind of funny because he moans about the house being full of babies and when the twins point out the boys are basically the same age as them, he says it proves his point.

*Alice makes lemonade but doesn't put any sugar in it and tells the kids to add as much as they want. Who does that??

*The twins' parents refuse to believe that the boys would lock them in the bathroom. You're right, there has to be another logical reason for your kids to scream bloody murder first thing in the morning.

*The note they leave is hysterical. It's pretty much, “we'll come back when you learn how to not be so mean to us.”

*They take two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some chocolate chip cookies, and two apples with them.

*So apparently, Ned and Alice do not know about the fort because they don't bother looking in there and are shocked by how cool it is. Way to be parents.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Nancy Drew Mystery Files #64: Captive Witness (1981)

Emerson College planned a summer trip across Europe, and somehow Nancy and the girls got an invite. Along with Ned, they head across eastern Europe with Professor Bagley, his assistant Eric, who is in a wheelchair, and some other random kids. Nancy gets a telegram from her dad because one of his clients needs her help. Kessler is an immigrant East Germany and an award winning film director. He recently made a documentary about his life before leaving Germany, but someone stole it from the film festival, so Nancy agrees to check things out.

After arriving at the airport, a random porter steals the professor's bags and runs off. Ned and his friends give chase, but Nancy actually catches him. He threatens her before disappearing. They board a bus to Austria, but the driver acts really gruff. When Bess hears a knocking noise coming from under the bus, he claims it's just some loose tools.

At a random stop, Nancy sees him take something off the engine and throw it in the bushes. He tells the students that there is something wrong with the engine and that help can't arrive until the next day. When she confronts him with the distributor cap that he threw away, he lunges at her and then runs away. A car suddenly appears, he jumps inside, and they take off. Despite giving chase, he's just gone. They then inspect the cargo area and find the real bus driver tied up inside.

They finally get to Austria and find out that someone canceled their hotel reservations. Mr. Gutterman, a big deal real estate agent, offers to find them a place to stay, but the professor turns him down in favor of the hotel helping. Since it's the busy tourist season, the hotel can't find them enough rooms. Gutterman just so happens to know about a brand new hotel that just opened and has plenty of rooms, which he walks them to and helps them get rooms. He seems particularly interested in poor Nancy, which makes Ned slightly uncomfortable.

When she tries to call her dad and all the pay phones are occupied, Nancy follows the advice of the front desk worker and uses one down the street. While chatting with her dad, she hears the tell tale sign of someone tapping the line. Carson points out that he spent quite a bit of money protecting their own phone line from tapping so it must be on her end. The professor then appears and tell her that the front desk worker also recommended that he use the phone down the street.

Bagley, the professor, and Eric need Nancy's help and let her in on a big secret. The professor actually set it up for someone to steal his bags at the airport because he wanted to pass on some misinformation. See, in addition to hosting a college approved trip, the two men have a second mission. They're in Europe to help 10 little kids escape from East Germany and reunite with their families and parents who already left. They bring Nancy in on their plans and ask her to help. Though she already has one mystery on her hands, she willingly agrees.

To check on the missing film, she needs to go to another city. When she can't find a rental car, she agrees to go with Gutterman. Ned is upset until she reveals that she wants him to go too. Gutterman is less than happy and shows them to his car. He puts them in the back and says that he needs to pick up his driver first. When they get to his driver's house though, it's the bus driver from before. Gutterman then tells them that the divider between the front and back seats actually blocks off air in the backseat and that if they don't listen to him, they'll both die.

Nancy and Ned communicate with notes they pass back and forth as she lets him in on her plan. She conveniently brought a weapon that looks like a book but is actually tear gas. When the car stops, she'll spray Gutterman while Ned attacks the other. Instead, Gutterman flashes a gun, forces Nancy out of the car, and locks Ned inside.

He takes her into a secluded cabin that he set up just for conversations like this. It even has a lock on the outside to keep people trapped inside. When the driver serves them tea, she throws it in his face, grabs his keys, rushes outside, and locks the door. She gets to Ned and gets the car started, but the guys get out. Gutterman throws himself in front of the car, and she uses her evasive driving skills to escape. There's like a solid chapter of them getting lost in the mountains and literally driving the car through a river for several miles before it gets stuck. They leave it behind, walk to town, and get on a bus back to the hotel.

Bagley has some big news. Someone tried to steal Eric's wheelchair at one stop. They carried him into the bathroom and when they came out, someone was taking off in it. Nancy goes to the film festival and learns that someone swapped the real film with a blank film. She and Ned check out the processing center that made the film, which should have the negatives, and learn that it mysteriously burned down and all copies are now gone.

Gutterman then calls with a deal for Nancy. If she meets him in private, he'll tell her everything he knows. Not only does he tell her that he knows all about the plan with the kids, but he also shows her a print of the missing film. If Kessler agrees to turn himself in and say that he lied about everything he experienced, they won't go after the kids. Nancy tells him that he's evil for supporting such a bad country, but he just laughs and tells her that he doesn't have a country, he works for the highest bidder.

Some random guy appears at their hotel room. He's one of the “inside” people helping the kids escape. Eric then reveals that he can actually walk but opted to use a wheelchair because it made people think he couldn't do certain things. Random guy tells them everything they need to know about the plan has something to do with that wheelchair. They rip it apart and find the plans hidden inside the seat. And Kessler hops on a plane to turn himself in because he would do anything to help kids in need.

Nancy comes up with an awesome plan and sends her group out with a random list of things to buy. It's like theatrical face paint, black face paint, inner tubes, sunglasses, a blonde wig, ballgown, and inflator. They dress George up like Nancy and send her off with Ned, while Nancy wears a black wig and goes off with Eric, who dresses up like her driver. Gutterman follows closely behind.

Eric takes her to this big and fancy opera performance right on the border of the two countries. She sneaks into the show and then sneaks back out, for reasons that make no sense. Gutterman shows up and claims he has an urgent message for Nancy Drew, but she and Eric sneak away to put on wet suits and black paint.

They then go to the river, which is conveniently located right next to the opera hall. After getting into the water, they inflate all the inner tubes and get to the opposite side, where all the kids are waiting. Bagley and others help them load the kids onto the tubes and head back out, but they hear boats coming, which leads to Eric sneaking onto the shore and causing a huge scene that lets them get away. The police learn what they're doing and help them get all the kids to safety.

Kessler doesn't have to turn himself in after all, but he really wants to know what happened to his documentary. Nancy tells him what she remembered about the place Guterman took her, and he suddenly knows the location. They get there and find Gutterman waiting with the film in one hand and a lighter in the other. Kessler talks softly to him, gets close, and takes the film back while blowing out the lighter. He tells Nancy that they were once friends and even served time in prison together. When Gutterman got out, the government forced him to make propaganda films and that hopefully now he can get his life back. Mm k.

In the end, Kessler wins some big award for his film and invites the whole gang to watch. When he gets his award, he calls Nancy up on stage and tells everyone that he wouldn't be where he was without her help. Yup, 10+ years in political reason and on the run means nothing if you can't get a little help from a teenage detective.

*This book made me wonder why Nancy never went to college. I guess classes would get in the way of her sleuthing, but what excuses do Bess and George have?

*The real bus driver is a dick. He keeps going on and on about classic music and at one point, climbs off the bus and gets in a fight with someone on the street because the guy disagreed with his choice in music.

*What kind of hotel just cancels like 20 hotel rooms on the day a big group is supposed to arrive without double checking anything?

*Nancy refers to Ned as her “special friend” instead of her boyfriend in this book, which I find absolutely charming.

*There's a whole scene with the driver almost going over a mountain with Ned and Nancy in the backseat before gaining control of the car. It's kind of random because it doesn't really add anything to the story.

*My book has a coupon in the back to join the Nancy Drew River Heights USA Country Club. For just $5, you got stickers, a membership card, bookmark, iron on transfer, enamel club logo pin, and FOUR copies of the newsletter each year. Where do I sign up???

*Someone actually filled out the order form in the back too! This little girl from Michigan picked out all the books she wanted, which was 13 and include two Hardy Boys crossovers, and actually filled out the credit card information. I bet her parents weren't too happy!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Team Sweet Valley #2: Win One for Sandra

Since this is yet another – and actually the only other Team Sweet Valley book – it must naturally come from Elizabeth's point of view. Prior to the start of the book, Maria convinced her to try out for the volleyball team. Even though she loved playing with friends, she didn't think she was good enough to be on a team. She not only made it but can't stop boasting about how much she's improved since joining. Also on the team are Cammi, Maria, Mandy, Ellen, and Kimberly. Yeah, that totally makes sense.

Their coach is Sandra. Though she works full-time as the coach for Sweet Valley University, she took maternity leave early and got a job coaching SVMS. Even though she's seven months pregnant, Liz says that doesn't let it slow her down. After one practice, she takes them out for ice cream. Her doctor told her she could have one indulgence day per week, which in her eyes means that she can have two massive banana splits.

Kimberly reveals that Sandra was actually on the Olympic volleyball team, but she just laughs it off because it really wasn't that big of a deal. In fact, she had way more fun competing in the California Games. Not only did her team win, but she became super popular in school. She even tells them about how she dated the cutest guy and still had time to win a bunch of middle school journalism prizes. She makes a comment about being proud of how hard some players worked, which causes Liz to modestly thank her before realizing she was talking to Mandy. That makes her vow to do the best damn job possible and become the hardest working person on the team.

Janet decides that the volleyball team winning will make the Unicorn Club look way better and pretty much goes off on Kimberly about how she must win because she's the captain. Kimberly decides to bring up Elizabeth as a scapegoat in case they lose so she has someone to blame. Janet makes it clear that she doesn't like Liz but then does a 180 and tells Kimberly that she just needs to work harder to make sure they win.

This leads to all the girls fighting with each other and showing off because they want Sandra to think that they're the best player. Kimberly keeps making snide comments about other players, especially Liz and Cammi. Liz comes up with an idea to throw Sandra a baby shower and have all the players chip in on a gift together, but Mandy came up with the idea first. That causes tension between the two of them because Liz can't help feeling like Mandy stole her idea.

Their first game goes so great that they win the meet and decimate the other team. Winston later tells Liz that it was hard to watch because they won by so much that it was more of a slaughter. Sandra gives them all praise, telling Liz that she blocked like a pro. Liz is less enthused when Sandra tells Ellen that she really hustled and put a lot of hard work into the game. Liz pouts but then decides that it's okay because Ellen probably did hustle a little more than usual.

Sandra gives them all a big lecture about what they did wrong in the game, which leads to Maria wondering if they did anything right. Liz then wonders if Sandra thinks they won the game or if the other team lost it. I will give you one guess. She then warns them that the next game against Big Mesa won't be nearly as easy.

It turns out that she was dead right because Big Mesa kicks their ass. They fight so much that Big Mesa pretty much just rolls all over them. Sandra is clearly disappointed and feels the same way during their next practice. The girls all start fighting, and Sandra keeps trying to calm them down but then passes out. They fight over what to do and who to call, and Ellen, Cammi, and Mandy all run to call their moms. Mandy's mom isn't home, Cammi doesn't have any change, and Ellen apparently can't remember her own freaking phone number. Kimberly finally brings up getting a lifeguard, since they're on the freaking beach, and Liz feels pretty bad when the paramedics arrive and one says seconds are valuable in cases like this because she realizes how many seconds they wasted.

Though she wants Jessica to go with her to the hospital, Jessica has gymnastics practice and can't make it. Liz goes by herself and learns that Sandra had her baby, Christopher, early and can't have any visitors. She runs into Mandy in the hospital and talks about her worries. Mandy points out that doctors can do miracles, which is a flashback to her having cancer, which leads to them exchanging knowing glances with each other.

After chatting with Mr. Bowman about all her problems, he tells her that she already has teamwork experience. She's all confused until he points out that she's part of a newspaper team. Given that she just takes over all the time, I don't think that's quite the same. She then tells the girls that they need to work together to win for both Sandra and Christopher. Kimberly is less than happy to let Liz take over until the other girls bully her into it.

It doesn't help that they can't get anyone else to coach the team. The swim coach agrees to show up to games and do all the official work but is way too busy with his own team to show up for practices. Their game against El Carro is pretty awful until Liz institutes a three hit rule where they hit the ball three times every time before sending it over the net. This lasts until the other team picks up on it and pretty much spanks them.

No worries though because they tied for a spot in the play-offs. All they need to do now is beat Big Mesa again. Luckily for them, it's raining so hard that day that the team never shows up. The official even gives them a few extra minutes before calling the game in Sweet Valley's favor. That puts them into the real play-offs.

Jessica and Lila watch from the massive crowd on hand, with Lila constantly talking about how she could play better and Jessica rolling her eyes at the idea of Lila do anything that might cause her to break a nail. Lila explains that she's only there because Janet demanded they all come out and cheer the Unicorns on, which leads to Jessica pointing out that Janet is currently flirting with Big Mesa guys. By the end of the game, Lila is with those guys too.

SV wins the first game, but Big Mesa wins the second. Everyone gets super discouraged until they see Sandra making her way through the crowd. She winds up sitting by the sidelines like she did before and cheering them on as they win the last game and earn a spot in the California Games. Not only does Sandra tell them how happy and proud she is, but she explains that Christopher miraculously healed and that despite being born 2+ months early is ready to come home and will be there at the games.

Mandy does throw a baby shower but throws it at the Wakefield house. Sandra starts opening her gifts and finds out that they all got her the same thing: rattles with handles shaped like animals. She cries because it's proof that they all learned how to work together, but it's really because they all went to the same over priced store and could only afford the same thing.

*Sandra comments on Liz ordering mango ice cream because she was born and bred in Kansas and never even heard of mangoes when she was their age. On literally the next page, she tells them about winning the California Games. While it's possible that she moved to California later in middle school, it feels more like a mistake.

*In no way, shape, or form is going to a middle school competition more exciting than going to the freaking Olympics. She explains that her team were the underdogs in middle school, which is what made it more exciting because in the Olympics, everyone was as good as her team.

*She also tells the girls that she made the Olympic team despite not being very good and actually being worse than other women who tried out, just because she worked harder then them. Um, no, that's not how that works. Olympians are the best of the best. You don't get to that point just because you're a hard worker.

*This book once again makes no sense. There are apparently NO middle school volleyball teams already in existence. They all form teams and start playing, just to compete against each other in the hopes of making it to the California Games. That explains why the Sweet Valley team only had like three weeks of practice before their first game. Why even bother then? It's described in the first book as the Games highlighting the top players and the top teams. That shouldn't include kids who randomly decided they wanted to play a sport at the last minute.

*Lila says that Unicorns are never losers even when they lose when talking about how Liz and her friends are losers after losing a game. It made me want to punch her.

*The swim teach coach literally shows up to a game and spends the whole time looking over papers when they play. When they call him out on it, he says that he really needs to get the roster set for the next match. Would it really take him that freaking long?

*Janet literally tells Kimberly that once they win the California Games, it's okay if the reporters want to come and talk to her first about the Unicorns. I know she's self-absorbed, but is Janet really that delusional?

*Jessica excitedly jumps up and screams game when she thinks they won, but Big Mesa hits the ball back and keeps the game going. She pouts and thinks about how it's not fair that she wants SV to win so bad and how the other team just won't give up. Yeah, I'm pretty sure this is the only book where that doesn't happen.

*So, Liz goes to the over priced baby store, which has like white carpets everywhere and loads of stuff inside locked wood cases. She picks out an outfit that costs over $40 and then looks at stuffed animals, the cheapest of which is like $42. She gets the rattle because it's only $3, which is why all the other girls do the same thing. Is there seriously like no Target, Walmart, or Babies R Us stores in Sweet Valley? There is no way everyone in town can afford to outfit their nurseries in that place!

*In case you didn't notice, there is no resolution to this book. They get the chance to go to the California Games but don't.

*I'm a little confused by this book because it apparently takes place at the same time as the first book. That book had a few mentions of Liz playing volleyball but no references to her winning, but in this book, Jessica hasn't even competed in a gymnastics meet yet.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Nancy Drew Files #56: Make No Mistake (1991)

A bunch of people in River Heights are all sad because this millionaire named Clayton Glover passed away. His son Matt went missing five years ago during an avalanche in Colorado and is presumably dead, so no one really knows what will happen to his fortune. He apparently left behind a will that set aside money for his old housekeeper and for some charities in town. Before people get too excited about their new fortunes though, his son Matt suddenly reappears from the dead!

Matt claims that he woke up from the avalanche with amnesia and couldn't remember who he was. He remembered that he liked to write, adopted the name Gary Page, and became a newspaper writer. After spending a few years writing, he accidentally stumbled upon his dad's obituary and suddenly remembered who he was. Mrs. Adams, the old housekeeper, is sure it's him, but no one else is sure what to think except for Bess.

See, Matt was five years older than them but nice enough to invite all the younger kids to his mansion for ice skating, parties, and other events when they were younger. Bess had a crush on him back then, which quickly becomes current once she meets him. Matt starts inviting her over all the time and spending a lot of time with her. Tony, the leader of an environmental group in town, tells Nancy to come see him the next day because he can prove that this guy is not Matt.

Tony's office is pretty shitty. There's trash everywhere, no one really around, and lots of unpaid bills. He tells Nancy that he and Matt were like brothers when they were younger and that there is something about this guy that he doesn't like. Since he offers no real evidence, Nancy breaks into his office and winds up trapped when his dogs attack. The dogs are actually big sweethearts though, and Tony is more upset at her not trusting his gut feeling than her breaking the law.

Nancy then hears about Jake Loomis. Loomis was a landscaper in town and worked for Glover. After his death, he left River Heights for Chicago and opened some huge landscaping business. Gary Page, Matt's old identity, wrote a story about Loomis. Nancy meets his old editor who gets irritated that people might not believe he's actually Matt but does let it slip that he never talked about his past and never mentioned that he supposedly suffered from amnesia. Nancy and George both meet Loomis who makes up excuses for why he didn't realize Gary was Matt, despite knowing him his entire life.

Matt keeps throwing all these parties and has no problem spending his dad's money. He starts driving his dad's vintage car, wearing his old watches, and spending a lot of money on new clothes. Bess is so over the moon that she refuses to listen to anyone who tells her to slow things down. When Matt invites them over one day, he convinces them to go for sleigh rides and even rents horses from nearby.

Someone in a red jacket runs in front of the horses carrying Nancy and George. The horses flip out, Nancy tries to calm them down, and the reins break. She wakes up in a room in the mansion to learn that George landed safely in a snowbank. Once she feels better, she finds a wet red jacket in the closet. She suspects that someone though she was Matt because she was wearing his hat, but the only person who could have worn the jacket was Mrs. Adams.

Though she does kind of suspect this 60+ year old woman, everything changes when Nancy stops by one day and finds her crying over cake. Matt explains that every time she made him or his dad a cake when he was younger, his dad would treat her to a bakery cake made just for her. Since she made him pie, he decided to treat her in the same way. Mrs. Adams confides in Nancy that she was sure he was Matt because he called her Addie, a nickname only he knew about, but not she's not so sure. She's so allergic to chocolate that she once had a massive reaction and almost died in front of him, which is something kids don't forget.

Nancy then comes up with a plan. She has Tony call Loomis's office and pretend that he's Matt with a request that they meet in River Heights at seven. She then goes to Bess and convinces her to carry a micro recorder over to Matt's house and lie to him about something to catch him. Bess only agrees to help if Nancy will let her prove that he's the real deal and then drop it.

Bess brings up his 18th birthday party and really does catch him. The real Matt has two cakes shaped like a one and eight with mocha fudge frosting. Fake Matt says he had a purple and white cake in the shape of a football because he was a football star in high school. When she makes up an excuse to leave, he grabs her and the recorder accidentally falls out. Loomis then appears and flips out.

Nancy tries to run inside and help but only makes this worse. Turns out that Matt is really just Gary Page. He met Loomis, who noticed the resemblance between him and Matt. When Matt's dad died, Loomis trained him on how to be the real Matt and brought him back to town. Gary suggests that they bring the girls in on the scam and that they'll split the money with them. Tony's dogs suddenly burst into the room all freaked out.

Not knowing that the dogs are sweethearts, the two men run for the hills. Tony catches Gary, and Nancy knocks Loomis out with a judo kick to the back, seriously. The cops then come and arrest them both. Tony tells her that his dogs hate water, so he tossed water on them to freak them out before breaking into the house.

In the end, Carson writes up a press release. Glover set aside a large sum of money for Mrs. Adams, donated his house and grounds to the city – provided that they open the grounds up for ice skating like his son always loved and name the museum inside his house after his son, and gave money to a bunch of charities like Tony's environment group. Everyone takes a moment to think about how he was such a great guy. Bess then announces that the whole experience makes her think that anything can happen and that she realizes the real Matt might be alive and ready to come home. Ugh.

*I'm guessing that River Heights is somewhere in Illinois because Nancy goes to Chicago for a few hours two different times.

*Mrs. Adams is so allergic to chocolate that she almost died from eating a cookie with candy in it, yet she has no problem cutting and serving a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting that other people eat. Um, that's not how food allergies work...

*Nancy discovers that new Matt has the same scar on his wrist that old Matt has but thinks he created it because it's pink and not skin colored like older scars are. Yeah, I have a massive scar that is 20+ years old on my ankle that is still pretty pink.

*New Matt passes a lie detector test but fails when he says he was never in Colorado where the avalanche happened. Carson explains that new Matt was so caught up in his lie that he believed everything Matt experienced happened to him but that he never learned about the avalanche, so he couldn't pass those questions. Yeah, okay.

*Thanks to this book, we now know that River Heights High School colors are purple and white!

*Mr. Glover is like the richest man in River Heights but has a total worth of $10 million when he dies, which really isn't a lot-lot. There are houses in my area that sold for half that amount or more recently.

*Ned calls a few times and has to break plans to come home the next weekend because of a big test. Nancy is all sad, even though she breaks plans with him all the time, but I'm just surprised that she didn't run off and cheat on him.

*George is super worried about fake Matt because of the age difference between him and Bess. She's 18, and he's like 23. I knew girls in college who weren't much older and dating guys in their mid to upper 30s, which was way creepier.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Team Sweet Valley #1: Jessica Goes for the Gold

The California Games are fast approaching. If you never heard of them before, don't worry because they were totally made up for this very small series. Like decades ago, California decided to host its own miniature Olympics for junior high kids. The top 25 teams in all sports would meet once a year to compete. Due to budget cuts, this got dropped to once every two years.

Jessica joined the gymnastics team and is the best one on the team because of her amazing natural talents. Little kids literally freeze when they see her around town or at meets because she's the best gymnast in the entire world. Some even ask for her autograph. She assumes that she'll take home the gold and that everyone will totally love her.

At one of their last meets of the year, she scores a 9.5 on the uneven bars, which is the highest score that anyone on her team ever got. That guarantees that they'll get to compete in the California Games. At that meet, she finally gets to see Dawn, who is the best gymnast on the Weston Middle School team. Everyone refers to her as the Weston version of Jessica Wakefield, which Jessica finds ridiculous because everyone knows there is only one Jessica Wakefield. Dawn places second and refuses to even shake her hand. Jessica graciously thinks that Dawn should be happy to come in second at a meet that involves Jessica Wakefield.

Weston only has two more chances to make it to the California Games, but both meets put them up against SVMS. Coach Arlin, the only coach we've ever seen in Sweet Valley books, tells Jessica to watch Dawn because she's so graceful. Jessica thinks that's insane because she's so clearly better. Dawn goes to the locker room, hides baby oil under a bandage on her ankle, and then competes on the uneven bars. After her turn, she spreads the oil all over the bars. Jessica slips and slides all the bars and scores a 5. something. When she accuses Dawn of putting oil on the bars, which the other girl quickly cleans off, Coach Arlin tells her to calm down before they get disqualified for unsportsmanlike behavior.

When Elizabeth gives her a whole lecture on how an eye for an eye is a bad thing, Jessica goes to Steven for advice. He tells her that basketball players cheat by putting sugar in the other team's towels. When guys rub their hands on the towels, the sugar gets all over, and as they sweat, it sticks all over them. After some experimenting, she figures out how to mix sugar with the chalk for the bars competition.

After her own performance at the next meet, she “accidentally” trips and spills the chalk. She then refills it with her own mixture. Dawn uses that chalk, can barely hold onto the bars, and falls. Jessica smirks about it and thinks she doesn't even deserve the low score that she gets. She completely ignores the fact that the coach has to carry Dawn off because she thinks she can't possibly be really hurt. Jessica then has to jump into action and replace the mixture before Lila can compete.

Two little girls chatting next to her the next day make her realize that Dawn really did get hurt. Jessica calls the Weston coach and says her name is Elizabeth Fowler. The coach says that Dawn has to rest for the weekend and see how things go but that there is a chance she might not be able to compete. Jessica calls her and then feels bad enough that she takes her a gift basket, but Dawn refuses to even look at her because she knows that Jess sabotaged her routine.

Since this is Jessica “No Conscious” Wakefield we're talking about here, she decides to just blow her off and ignore her from now on. The only problem is that she keeps thinking about how she might get hurt and how gymnasts get hurt all the time, which makes her too afraid to even get up on the bars. Her coach keeps pushing her, but she keeps putting it off. She can't even talk to Liz about it because she doesn't want anyone to know she's scared.

We also have to deal with Donald Zwerdling. After losing a shot to join the boys' team, he starts hanging around the girls all the time and becomes their towel boy. He tries to pick up tips from them, but they're way too busy to help him, so he starts trying to practice on his own. This causes him to use their equipment, get in their way all the time, and he even almost knocks Lila down once.

Jessica heads over to the Weston gym and can't help noticing that the school is super rundown and that it doesn't have nearly as many resources as her own gym. Dawn refuses to see her or talk to her, but she tells her that she'll just keep coming back, and she actually does. She shows up every day and helps Dawn really perfect her routine. This causes her to leave her own practices early and tick off her coach who still wants to see her on the bars.

Donald finally realizes that Jessica is scared and keeps aggravating her until she finally does her routine. It's of course the best thing ever and the best routine she ever did. The coach wants to take the whole team out to celebrate, but Jessica turns them down so she can help Dawn some more. Dawn makes a mistake, and when Jessica tries to help her, she comes down hard on her ankle.

Though she uses lots and lots of ice, she's seriously hurt. At the California Games, she has to skip the dismount that would win her gold and almost can't make a solid landing. Dawn does the best job of her life and wins gold, while Jessica takes home a silver medal. Since Dawn also scored something like two silver medals, a bronze medal, and another gold medal, she also wins a special prize for being the best all around gymnast.

At the ceremony, Dawn gets a little sad because she sees how Jessica's teammates rallied around her when her ankle went out. She realizes that she's so focused on gymnastics that she doesn't have time for friends like that. Jessica tells her on the podium that she looks forward to competing against her again and winning. Dawn tells her that they'll see and then gives a speech as she accepts her awards to thank her good friend for all her help. Gr.

*This was a series that I totally never thought I would find in the “wild” and one I thought I would eventually buy on Amazon. I literally squealed when I spotted both in the series at a thrift store.

*Jessica gets irritated after getting her big score because the judge tells her that she did a nice job and she expects him to tell her it was the most impressive routine he ever saw.

*Lila and Jessica have to tell Janet that they need to skip some Unicorn meetings for practices. Janet freaks out and then calms down because it will be so great when they bring home a gold and silver medal. Jessica points out that she can only win one medal in one event, which causes Lila to roll her eyes and point out that she would bring home the silver. Jessica knows this is as likely as a Wakefield twin failing at something but says nothing because she doesn't want Janet to get mad.

*Other random girls on the squad, other than Lila and Jessica, include Sophia, Mary, and Amy. We never hear anything about them or their scores though.

*Getting to the California Games makes no sense to me. Jessica is super good at the uneven bars, but she never says anything about the other events. They make it to the California Games because of their overall team scores, but then they all compete against each other. Wouldn't they just take the top girls with the highest scores instead of teams where one person may be great and another person is shit?

*When Ned realizes that two brand new bags of sugar went missing, Jessica makes up a story about watching a show about mysterious household goods that go missing. I would totally watch that show.

*I read somewhere that Team Sweet Valley was supposed to be an entirely new series but didn't do so well, so some of the books are just listed as SVT books. It makes sense though. In the second book, it sets things up for later books that never come.

*Everyone keeps talking about how Jessica is so amazing because of her experience taking dance classes and as a Booster. Except that her cheerleading squad really doesn't do anything special, and dance classes won't help with things like the vault or bars.

*Donald knows so little about gymnastics that he doesn't even realize the guys and girls compete in different events until someone points it out.

*Donald is extremely annoying. Amy takes a break from practicing her floor routine, Donald takes over and makes everyone watch as he does something lame and fails yet again, and she tells him that she really needs to practice more. Elizabeth is all shocked at how rude her friend is, but come on! They have like a week to get ready for a big meet, and he's just getting in the way and keeping them from practicing.

*Liz lectures multiple people about how they should be nice to and encourage him because he needs it, except that he doesn't actually need it. There is absolutely no reason for him to be in that gym and wasting their time.

*Jessica eventually decides that winning silver is okay because she can handle giving up Unicorn meetings, gossip, talking about boys, shopping, and all that stuff for a few weeks but that she isn't serious about gymnastics.

*Dawn apparently trains all the time. She's been doing gymnastics since she was a toddler, practices every morning, and practices after school and on weekends. It really annoys me that Jessica joins the team and starts winning first place prizes after a few weeks as well as beating someone who literally trained her entire life. Could they not just make a book where one of the twins loses because she isn't as good as someone else at something? That would much rather be a lesson than the crap books we got where they either deliberately lost like Liz and the whole surfing thing or only lost because they helped someone else for the first time ever.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Unicorn Club #11: Angels Keep Out

Elizabeth has been feeling a little down lately but especially since Mandy ditched the Angels to go back to the Unicorns. While hosting a party for her club at home, the other girls get pretty depressed because they miss Mandy a lot. When she tells her mom about it later, Alice suggests that the Angels have a party at their house the following weekend. Liz immediately tells her friends and starts making plans.

Sadly, Jessica had the exact same idea while hosting a Unicorn Club meeting that day by the pool. Her reason for throwing a party is a little different though. See, one of the kids in the kid center told her that she thought the Angels were the best club because her brother, some popular and super hottie in the eighth grade, said that. Jess wants to throw a party and show that they are the best around. When Liz says she already made plans and that it was Alice's idea, Jessica just says that Liz heard them talking about their own plans, stole the idea, and the convinced her mom that Alice was the one to come up with the idea.

The Unicorns, especially Kimberly, fully believe that Liz overheard them and stole their idea. Kimberly is about ready to attack Liz in front of the cafeteria when Jess holds her back. They decide that they'll just throw an amazing party that will make the Angels feel stupid. At the kids' center, Mandy tells Liz that she feels bad that she can't come to her party. When Liz says that she can come to both parties and tells her that theirs is set for Friday at seven, Mandy can't meet her eye and says that some people may not like that idea. I feel bad for her.

When the Unicorns hear about the party plans, Kimberly and Jessica immediately decide to hold theirs on the same date and at the same time. Mandy begs them to reconsider and even suggests hosting a joint problem, but they act like she's a bug or something. They also plan to throw it at Lila's house. Jessica comes home and tells Liz about their plans, which causes her to freak out. She accuses them of being terrible people, Jessica says it's not their fault they choose the exact same time and that her sister is rude, and Liz says that the Unicorns are unfair and mean. Jess snaps back about how Mandy chose them, Liz actually starts crying, Jess kind of half ass says she didn't mean it, and Liz throws her out of her room.

Liz suggests that the Angels change their party plans, but Kimberly overhears and gives a loud speech about how their club is falling apart. They get right in the faces of each other, and Liz refers to Fowler Crest as Fowler Crust because it's so boring and people are tired of going to parties there. Jessica snaps back that they have a much better party plan and Liz is just out of touch. The only problem is that they have nothing.

Both clubs can't help noticing that the kids center needs some serious help. The roof leaks, they keep running out of food, and now the sink backs up. After Jessica gets doused with slime and gunk from the sink, she later tells her friends about a horrible dream she had about the sink. Mandy then comes up with an idea to throw a fundraiser at the center. Sadly, Liz comes up with the same exact day. Both go to the head of the center and ask for her permission. She gives it to them both and doesn't tell either club about the party the other planned.

While all this is going on, Liz develops one of those “I got it bad for you” crushes on Todd. Even though they kind of dated the year before, she now can't stop thinking about him. Jessica even catches her twin writing his name over and over again in her notebook instead of doing homework. When Liz asks him to the party, he calls it a date and seems pretty excited. In hopes of reaching a compromise with her twin, Liz tells Jess what he said. Jess just acts bored and tells her that there is no way Todd would skip out on an awesome Unicorn party just to hang out with Liz, even if he does like her. Bitch.

We then get multiple chapters of middle school espionage. Liz and Todd come up with a plan to fool Jessica. When she dresses up like her twin and approaches him, he pretends the Angels are still throwing a small party at the Wakefield house. She then goes to the Angels and brags about how she figured out their secret. Since they all know what really happened, they just pretend like they're pissed at her. Liz even accuses Jessica of bugging her locker. Jessica also listens to her phone conversations and follows her around the mall. Liz is too busy worrying about whether Todd like likes her and whether the Angels will throw her out for having a crush to really care about what the Unicorns do.

Both clubs hang up posters for secret parties that tell guests to go to a location for a map and directions. The Unicorns get to the center first and set up a huge casino night event, while the Angels throw a carnival party outside. The lady in charge tells each club that she already started getting some work done to explain why the Unicorns can't go outside and why the Angels can't go inside. Things go fine until Jessica realizes that she was so busy spying on her twin that she completely forgot to bring food for the party. Outside, Liz realizes that she was so busy thinking about Todd that she forgot to bring drinks for the party.

The twins run into each other in the kitchen, and Jess catches Liz trying to steal some soda. They have such a huge fight that the lady in charge – I seriously cannot remember her name! - runs out to check on them. She tells them that she agreed to let both parties happen because she though they would work out their problems and get along. The twins make up and agree to combine both parties. Mandy helps Liz move the refreshment table to an equal distance between both.

Todd approaches Liz and asks if they can spend some time alone. Not only does he totally hold her hand, but he actually kisses her on the lips! So scandalous! The Angels confront her and tease her about her little crush, but they then tell her that it's totally okay to like boys and that if she had told them about Todd, maybe they would have found dates too. Jessica, feeling a little jealous of her twin, decides to take a break and have some fun instead of focusing on guys all the time.

*This is one of those books that flips back and forth between Jessica's and Elizabeth's point of view, which I find super annoying.

*To keep up with the Unicorner, the Angels call “their table” the Angeliner. You have got to be kidding me.

*When the twins fight over the dinner table about who had the idea for a party first, Steven goes from taking sides to encouraging them to fight it out to begging his parents to ban them both from throwing parties.

*All the Unicorns shoot down Kimberly's idea for throwing a party on the beach because it sounds messy and like a lot of work. And yet in high school, they seldom throw a party away from the beach!

*Kimberly wears these shoes that she is obsessed with that are brown loafers with a platform sole. Does anyone else totally remember wearing similar shoes?

*Seriously, why did Mandy go back to the Unicorn Club? In this book, she has more in common with Liz, hates that her friends – especially Kimberly – tell her what she can and cannot do, and is really upset with Jessica for eavesdropping on her sister. It's pretty clear that she's better suited for the Angels.

*In the hopes of impressing Todd, Liz asks her friends what they think about an outfit that consists of a red and black checked sweater, black miniskirt, and black pumps. Is she in seventh grade or a streetwalker?

*Jessica gets angry that Liz throws her out of her bedroom when they have the fight and she brings up Mandy because she did try to apologize. Um no, she basically said like oh that didn't come out the way I wanted. When you apologize to someone, you really only need two words!

*Kimberly and the other Unicorns, but especially Kimberly, keep making rude comments about the Wakefield house, like how party guests will be so disappointed and how it's such a rinky dink yard. Jessica keeps getting annoyed but doesn't really speak up, and it even starts to annoy Ned. I'm pretty sure I would snap at some point.

*Lila's dad hired some chef from France to be their personal chef. The girls meet at her house to pick out dishes for him to make for the party, but Lila says her dad won't spring for everything they want because it will cost too much. Is it weird that I assumed they had some type of live-in chef already? Doesn't Mrs. Purvis cook for Lila like every day?

*Mr. Fowler says it's too much for him to make another donation to the kids center, but he pays for a bunch of stuff for the party. Not only does he rent all the casino games and equipment, but he also rents costumes to make the girls look like real dealers. Are you seriously telling me they could raise more money from their middle school friends than he put out for all that stuff?

*I'd really like to know how much money they raised. They only charged $1 for a game outside or for a bag of chips inside. Someone says there were around 200 kids combined at both parties. I can't imagine they raised enough to do anything really significant.

*Liz worries about telling her friends about her crush on Todd because they keep talking about how crushes are stupid and how there is more to life than guys. They also say that only girls like the Unicorns have crushes. Then, they're all surprised that she thought they wouldn't like her if she had a crush!

*While talking about guys in the end, Maria says there is no one cuter than Bruce Patman. Yeah, I seem to remember that even sixth grade Marie found him repulsive.

*Jessica going off about how Mandy leaving the Angels for the Unicorns proves that they're the better club doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you consider that Mary, one of the original Unicorns who was in that club for like 12 years and 100+ books, actually left them for the Angels.