Look at Liz on this cover. She’s like a prissy version of The Scream! “Oh my word! There are strange things afoot. Oh, I’m just so frightened!” And nice frosted lipstick and super-sprayed hair there Jess. At least we get a cool Gothic romance background with a foreboding house rather than some weird garage or closet, or the typical Lifetouch portrait background. That’s appropriate considering this book is obviously trying to be one of those old Gothic romances (of which I am a big fan), but the whole thing falls flat, and had me snoring just a couple of chapters in. So I’ll do my best not to put YOU to sleep as you read this re-cap …
Here’s the deal. Remember Nicholas Morrow? Of course you do. Well, now it seems he’s still moping over Regina’s death. He’s so depressed he won’t even leave his house. In real life that would make sense, but let’s think about this for a second. We are told that’s the way he’s been since the events of book 40. Riiiight, that’s why he was so happy to come hang out at the Dairi Burger in book 45, and cheerfully agree to get Kelly Bates to go out with him. Whatever, just roll with it.
Liz decides the best way to get Nicholas over his grief is to pushily convince him to come to the News‘ COMPANY PICNIC. Wow, I know if I was devastated over a loved ones’ passing you could brighten me right up by dragging me along to watch a bunch of douchebags pretend to like each other as they make painfully awkward small talk and look for excuses to leave early. Oh, but there’s going to be VOLLEYBALL! And FIREWORKS! And debate about the next Sweet Valley mayor! Jessica rightfully thinks Liz is fucking crazy, but Liz literally congratulates herself for getting Nicholas to come out!
The company picnic happens to be in Ronoma County, yet another one of the many mysterious environs surrounding Sweet Valley. It’s only 40 miles away, but Jessica and Liz have somehow never heard of it. Nicholas takes off from the picnic to follow a mysterious unpaved road so he can have some time to walk and think alone, but then Liz insists that she come along too. They end up in the yard of Bayview House, which sits on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. There they meet a yappy little terrier named Rory and his teenaged owner, Barbara, who’s supposed to be the most gorgeous woman ever created. Nicholas falls in love with her, instantly. Lucky Barbara. Barbara tells them that she was raised in Switzerland but her parents sent her out here to spend the summer with her Uncle John, whom neither she nor her parents had ever met or heard of, and his housekeeper Josine. Although initially excited at the chance to learn more about her family history, now Barbara is terrified of her uncle. He forbids her to leave the house without his permission and to hang out with kids her own age. Meanwhile, Josine keeps getting confused and thinking that Barbara is her grandmother, also named Barbara, who died in a mysterious fall on the cliffs many decades before, on her birthday. Barbara shares her birthday with that of her dead grandma Barbara and now she’s having nightmares that she will suffer the same fate. Sounds like a fun summer.
Not long after Liz and Nicholas first meet Barbara, Uncle John comes out and spots them all chatting in the garden. Barbara is terrified and runs back inside with Rory while ordering Nicholas and Liz to get the hell out of Dodge. But Nicholas has already decided he is madly in love with Barbara, and so he drives back to Bayview the next day to see her. Uncle John slams the door in his face. I’m surprised Nicholas didn’t charge into the house and punch him, haha. Instead Nicholas canvasses the woods, where he finds Barbara having a picnic in the woods with her dog. She agrees that they can meet secretly and he leaves determined to find out what the deal is with this John character.
Barbara is always wearing old-fashioned clothes, carrying her silly dog Rory around, and speaking like she’s from the 1880s. She’s terrified to leave the house or go anywhere, because Uncle John has been threatening her and she’s afraid he will hurt Josine or Rory. But she keeps meeting Nicholas secretly to make out in the woods, and they profess their love for one another like, immediately. Every time he sees her, old Saint Nick gets all fired up as Barbara sobs all over his silk shirts, but she refuses to let him try to help her. One time he comes over there with the twins, and Barbara is, of course, immediately entranced by the fact that they look so much alike. Sigh. Barbara explains to our three little members of the Scooby gang here that Uncle John keeps having some mysterious man come to visit. Just then, Uncle John almost catches the kids hanging out again, and the twins and Nicholas hide behind some shrubs and watch as he drags Barbara back to the house and boots Rory with his foot, yelling that she can never go outside without his permission. The twins have to hold Nicholas back so he won’t go tackle Uncle John. Why not just let him? Like old John can overpower four people. The Scooby kids leave trying to figure out the mystery of Barbara, and as they do, they see a mysterious silver-blue Jaguar parked off the side of the road in the woods … it’s THE VISITOR’S car …
Most of the rest of the book is all about Nicholas and Barbara meeting and professing their love for one another in an overly melodramatic way. Nicholas wants to help Barbara, Barbara won’t let him, and it just gets very tiring very fast. Nicholas keeps seeing the silver-blue Jaguar parked in the woods and Barbara keeps telling him it’s dangerous for Uncle John or “THE VISITOR” to see him and he keeps right on parking his Jeep in the same area anyway. Nicholas finds a letter on his Jeep one day in Sweet Valley that tells him to stay away from Barbara, but he’s like, “What the fuck ever.” He then convinces Barbara to sneak out of the house with him to go to a special dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant, Francesco’s. There’s always a different fancy restaurant in these books. Anyway, it doesn’t take much badgering to get Barbara out there, so I guess she’s not too scared. Nicholas stops to get gas on the way, and the gas attendant is an old dude who gasps at Barbara and seems to recognize her. Because she looks just like her dead grandma, natch. The couple arrive at Francesco’s, where Nicholas sees the silver-blue Jaguar parked. Not caring about his girlfriend’s safety, he doesn’t mention it to her, nor does he let her know there’s a strange man inside staring at Barbara like she’s a dead person the entire time they eat. I hate Nicholas.
While all this bullshit is going on, Liz and Jess are at the dumb paper where editor Lawrence Robb has, for some reason that just can’t be defined considering all the other shit they’ve fucked up this summer, given them MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS to help with. “Helping” means dragging out the research in the “newspaper morgue” of random old clippings and shit. I have never worked at a newspaper of any type, but why don’t they have microfilms they can use or something? It’s 1988, not the stone ages! Liz gets assigned an article with Seth about the mayoral race which is all she’s been able to run her yap about for half of this book when she’s not clutching her lavalier and worrying about Barbara. Liz is convinced one of the candidates, Russell Kincaid, is an evil evil man but she and Seth can’t prove it so they’re just going to run editorials in favor of the other guy, Miles Robinson, instead. And Jessica gets to work with Dan Weeks on a story about a new art gallery at the Sweet Valley Art Museum (there’s a museum?) by some dude no one’s ever heard of called Paul Lazarow. Art is the last thing I can see Jess being excited about, but hey, she is. It takes the twins forever to write their effing stories. And eventually, they do make the SUPER OBVIOUS connection (after many, MANY agonizingly slow, boring pages) that the Freaky Jaguar Man is Russell Kincaid, that he was an artist in his youth, John is his brother, and that Barbara’s great-grandfather was in fact Paul Lazarow, the famous artist. Even writing this recap is painful for me.
Thanks to Nicholas’s interference, Barbara’s dog Rory goes missing. They find his collar on the cliffs indicating that Uncle John has tossed him over. I’m sorry, I just started laughing at that and I don’t even know why. Animal cruelty is so not funny in the slightest, but this book just has me like … losing it. Nicholas goes back to his car dejected and finds that all the tires have been slashed and his windshield has been broken. Then Liz gets threatening calls when she works late at home. The Scooby kids here decide they’ve got to do something. Well, just do it then, god! This book is way too long!
The kids go back to Bayview House, park near the Jaguar yet again, and formulate a little plan to “kidnap” Barbara, who has no idea about the plan, but it’s assumed she’ll just forget about Josine and leave with them anyway. Liz will go to the front door and distract whomever answers, while Nicholas runs and gets Barbara. Jessica will stay in the Jeep as the getaway driver. But then Liz falls down in the dark and sprains her ankle. Jessica comes running up to check on her, helps Liz grab onto a tree for support, and leaves saying she’ll be right back with Nicholas and Barbara. Oh, they always say “I’ll be right back”… Then Uncle John appears and shines his flashlight right on Liz, helpless and alone! Oh dear! Oh my goodness! John pulls a gun and drags Liz off with him. Liz kicks him because she’s stupid and he bashes her in the head with the gun and knocks her out to silence her big mouth for a change. I wish Uncle John was in every book.
Nicholas and Jess don’t know that Liz has been captured, but they do see Barbara and Russell Kincaid struggling on the edge of the cliffs, so they go to help. Russell and Barbara fall off the edge together, but of course only Russell goes all the way into the ocean. Barbara manages to catch herself on a lower ledge, and Nick and Jess help her back up. They go back for Liz and can only find her broken lavalier on the ground. Jess flips the fuck out immediately and everyone runs around looking for Liz. I have an image of their feet making that noise from the Flinstones, you know what I’m talking about? When they’re in the Flintmobile getting ready to drive off and Fred’s feet make that noise? Hahahaha! And fuckin’ Barbara suddenly drops all her lame delicateness and bawling and springs into action, talking like a normal teenage chick. It’s about time! The kids find Josine tied up inside who directs them to the art studio outside. Liz and freakin’ Rory are in there. Liz goes to the hospital and as the kids leave they see that the Jaguar is gone, indicating that John took off. Why didn’t he just come back and shoot them all? Why must you disappoint me this way, John?
Liz has a concussion and a sprained ankle, and she’s out cold for the time being, but she’ll be okay. Dammit John you can’t do anything right! Ned and Alice show up at the hospital and are like, “Oh, someone tried to kill you again. Huh.” Jessica and Nicholas go to the police station where Barbara gives her testimony. Then the crackpot police force drags in John Kincaid, saying they found him near the border. He vacillates between being defiant about being caught and sitting there bawling about what he did. WTF dude? Pick a side and stick to it! And, he is interviewed, for the first time, officially, right in front of Barbara and EVERYONE right there listening and interjecting as they feel necessary. Right, that’s the way it’s done! Get that shit thrown out on a technicality!
Oh, but we’re not done yet. First Barbara has to have a birthday with Nicholas, who gives her a locket with their initials, and they spend way too many pages professing their fucking love for one another yet again, and then we get the whole story of Barbara’s history from Josine. So here it is, the sad story of Barbara’s fam, if you care. The artist Paul Lazarow had a beautiful daughter named Barbara, and two of his artist students, Jack Pearsall and Russell Kincaid, fell in love with her. Barbara chose Jack, but she married him in secret so that her dad wouldn’t get angry or something. Barbara got pregnant and the parents-to-be moved to Switzerland for a year, claiming that they were just visiting friends. They were hoping that when they returned, the new baby would charm Paul out of his anger. But when they came back it was Russell who was enraged that Barbara hadn’t chosen him, so he threw her off the cliffs on his birthday. No one could prove that the incident was a murder because there were no witnesses, so Russell went free, Jack went crazy and became a hermit, and the baby, Gwendolyn, was raised in Switzerland by Barbara’s artist friend DuPres and his wife. Russell’s brother John knew the true story of what happened to Barbara, but agreed to keep it a secret for years. But then they started a business together and Russell swindled John out of millions. Then Russell announced his candidacy for mayor and it was too much for John. He decided the best way to get back at him was to use Barbara to freak Russell out and make him think that Bayview House was haunted by the ghost of the girl he killed. So John wrote to Barbara and her parents claiming to be an old cousin or something. They were dumb enough to believe this random man was in fact related to them. They shipped Barbara out to Ronoma County and John forced her to wear the original Barbara’s old clothes and walk the cliffs, then hide the rest of the time so Russell wouldn’t see her and realize it was all a prank. Lar lar lar, don’tcaredon’tcaredon’t caaaaare.
So yeah. Barbara goes back to Switzerland with her grandfather Jack and Nicholas loses out on someone he loves yet again. This book is terrible. I thought it was a little boring as a kid, and now I think it’s way boring.
WTF? Nicholas is nineteen here. I could’ve sworn he was eighteen. Whatever, Steven’s age certainly jumped around enough too!
Ronoma County has a town in it called Denning. If you care. Yet another random environ for the SV world map.
The stupid shit with people not being able to tell the twins apart is just getting old. WOW THEY’RE IDENTICAL! THAT’S JUST CRAAAAZY! Yeah okay, now look for dumb girl with barrettes in her hair, that one’s Liz. Look for chick with crazy feathered bangs covering up her receding hairline, that one’s Jess. Got it? There was a moment where Nicholas was confused for a second because the chick he thought was Liz turned out to be Jess, and I wanted to throw up on his loafers, or whatever the hell rich 19-year-olds wear.
Jess definitely has a thing for WAY older men. Prior to learning the truth about him, she thinks Russell Kincaid is sexy, and he’s in his 60s. And of course, that’s her sole reason for supporting him for mayor.
Darcy Kaymen is still around. She appears for one whole paragraph.
Since the building in which the twins work is called the Western Building, I wonder if Artie Western’s family owns it. Remember Artie? He showed up in book 24 as Steve’s friend who had a crush on Cara before she and Steve started officially dating.
So if Russell Kincaid really thought that Barbara was the ghost of the old Barbara … why would that ghost be sitting and eating food with a modern day boy at Francesco’s? Couldn’t he just figure it out? Especially since he knew “his” Barbara had descendants? So fucking dumb!
Next up: That big dillhole Ronnie Edwards is here to warn you about the dangers of teen gambling!