A 30-something's lovingly sarcastic journey through all of Sweet Valley High, and then some

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#116 Nightmare in Death Valley

Time for the second and last book in the Sweet Valley Survival miniseries! It’s not a nightmare on Elm Street, it’s a nightmare in Death Valley! It’s a nightmare to read! If you’re short on time here’s my too-long-didn’t-read review:

God! It’s effing terrible, and just begging for me to make fun of it, so let’s go. If you need a reminder of what happened in the first book, check out my recap here.

The goofiness begins on this cover:

Somebody forgot to mention to the cover artist that Heather left her hiking boots at home.

So we have Liz dangling off a cliff while Bruce finally snaps and tries to drop her to her doom, or wait, maybe he’s trying to rescue her. Either way, Liz doesn’t look terrified for her life so much as slightly bothered. At left, Heather and Jessica crouch by a campfire while three werewolf-esque zombies creep up on them in the background! Whoops, I think that’s supposed to be the escaped convicts that have been following them and snatchin’ up their gold. Damn cover got my hopes up that it was Liz’s old werewolf boyfriend back from the dead with two cronies.

Now let’s get into the story so you can all suffer along. We pick up where we left off, with our six Sweet Valley Survival School (SVSS) participants getting hit by the mega storm their absentee survival trainers had warned them was coming. Everyone runs under a nearby rock overhang, although Liz has to stop to drag forever-screeching Heather out of a puddle she fell in. They all cram under the overhang and commence to bickering like usual. Heather whines that she’s cold, so Liz loans her her survival school-issued flannel shirt, since Heather’s is presumably at the bottom of the river somewhere. Jessica seethes because she’s furious any time someone tries to keep Heather alive. The storm clears pretty quick, but they realize more could be coming and they should probably find a roomier shelter to bed down for the night. The only appropriate place is that skeleton- and scorpion-infested cave they just found! Everyone seems more concerned about the skeletons than the possibility of getting stung by the loads of scorpions. Also, nobody seems to consider that a search party might’ve been sent out for them when they didn’t make it to the meetup point at the allotted time – it’s not even brought up. Although, I guess I wouldn’t blame the rest of Sweet Valley if they were relieved to be free of these morons and did in fact just leave them out there to rot.

Inside the cave, Ken briefly shows affection toward Jessica almost like he wants to make up with her, then he abruptly walks off to start a fire. Bruce keeps heckling people like usual and he’s really juvenile. Then Jessica and Heather say they want to keep hiking for the night rather than waste time sleeping. No one else agrees, and Jessica gets pissed off and makes a big show of dragging her sleeping bag outside to sleep there. She’s obviously cold, but she refuses Liz’s offer of a sweatshirt and Liz almost cries because Jessica is the fucking worst. Back inside the cave, Ken and Todd have Heather set up her sleeping bag between them because she’s scared of the escaped convicts from the prison nearby, and Liz feels jealous. (By the way, still nobody believes Heather when she says she saw them.) Then Jessica peeks back in the cave and sees Heather snuggled next to her man, and dramatically decides she’s sleeping in the cave after all. Oh god Jessica, how about you go sleep in a pile of scorpions. Then, it’s dinner time, but there isn’t much food left since these dumbasses threw most of their dinner rations out in the last book to make room for the gold they found. Liz searches her pack and finds two mac and cheese boxes, and Jessica shocks her by offering to cook them up for everyone. I would be concerned she was looking to poison everyone, but that’s just me, apparently. Jessica carefully levels off the meager servings and hands them out, but then stupid jerk Bruce becomes infuriated as he claims Jessica is deliberately serving him less than everyone else, which she insists she’s not, pointing out everyone has the same five bites, but Bruce is convinced she’s trying to deliberately starve him. I mean, it’s tempting right. When Jessica exasperatedly hands him his serving, both she and Bruce are so flustered by Bruce’s growly temper tantrum that it ends up getting accidentally knocked in the dirt. Bruce flips out and lunges at Jessica to strangle her or something, and Todd has to hold him back. Bruce breaks free, and Liz jumps in front of her sister and pushes Bruce back into the dirt, temporarily resurrecting the fractured bond between our feuding twins. Man, Bruce sounds like the Hulk in this scene. I’m wondering if he ate some peyote on the trail or something.

The group is still seeing scorpions scuttle around the cave, so they gather up bunches of sagebrush and use it to sweep them all out. Haha! After they have all gone to sleep, Liz gets out her flashlight and reviews the remaining page of the old Gold Rush diary she’s been carrying around and is alarmed to see it talks about a group that fought and acted unlike themselves over the gold, just like this group is. Could the Sweet Valley gang be headed for the same fate? Can I be so lucky?

The next morning, Jessica wakes to lizards scampering around her head and she deliberately drops one on Heather to start a scene because she’s five. Then the gang divvies up their remaining food. All they have left for the rest of the hike back is nine granola bars for six people, over an estimated two days. They decide to each eat half a granola bar for breakfast, leaving six granola bars for later. Liz is the last one out of the cave, and Bruce starts some shit with her, blocking her path out of the cave and demanding that they all get to eat the remaining granola bars now. Liz tries to remind him of what they learned over their training weekend, that they should ration it out to keep up their energy, but he doesn’t let up and keeps growling at her and blocking her path until Todd breaks it up. Fucking creeper!

The gang’s water supplies are also dwindling, and Jessica has been carelessly guzzling hers because of course she has. But, they should reach the Desert Oasis diner the following evening if they keep a good pace. Then they realize it’s impossible for them to keep a good pace because Heather can’t walk on her sprained ankle and has to be helped the whole way. (And the only people who will help her are Todd and Ken.) Ultimately, it’s decided to leave Heather behind in a “safe” spot with a buddy and then the rest of the group will send help when they reach the diner. Ken is ready to be the buddy, but Jessica’s jealousy gets in the way and she winds up staying with Heather instead just so Ken won’t. And the rest of the group is like, Okay cool! Oh my god, you’re going to leave JESSICA and HEATHER together and assume they will survive? Now I know for sure that the rest of the group wants to just let them die. I wouldn’t trust either of those two to tie my damn shoes let alone survive by themselves in fuckin’ Death Valley for a couple days. Just in the last book Liz was going off on Todd for trusting her horrible sister, and now here she is trusting Jessica herself to keep Heather, someone who Jessica’s already almost gotten killed, alive and well. The fuck! To maybe help keep them alive, Liz gives them some of her water and two granola bars (although the way it was written, I at first thought she gave them ALL the remaining bars), and Todd leaves them a flare they can set off in case of emergency.

The remaining group of four – Liz, Todd, Ken, and Bruce – hikes off with tension starting to build up between Bruce and Todd as Bruce acts like he’s too good for things like sun hats and Todd’s father’s “nouveau” wealth. Bruce seriously just won’t shut the fuck up about anything. I think I’m supposed to read him as comedic relief, but I actually want to reach through the pages and slap him in the face with a bag of scorpions. Then Ken busts through the tension to happily point out a desert tortoise and it cracks me the fuck up for some reason. Then the gang come to a fork in the road and an argument starts about which side is best to take. This is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you take the right path, you’ll have to climb super high boulders and will add an extra day to your trip. If you take the lower left path, you’ll stay on track but could get caught in a flash flood if another storm comes. Bruce and Todd are mad that Liz, again the lone person who actually paid full attention in their pre-trip training classes, is worried over the possibility of a flash flood and trying to tell them what to do. Todd thinks about how shrill her voice is and tells her “I wish you’d stuff a sock in it”. Man, y’all know I’m not much of a Liz fan, but get bent, Todd. I really hate that this book doesn’t allow me to feel joy at someone telling Liz to shut up, because everyone else is acting like such jackasses. Finally, Todd and Bruce decide to take the lower canyon path, while Ken and Liz decide to try their luck hiking up the boulders. Todd gets jealous remembering how Ken and Liz used to hook up in the past and starts worrying it’s gonna happen again. Then as he hikes off with Bruce, he gets jealous again remembering how Liz cheated on him with Bruce and wants to “throttle” Bruce. This trip is hopeless. Bruce wastes no time showing Todd what a moron he was to want to stick with Bruce Patman of all people, by relentlessly ragging on him about how Ken and Liz are probably going to get it on in the rocks.

Back to Heather and Jessica … shock me shock me, they’re not getting along. Jessica lectures Heather about being in no position to make demands, then builds a fire while Heather cries softly, and they eat their dinner of half a granola bar each. Of course, Jessica is not going to admit to the shit she herself pulled that made the biggest contribution to them being in this mess – deliberately and sneakily leading everyone off their plotted course in the previous book. I can’t stand either of them at this point. But Jessica does show rare compassion and agrees to loan Heather her hairbrush, and then some paper from her notebook and a pen so Heather can write a journal entry. Jessica writes about how much she misses Ken. Heather writes about how Ken will never leave Jessica for her because Jessica is so beautiful and perfect and he loves her, and she talks about how bad she feels that she hurt her ankle because she insisted on wearing her dumb cheerleading shoes rather than her SVSS-issued hiking boots. Then Heather crumples the journal entry up and dramatically throws it into the fire. She thinks she hears noises in the brush and gets Jessica to get up and go look, but when Jessica comes back, she finds Heather opening a chocolate bar! Another food ration! Heather claims she had found it that morning, in her jacket or sleeping bag I guess. She claims she was going to split it with Jessica. Jessica doesn’t believe her, but is mollified when Heather hands her half of the bar, and the girls fall asleep. I like that the candy bar is apparently not melted after a day in the scorching hot desert.

Jessica wakes up to see the three convicts prowling around their campsite, snatching up Jessica’s gold rations and looking for Heather’s, which of course are also in the river unless Heather is going to magically come across those as well. Jessica keeps still so that the criminals don’t notice she’s awake until Heather also wakes and, of course, starts freakin’ screaming bloody murder.

Before we get a scene of the girls being axe-murdered, we cut back to Liz and Ken. They set up camp in the rocks and look at the stars, and there’s an unspoken attraction between them again. That tired plotline is older than the Jurassic. I thought all that shit just got resolved in the last mini-series, but they had to bring it up again for lack of any better drama. You know, Jessica has been such an asshole, I’m almost hoping they do hook up. Also because I definitely prefer Liz-Ken to Liz-Todd at this point, and I think Liz and Todd need to just accept their relationship is over and move on. Ken and Liz bond over the campfire and a game of cards, and keep seeming like they might hook up, but don’t. They distract themselves by each writing in their journals about how much they want to make out with each other right now. As Liz falls off to sleep, Ken comes over and kisses her goodnight on the cheek. Why did y’all break up again? I’m really not understanding why we’re supposed to think Jessica and Ken belong together when they keep going out of their way to show us that Ken and Liz are madly in love, especially now that Ken’s character has been revamped as the male version of Liz.

Bruce keeps ragging on Todd nonstop and I’m really surprised no Todd punches have been thrown. Now get ready for some bonkers shit. A big old rattlesnake creeps up on Todd for some reason, like just slithers on up and goes “Hey guys! What’s happenin’?” Todd leaps up to get the hell out of dodge, but Bruce throws a rock at the snake and stuns it, which would be the boys’ cue to move the fuck on because honestly, most snakes find humans frightening and they aren’t going to come after you if you just leave them the hell alone! But then Todd is like, great, I obviously haven’t had enough drama this trip so let me try some shit I saw on the Discovery Channel because I’m dying for a snake bite, and he actually goes to grab the snake by the tail to move it. What the fuck, Todd can’t read a map for shit and was just acting like he hates the outdoors now in the previous book, but he thinks he’s an expert snake handler? How fucking stupid. But before Todd can move/get bit by the snake, Bruce goes fucking batshit crazy. Warning, here comes some unusually graphic gore for these books because I have to tell you exactly what it says as I find it utterly bizarre. Bruce grabs a rock and smashes the snake to smithereens until it’s “utterly pulverized”, then lifts the rock over his head covered with “smashed snake guts” and with “an expression of insane exhilaration” leaving “a grotesque pile of blood and snakeskin”. I really wish I had a photo of my face when I read this. Bruce has been losing his damn mind all book long and this just takes the cake. I have a spontaneous image of a blood-spattered Bruce yelling “HE-MAAAAAAAAN!” and I am not impressed. By the way, I love snakes, so while I know shit happens I actually could’ve really done without that gory ass description. If you’re gonna ask me what do I expect and if I would just have the snake go on and bite Bruce and Todd, yes I would actually, because they’re both getting on my last damn nerve. And if he could then go slithering after Jessica and Heather next I would be satisfied. Anyway, Bruce mocks Todd for not being the true wilderness-survivor. Todd just shakes his head and goes to sleep.

The next day, Todd and Bruce are running out of water and doing more bitching, so Todd finds and cuts open a barrel cactus hoping to find water inside, because he apparently did pay attention to that part of the training class, but there’s only inedible pulp in there. Bruce, who hasn’t done shit to find any food and water other than complain and intimidate people, mocks him and I desperately need for him to get punched in the face. Todd reacts by abruptly sitting down and writing a spontaneous journal entry about how he’s got to see Liz. Then, Todd takes a cue from Jessica and quietly re-routes the trail without saying anything, just so they will end up running into Liz and Ken, because that’s how much he’s obsessing over this shit. How Todd, who they went to great pains to show us sucks at navigating in the last book, is supposed to effectively re-route them like that, or get them any place at all, is beyond me. Bruce soon figures out what he’s doing, loses his shit, and strides off without Todd.

Liz wakes up that same morning snuggled up against Ken, then Ken wakes up and spends some time telling her how great she is. I’m about to spend some time throwing up. Then they have to hike up a sheer, treacherous rock face. Liz goes first and somehow gets way higher than Ken, then the rock starts to crumble. There are no other handholds available and she’s about to lose her grip and die and Ken is too far behind to catch her. Not to worry, Bruce is sitting up there at the top of the rock, writing in his journal with “an expensive fountain pen” about Liz at that very moment, because everyone is obsessed with her! He hears Liz scream and leans over to pull her up to safety and I guess it’s supposed to show character building?! I fully expected him to drop her with how crazy he’s been acting all mini-series long. And get this. He has to choose to save her or his gold. I can’t even write this without cracking the fuck up and I’m totally sober at the moment. See, apparently Bruce just carries his gold stash around in his hand, never letting it out of his sight. And so he still has it in his hand as he leans over to grab Liz, but then he has to put the gold down because he needs his other hand. Just then, a huge BALD EAGLE flies on up and starts to go for the gold! I’m not lying to y’all, that’s what is happening and I’m screaming. He’s all flapping and squawking and stretching out his massive, terrifying talons for Bruce’s precious stash. Bruce seems like he’s considering dropping Liz until he looks deep into her eyes and remembers what it felt like to make out with her in her bikini! I’m dead serious, that’s what sways him. He resists the temptation to let her drop and throws the gold down next to him, so that he can use both hands to pull her up, as the eagle STEALS THE GOLD and flies off with it. WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHO WROTE THIS? Bravo, ’cause my God I’m lucky I didn’t piss myself laughing at this. By the way, I’m pissed that eagle isn’t on the cover. He is the real hero.

If you even still care what’s happening with the convicts, well, they’re currently loping around making menacing remarks at a tied-up Jessica and Heather, demanding to know where the rest of the gold is, even though they searched Jessica’s bag and can see there isn’t any more. Jessica names the two most evil convicts Moe and Larry after two of the Three Stooges, but she names the nice, kinda cute, curly-haired one Jack. Jack is the only one who doesn’t have a gun, and he feeds Heather and Jessica beef jerky, granola bars and water and tries to get the other two not to hurt them. The convicts find the flare Todd gave them and get the bright idea to set it off to get the rest of their friends to come back, so they can steal their gold, too. Won’t that also alert the authorities who are actively looking for the escaped convicts in this area? Nobody in this book has a brain! Bruce, Todd, and Liz see the flare go off and take off. Now, I know Liz was about to hump Ken in his sleeping bag last night but now she has literally forgotten he exists until he shouts up at her from down below the rocky boulder she just climbed. Ken is going to follow along separately from the other three and they are just ALL going to go back to where they left Heather and Jessica even though they have no food or water and some of them are close to reaching civilization. I’m so confused. Although, apparently they weren’t all that far away from where they left H and J anyway, because they seem to make it back in record time.

Todd, Bruce, and Liz arrive at Heather and Jessica’s campsite first and don’t understand why they’re just standing there not saying anything until they realize they’re tied up, and then the convicts jump out to menace them. Bruce says he has gold in his pack but they have to get it themselves because he’s tired and they’re all like, hur hur, okay! As Larry digs through his pack for gold, Liz shudders with the memory of the bald eagle’s giant gold-stealin’ talons rather than at the guns currently pointed at her. Then Bruce yells “Watch out! A bobcat!” to distract Larry, and jumps him while his back is turned, but Moe runs up and pistol-whips him. Smooth move, Bruce. Liz hands over her own gold and says that’s all there is and the convicts believe her. What happened to Todd’s gold? He must’ve lost it or gotten rid of it and I forgot … or the writer did, haha.

Ken sneaks up on the campsite and Jessica sees him. To help Ken launch the next surprise attack, she flirts wildly with Larry, who agrees to come over and loosen her ropes and is all “Aw shucks, this girl I’ve terrorized thinks I’m sexy.” Then Ken leaps out and kicks Larry in the stomach and gets the gun, but Moe intervenes once again and stomps on Ken’s wrist to make him drop it, then calls him “golden boy” and makes him hand over his gold. There’s a large clap of thunder, and Larry jumps and fires a random shot in the air making everyone scream. Liz plants an idea that it’s not safe to stay on the rocks, so Moe and Larry are like, “Great idea, princess”, and decide to tie the group up and leave them on top of the rocks to get hit by lightning while they hustle down to safety below. Jack tries to talk them out of this plan, earning admiration from the rest of the group, but he soon gives up and shuffles off with the others like Eeyore. If anyone is trying to figure out where Todd’s gold is, I missed it. I really think this book is so unreal it made me blank on a plot point, but with this series, who knows right? As soon as the convicts have left, the teens free themselves and take off down a rock again. Then they hear a scream and see Jack caught in the rapidly rising river, in one of those flash floods Liz kept harping about. They decide Jack is a nice guy so they team up to save him. Then Heather almost drowns. Jack saves her, and Bruce comforts a sobbing Heather even though he hates her with the fire of a thousand suns. He must’ve decided he wants to hook up again.

The teens and Jack shelter under a rock outcropping and keep making a point to overconfidently state that Larry and Moe surely drowned in the flash flood. Foreshadowing! Jack declines to tell the teens his real name, but he tells them his sob story and wins their affection. See, Moe and Larry are crazed murderers, whereas Jack was sent to prison for 10 years after he was “talked into” committing an armed robbery. In fact, Moe is a domestic terrorist who has killed countless people through bombings in “urban residential areas”! After a few years of prison, Jack decided to break out so he could escape over the border to Mexico, where he’ll send for his beloved girlfriend. But Moe and Larry caught him trying to escape and demanded he take them with him because they had heard the Death Valley gold legends and wanted to find the gold for themselves! So they busted out of the prison, which if I didn’t already mention is conveniently next to Death Valley, and headed right out to do that, dragging poor Jack, the lone unarmed criminal in the bunch, with them. Hey, it’s not all bad, Jack brought a tin of his girlfriend’s homemade brownies! He shares them with the teens and I am wondering if they’re about to be high as fuck. Wait, are you allowed to receive baked goods in prison? The gang decides that Jack is really nice and trustworthy.

The gang is relieved that at least they no longer have any of the cursed gold. They don’t? Then Jessica reveals actually they do, because when the convicts weren’t looking she dug through Moe’s bag and re-stole Ken’s share. Nobody is worried about Jack hearing all this because he’s established himself as a friendly guy who just accidentally fell into a life of crime. Liz orders Jessica to bury the gold on the trail next to a cactus and she pretends to, but sticks it back in her bag instead when nobody’s looking. Oh, god. And in case you were worried, the gang also makes sure to refill their water bottles with fresh falling rain!

The group reaches a cave. Suddenly, Moe’s arm pops out of the cave entrance, grabs Liz and drags her into it. That somehow disturbs some bats and they all come flapping out of the cave and everyone screams and flails at the “angry bats” as they attack their faces, what? What is this, Kiss of the Vampire? Moe menaces Liz with a knife while everyone screams and hollers. In an effort to save Liz, Jessica pulls out the gold she secretly kept and gives it to Moe, but no dice because Moe is really excited about slicing and dicing Liz. They haven’t gotten to murder in a while and they are desperate to; odd how they missed all the other opportunities they had to off the whole group! Larry doesn’t understand why no one else is excited at Liz’s impending doom because Moe is an “artist” at murder and it will be fun to watch. Then Larry remembers how Jessica flirted with him before and starts trying to start something with her again. At the same time, Jack inches toward Moe and tries to talk him out of killing Liz, but Moe is eager to kill her off, just like the rest of us might be at this point in the series. So Jessica creates a stupid distraction by clutching her stomach and hollering about how the untreated water they had earlier must’ve gotten her. Moe yells to shut her up, and while that distraction is ongoing, Jack tackles Moe and they fight, but then Moe just shoots Jack through the heart and that’s that.

Moe decides to reward Larry for being a good fellow escapee by allowing him to kill the other five teens. Larry goes for Jessica first, but just as he’s about to shoot her, there’s the sound of a jetliner or a helicopter or an alien spaceship flying overhead. Moe goes to check it out after threatening Larry for some reason, and Jessica pleads with Larry not to shoot her. He finally relents and leaves, but first he angrily fires off all of the remaining shots in his gun into the cave ceiling for some undetermined reason. He must’ve been watching Point Break back in the pen and got inspired. But the shots cause a cave-in, and the teens are trapped!

The teens try to pull out the rocks from the entrance to escape, but determine it’s no use and start complaining they’re running out of air. It’s also totally dark, and nobody but Liz has a flashlight because apparently these geniuses all ditched theirs when they were trying to make room for the gold. The teens decide to explore back further in the cave for another way out, but first, even though they just bitched about running out of air, pause to bury Jack’s body and cry about it some more. Exploring the back of the cave, they eventually run into a river and then it suddenly rises and they all get trapped and Liz drops her flashlight so they’re all drowning in the dark. Everyone starts frantically shouting out their goodbyes and I love yous and just then, the water magically recedes right as their heads touch the top of the cave ceiling, and they all drop to the cave floor again. But, they’re still trapped and without any food or water since nobody thought to search Jack’s body for any before they buried him.

Then Ken decides to spend his last breaths punching the cave wall in frustration, and his fist goes right through it. Hey! It’s only shale! They all bust through it and find themselves 50 yards from the Desert Oasis 7-Eleven. How convenient! Wait, it’s a 7-Eleven? I thought it was a diner?! Who cares, they’re saved! Joy.

A few days later, the kids head to the SVSS offices to meet up with Brad and Kay, the adult “leaders” who trained them for a couple days and then pitched them into the desert unsupervised. Nobody is mad at the kids for not following the rules and being a bunch of dumb fucks or anything like that and they don’t get anything worse than a raised eyebrow. As it turns out, Brad and Kay did send that rescue plane or whatever that everyone heard, and it picked up Moe and Larry instead and they’re in big trouble now! Liz explains the whole story about the gold, and shares the diary papers and a single remaining gold nugget. Brad takes one look at that stuff and can tell that the “gold” is pyrite (fool’s gold) and the diary is a clever reproduction with recent binding and paper. Not so smart are you now, Liz? Brad shrugs and says that it was probably a theater group that left that stuff out there as a fun exercise or something. Okay. Jessica is like, I guess they left the skeletons too and those were fake, but nobody gives a fuck about making sure.

The kids return to school and are lauded as heroes but make a big deal out of the fact they don’t like gold and now prefer silver. Oh, and if you care, the two couples in the group realized they can’t live without one another thanks to this ordeal.

I hate everyone in this book so much.

This mini-series totally reminded me of a video game, like a desert version of Oregon Trail, if somebody made a shitty rip-off version.

WTF: This book completely changes the narrative of how these kids wound up being the chosen ones for the SVSS trip. In the last book it told us the whole school was forced to enter an essay contest and these six won. Now it says that they were hand-picked by school leadership because they were “the top student leaders at Sweet Valley High” and “based on their special individual accomplishments”; e.g., Todd is captain of the basketball team, Ken is football team quarterback, Jessica and Heather co-lead the cheerleading team, etc. LOL, I love the way they just totally leave out scholarly achievement, except in Liz’s case. This actually makes MORE sense to me because we could all see this group gets special privileges as it is. I do recall that near the end of the previous book, there was some odd mention from Todd or someone about how they were supposed to be setting a good example since they were “the leaders” of their school. I figure this part of the plot was changed later on in the editing process to make things sound more plausible and the opening of the mini-series just got completely overlooked.

Quote from Todd, talking about Heather: “Jessica, she lost her backpack – have a little patience and compassion. I’ll find you a dictionary so you can look those words up.”

Jessica longs for her “forest-scented bubble bath”. What does forest-scented smell like? Pine needles and bear poop?

Bruce Patman quote: “There’s nothing more dangerous than loyalty.”

Here’s Jessica reminding us how old this book is: “It will be March of the year 2000 before we get back to the Oasis.” Man, remember when 2000 seemed very far away still? Now it does, but that’s because it actually is, in the other direction!

The group sees a fox and keep calling it a “wild fox”. Were they expecting to see domesticated foxes in the desert?

Ken goes on and on about his deep love and knowledge of astronomy. Ken, you just get smarter and smarter in every book.

Bruce says something is “more stupider” and that about sums up everything for me.

Bruce talking about the twins to Todd: “Well, I have, in fact, kissed both girls myself. And between you and me, Todd, neither one is really that hot.” I mean, Todd has also kissed both of them, and so has Ken, so you aren’t really that special, Bruce.

When Jessica is trying to flirt with Larry to distract him, we learn she considers herself “the sexy seductress of Sweet Valley High”.

Liz thinks about how much she wants to marry Todd and have his babies. Hahaha, dream on Liz.

Coming up next: A couple of Super Thrillers, although I think they technically make up yet another mini-series!

#115 The Treasure of Death Valley

It’s time to start another mini-series! Please try to contain your excitement as this one is only two books long. Actually, I’m pretty excited myself since two is about all I can take before I find myself desperately wishing for a new storyline. Of course, with my luck, I may find that this mini-series is my favorite and I wish it would last forever, haha! Without further ado, it’s time for … Sweet Valley Survival! In this series, we’ll follow Liz, Jessica, Todd, Ken, Heather, and Bruce as they spend several days tramping through the middle of the desert. Let’s check out our cover

First off, I want y’all to notice that the previous official twin portraits have been retired. Now, the top of the book features brand new portraits with markedly different features. I think it’s pretty clear these new portraits were debuted to make the twins look more like their TV counterparts, Brittany and Cynthia Daniel of the 1994-1997 SVH TV show (which is conveniently advertised on the cover, like always, with that blaring starburst graphic). The Daniel twins are certainly babes and their portraits look nice enough, but I still feel annoyed by this obvious attempt to advertise to fans of the TV show by changing the iconic book characters’ look.

Anyway, any wistfulness is quickly washed away when I glance at the lower righthand corner. Look at that shit! Haha, look at Liz’s face! “Gee willikers, I found some gold!” And nice touch on the over-the-top sparkles. Is that even gold, or did she just stumble upon some props from the old Legends of the Hidden Temple TV game show?

On the left hand side we have our hiking gang. I have no idea who’s who other than the dude in front who is obviously Bruce Patman with that freakin’ attitude. The other brunette has got to be Todd then, but I can’t figure out who’s leaning on him. I would say Liz of course, but the person’s hair is down like Jessica’s. I’m going with, back row, left to right: Jessica, Todd, Heather, Ken, Liz, and Bruce in front.

So, let’s see what in tarnation is going on here in this gold-diggin’ tale! There is a program called Sweet Valley Survival School (SVSS) which is meant to teach people leadership and teamwork skills through extreme survival situations, that type of thing. SVSS is running a survival program in Death Valley for six Sweet Valley High students, and the entire school was forced to enter an essay contest to pick the best candidates. Needless to say, Liz was one of the winners, as she expected (no really, the book tells us she knew she would win). But then it wants us to believe that the other winners just happened to be Todd, Jessica, Ken, Bruce and Heather, all of whom make it clear they would rather die than join this trip. For real, you’re telling me they just accidentally all wrote amazing essays that beat out, say, Randy Mason? Olivia Davidson? Penny Ayala? This shit is fake and rigged. There must be some reveal coming up that shows SVSS deliberately chose the single best essay AND the five worst essays so everyone could learn from Liz.

We’re told that pre-trip, the six winners spent a weekend training and learning survival skills with their SVSS instructors, Kay and Brad. Then the next week, the kids get to skip school to go on their official survival trip test. Kay and Brad load them up with backpacks, food (freeze-dried lunches and canned dinners), supplies, and clothes, and drive them to a drop-off point – a mini-mart with provisions – and leave them there to hike about 40 miles through the desert over four days, on their own, till they reach a diner called Desert Oasis, where a bus will meet them and pick them up at 7 PM on the last day. That’s right, the adult leaders just up and drop them off like, well, bye kids, hope you don’t die in Death Valley! Is this a thing that really happens? I think this book is supposed to be based on those Outward Bound programs, but don’t those have guides? I wouldn’t want to be dropped off in a freakin’ Death Valley desert with no guides after a whole two days of training, and these are teenagers! So if somebody dies in the desert unsupervised, who do the parents sue? Even more hilarious, Kay and Brad warn that there’s a huge storm coming around the time of their pickup, so if the teens don’t make it to their endpoint by the given date, they’re double doomed!

Anyway, this is Sweet Valley, we don’t have room for realism here! Before merrily driving off in a cloud of dust and ominous warnings to remember to disinfect their drinking water, Kay and Brad assign everyone a “buddy”: Liz with Bruce, Jessica with Todd, and Heather with Ken. Jessica is pissed because Heather keeps flirting with Ken, and Todd is pissed because he’s afraid Liz and Bruce are going to start hooking up again. I mean, I would be too Todd, ’cause that girl has been hookin’ up with freakin’ everybody out here. Jessica and Todd team up to try to convince Liz to let everyone have the buddy they want, since it’s not like there’s anyone actually supervising this trip to care, but she says that defies the goals of the trip and refuses. Since everyone has just let Liz be the de facto leader since she’s the only one capable of keeping them all alive, and also the only one who is actually happy to be there, they go along with whatever she says, while grumbling about how “straight-laced” she is. Honestly, Liz seems more like herself at the start of this book than she has in the last few, and it’s surprisingly refreshing.

Liz maps out their route and determines they should be able to hike 10 miles that day before making camp. Everyone is wearing their SVSS-issued clothes and hiking boots except for Heather, who got away with wearing her special custom cheerleading shoes, pissing off Jessica who thinks the boots make her own legs look fat. As the gang starts off from their start point, they run into a strange man sitting on a post who warns them to all be careful. Foreshadowing!

Early on in their hike, Liz crouches down to examine some wildflowers and Bruce nudges her over so that she falls into a pile of prickly bushes and gets welts all over her arms. Liz comforts herself with thoughts of how she will be able to write an article about this journey for the Sweet Valley News. Then it’s time to break for lunch. Further flouting the rules, Heather whips out a mini-TV she brought with her so she could watch her soap opera at 1 each day, which is conveniently the gang’s lunch time. She invites Ken to watch with her and he does, provoking Jessica’s ire and Bruce’s wisecracks. We learn Jessica doesn’t want Ken to know that she used to love watching soap operas. Is there any dude out there that Jessica can just be herself around?

The gang makes camp for their first night and Ken and Heather cook up a batch of chili. Heather makes sure to give Jessica a giant serving because the implication is it will make her fat or something. I’m waiting to see if there will be discussion of someone going off into the bushes to dig a hole in which to take a chili-induced crap. The couples make sure to all place their sleeping bags close together around the fire. Heather wears a sexy nightie and insists on sleeping on the other side of Ken from Jessica, and Bruce loudly asks her if she’s “going for a threesome”, LMFAO!!!

Everyone is required to keep a daily journal, and Chapter 3 is devoted entirely to those entries. I assume the SVSS group will be reviewing what they wrote to close out the assignment, but the entries are mostly just each person bitching about everyone else. Liz spends her entry whining about Jessica and Todd being such babies, and talking about how much more responsible she is than everyone else, which I mean, no lie there. She also claims she’s not as fit and athletic as the others and she can’t believe she can actually keep up with them. Isn’t this the girl who can do a backflip on cue just because Ken Matthews is watching, and loves to swim, jog and hike in the woods with Todd? I call total bullshit. Heather’s entry discusses her plans to steal Ken from Jessica, and maybe Todd from Liz too if she gets bored enough. Ken’s entry sadly reports on Jessica’s jealousy and insists Heather isn’t going to try anything, Jessica’s entry complains about what a horrible person Heather is, and Todd’s pouts about Liz and Bruce some more. Bo-ring. Bruce’s entry, on the other hand, is HILARIOUS. Here are some choice quotes:

  • “I can’t believe I’m stuck in the desert with this bunch of geeks.”
  • “I am learning how much cooler I am than the rest of this bunch.”
  • “What a disappointment [Heather]’s turning out to be. I thought maybe we could hook up – it would definitely break up the monotony of this trip. But she’s drooling all over Matthews. And he’s being a complete loser.”
  • “I can’t believe I’m actually writing this stuff. Who needs to write when you can afford a secretary?”

By the way, I’m assuming Pamela is completely out of the picture at this point. Or, you know, maybe Bruce just got bored with her the way he does with everyone else and is ready to get an affair going already. Look out Pammy, you’re gonna be the next Regina!

Ken decides to try his hand at plotting the route the next day. Heather whines about the blister her cheerleading shoes have given her and throws herself at Ken like usual. At lunch, Heather and Ken’s soap opera is interrupted by a special announcement about three escaped fugitives in the area. Heather freaks the fuck out, but everyone else is unperturbed because you know, psycho killers are old hat to them. Jessica tries to sneak off with Ken to make out, but Heather interrupts them to point out Jessica has a scorpion on her leg. (Unfortunately, Ken gets it off of her before it stings her.)

The gang comes across an abandoned mine and Bruce insists on exploring it even though it’s clearly dangerous and even though Kay and Brad had explicitly warned them the mine shafts were likely to collapse at any time. Liz wants to let Bruce take his chances on his own until everyone reminds her that she insisted on keeping the regular “buddy” cadence and it’s her responsibility to look after him and guilt trips her into following him. Liz does, but soon loses track of him. In fact, pretty much as soon as she steps inside, she just happens to come across an abandoned miner’s pickaxe and a satchel. The satchel contains random papers with diary entries from an 1840s gold rush miner. She grabs up the satchel, but then the mine starts caving in on her and she hustles out just in time, only to find Bruce outside the mine lounging around wondering what took her so long. Then she learns Jessica and Todd had followed her in there to try to rescue her once Bruce came out without her, and now the mine’s collapsed on them. Everyone panics and whips out collapsible shovels to dig them out. Just then, Jessica and Todd stumble out of the mine hacking up a lung. Yay! Everyone cheers and hugs and it’s a valuable teamwork lesson! Liz uses the occasion to give everyone a lecture about the importance of following the rules.

As the group resumes hiking, Liz shows them her stolen artifacts. It turns out there’s another smaller bag inside the larger one, and it contains – gasp! – gold nuggets. There’s a big fight over who has the rights to it until Todd finally demands that everyone listen to Liz since she’s the one who found it. I can’t help but notice that at least three of these kids are super rich already and don’t need this fucking gold. Liz goes through the papers and finds a treasure map marked with some black X marks, and a diary entry about the “Treasure of the Scorpion.” Apparently the deal is, there’s this gold treasure, and when you find it you have to copy the map that’s with it, and leave the map plus half of the gold stash for the next person to find. If you don’t, you’ll be cursed! So the gang has presumably found the half of the first batch of gold that these 1800s prospectors left behind, and I guess there’s more ahead. The gang argues about whether or not they should keep to their original plotted route, or break the rules and follow the treasure map to the second X. Liz finally agrees that they should take the opportunity to find the rest of the treasure. Then there’s another argument about whether the “scorpion curse” is real. Liz and Todd are going to bury half of the gold and make a map copy as instructed, but the others protest, and they finally all agree the whole curse story is likely bullshit and split the entire treasure six ways among them instead. Jessica makes sure to carefully hide her share in her toiletries bag where I’m sure it will be safe and sound for the rest of the book. I love the way nobody is considering that maybe this is a carefully planted test for them and that perhaps the gold is fool’s gold.

The gang merrily skips off talking about what they’ll do with their newfound riches, bla bla, with Ken leading the navigation this time. Heather alternates between whining about her feet hurting, giggling at Ken, and freaking out about the escaped convicts. The group comes to some boulders they have to climb and Todd finds himself ogling Jessica’s fit legs. Bruce helps his “buddy” Liz rock climb much to Todd’s jealousy. Then Liz decides she should make more of an effort to bond with Bruce, so she starts talking about stocks, then thinks about how sexy Bruce looks when he’s talking about something he likes. Oh gawd, here we go again. Then Liz suddenly realizes that their original route had been plotted to stop at a water source that night, and this new one hasn’t because nobody cares about water, so they won’t be able to get fresh water tonight. Oops! The heat is unbearable, and Liz wonders if it’s the curse of the scorpion before chastising herself that only Jessica believes in shit like that.

The gang reaches the second X on the map and there’s a cave there; they all go in to try to find the second treasure and are shocked to discover that bats live in caves! Sadly, nobody seems to have gotten any guano on them. They split up at a fork in the cave, and Bruce takes the opportunity to try to make out with Liz. Just as they’re about to kiss, Jessica yells out that the rest of the group has found the second treasure stash, along with more diary pages. The diary writer talks about how the rest of his group doesn’t believe in the curse and says that he tried to warn them about what had happened to “Old Johnny Lock”. Liz reads that part aloud, but nobody else cares. That’s six more shares of gold to go around! Then there’s a big argument over whether the group should try to make it to the third and final X to get the last of the gold. Liz determines that if they do, they won’t make it back to the pick-up point in time to meet their bus, and the storm is coming, so that’s dangerous. Everyone agrees with Liz that they should just continue on to the pickup point and forget about the last batch of gold except for Jessica and Bruce, who stomp off in disgust after Bruce calls Liz a “boring nerd” and Jessica calls everyone “wimps.” Todd, meanwhile, is looking at Bruce and Liz with suspicion because he can see there’s some kind of feelings being rekindled between them. Liz consoles herself with endless thoughts of the fabulous story she’s sure to write about this adventure and how it will make her famous. Girl, if the other shit you’ve been through hasn’t made you famous by now …

At camp that night, Liz insists on making the fire by herself, but can’t get it started. Todd tries to help, and Jessica pissily demands he help his buddy (her) blow up her air mattress instead. (That’s right, Jessica is hauling an air mattress on this trip.) Todd keeps trying to help Liz anyway, but she bites his head off, so he relents. It takes her so long to get the fire going that the rest of the group grouchily eats the freeze-dried lunches they had set aside for the next day instead of a hot dinner. Liz finally gets a good fire going and is proud of herself, but everyone else is asleep by then. Liz eats dried apricots for dinner and crawls miserably into her sleeping bag fully clothed – a literal sad sack.

The next morning, the fire has gone out and everyone’s cold and in a shit mood, and this trip is about to become truly insufferable. The group finds that their pack are now too heavy to carry with all that gold in them, so they all start removing canned food rations and just leave them on the ground, except for Liz, who’s horrified because they need to eat. Everyone is kind of an asshole to her and she defiantly stuffs a bunch of their discarded cans in her pack so they won’t starve. Later though, her extra-heavy pack rubs her shoulders raw and makes them bleed, so she has to take a bunch of the cans out anyway. She’s tired, so when Todd offers to take over the navigation for the day, Liz lets him even though she and Ken were the only people paying any attention during that part of the training weekend. Jessica quickly sees that Todd doesn’t know what he’s doing and offers to “help”; when Todd agrees, she starts secretly steering them in the direction of the final treasure, instead of the pickup point the group had agreed on. When they break for lunch, Liz is the only one who still has a freeze-dried meal to eat, so she has to share the cans she still has out of her pack so everyone else can eat too. As they start hiking again, Liz soon realizes they aren’t following the agreed-upon route and confronts Jessica, who admits they’re actually headed to the treasure. She and Bruce high-five and Liz is outraged. She calls Todd an “idiot” for not knowing how to read a map and also for trusting Jessica. I mean …. Then Heather claims Liz shirked her responsibility for letting Todd lead. Shut the fuck up, Heather. Liz loses it on everyone and calls Todd “weak and spineless”, Jessica “the most deceitful, untrustworthy person ever to walk on this planet”, Bruce a “no-good, egomaniacal buffoon”, Heather “a spoiled brat who can only be counted on to flirt with every guy in sight”, and Ken “absolutely worthless”. Damn, tell ’em how you really feel, Liz. Liz then feels bad at her outburst and thinks that Heather’s right and that she’s really the one at fault here. What?

It’s too late to change up their route now, plus Liz sees there’s a water source on the treasure route for today, so the gang keeps going toward the final treasure. When they get to the water source, it’s actually a raging river in a canyon and everyone snipes at Liz like it’s her fault. Everyone stumbles down the canyon slopes and then links arms and does a special human chain technique they learned in the training weekend to cross, with the strongest people making up the ends of the chain. Then, as is inevitable, Jessica, who’s near the end of the chain because she’s the strongest girl, fucks everything up. Heather is linked to Ken, and that makes Jessica jealous, so she suddenly breaks from her end of the chain and busts on ahead to break in between Ken and Heather in the middle of the river. Everyone struggles to stay together. Heather has to cling to Jessica in the new formation, but she is too scared to hold on and Jessica isn’t strong enough to hold her, so Heather loses her grip and gets carried away in the rapids. After the group makes it to shore, they find Heather hanging on to a stuck log for dear life and manage to rescue her. They also find her drenched sleeping bag later on, but the rest of her pack – including her share of the gold – is gone. Heather blames Jessica for what happened and calls her “childish” (true) and says that Jessica should give her her gold to make up for the loss, and a brief shouting match ensues. Ken takes Heather’s side, and Jessica storms off with Liz following her while Todd and Ken look on in disgust. Bruce and Todd get a fire going and use a bunch of blank pages of the journals nobody’s writing in anymore as kindling.

Liz eventually brings Jessica back to the campsite and the gang lightens up a bit. But everyone dissolves into fighting again after Jessica keeps picking at Heather and Ken admonishes her for harassing someone who nearly died. Then Todd and Liz both seem eager to simply put Heather’s near-death experience aside and keep moving, and Ken gets upset at that because he thinks that’s mean. Adding fuel to the fire, Liz looks in her bag and finds the water purification kit she’d been entrusted with for the entire team is missing. She must’ve left it on the ground with her offloaded canned goods, oops! The gang refills their canteens from the river and hopes for the best and I’m hoping they all get mad diarrhea of the hot lava variety because by now I’m definitely sick of everyone, although I actually have more sympathy for Liz than pretty much anybody at this point. This trip is like the worst kind of group project where nobody does any work except the one person and then when the whole group doesn’t get the grade they want, they all get mad at the person who actually did things.

To further improve the evening, Todd grabs a hot log on the fire to move it without thinking and burns his dopey hand and wonders what’s happening to him and everyone. (Is it the curse, or is it just that everyone here sucks at life? I vote the latter.) Liz sits next to him to apologize for being snotty to him and calling him names before, but before she can do that, she looks past him and suddenly spies another recently extinguished campfire. Someone was just here! Was it the escaped convicts? Heather goes into another fit about how the convicts are coming for them and I really want to just toss her back into the river. Bruce picks on Heather relentlessly and Ken angers Jessica by standing up for her again.

Then everyone decides they better haul out their journals since they all skipped making an entry the night before. Heather writes about how stupid and immature Jessica is and how she’s definitely going to steal Ken now – TONIGHT! Ken writes that he doesn’t know what he ever saw in Jessica and also wonders how Liz could be so irresponsible and unlike herself. Jessica rages in her journal about how much she hates Heather and Ken, and Liz’s entry talks about how much pretty much everyone sucks. Todd mopes in his journal about how he misses Liz and wants them to make up. Bruce happily writes about the gold, and how everyone else is such a loser.

Jessica interrupts Bruce mid-entry to get all close to him and (ideally) make Ken jealous. Bruce is hornier than a triceratops so he gets all turned on and is about to kiss her when Heather starts making loud remarks about her wet sleeping bag. People make a bed for her out of warm blankets and Jessica is outraged. Then she abruptly decides Heather is going to steal her gold while she sleeps, so she moves it out of her backpack and into the bottom of her sleeping bag where her feet are. Then she rolls her sleeping bag next to Bruce and snuggles up. Heather and Ken walk off to have a talk and end up kissing. Jessica gets up to go pee, and comes back to find her gold missing from her sleeping bag and starts screaming. As everyone gathers round, she accuses Heather of stealing it, and Heather and Ken share that they’ve been off together this whole time, so there’s no way Heather could’ve done that, further enraging Jessica. Heather is sure the convicts must have taken it and starts having a screeching breakdown again. I really hate everyone.

The next morning, the gang wakes to what is supposed to be their last day. They’re supposed to find the last treasure, then somehow make their way to the Desert Oasis diner on time to meet their bus before the storm hits. Jessica remembers her gold is missing as soon as she wakes and starts another tiresome screaming fight with Heather in which they call each other “dumb blonde” and “bimbo”. Ken once again insists Heather couldn’t have taken it, but now he kind of wants to reunite with Jessica after all, so he claims he and Heather were “just talking” when they were off the night before. Heather stomps off to the river. I swear to God, there is more stomping in this story than a Godzilla movie. At the river, Heather comes across – gasp! – the three escaped convicts, but they don’t see her. They’re hanging around behind a boulder talking about how much gold the kids must have on them, and they have Jessica’s stolen gold just sitting there in plain sight in front of them. Heather runs back and tells the rest of the group, but nobody believes her. Another dumbass shouting match ensues. Heather starts hanging all over Todd, and Jessica is secretly pleased because she thinks Liz deserves it.

The group comes across a giant boulder field and has to leap from boulder to boulder to make it across. Heather starts showing off with crazy cheerleading jumps and sprains her ankle. The boys end up having to carry her around because both twins refuse to help. They finally make it to the final treasure cave. Inside are six skeletons and another satchel – but instead of gold, it’s full of scorpions! Everyone screams and runs. Liz is sure the six skeletons are the people written about in the old diary pages she has. Now it’s seven o’clock, their meetup time, and the gang is miles away from the Desert Oasis diner. Just then, the killer storm rolls in. They’re all gonna die! Yay Oh no!

I was surprised that I actually kind of liked this one. I definitely got sick of all the stupid bickering, but it was kind of fascinating to see just how much this group can thoroughly fuck themselves over!

Quote made of pure gold: “What is with those Wakefield women that makes them think they’re better than everybody?” -Ken Matthews

Other crap: The seating arrangements in the van on the way up are hard to picture and seem like they keep changing and it’s really confusing. I can only assume they were playing musical chairs at each rest stop.

Both twins think about how even Lila Fowler would’ve been a better teammate than Heather Mallone. Uh, no shit.

Bruce Patman reads comic books. I would not have guessed that. Then again, I could see him finding a kindred spirit in Archie Comics’ Reggie Mantle.

The soap opera that Heather loves is called Sunrise, Sunset and now I have a Fiddler on the Roof song stuck in my head. Jessica’s (supposedly former) favorite is called Days of Turmoil. That sounds really familiar and I’m pretty sure they’re doing a throwback to the early books.

Bruce says his dad has a friend named BENTLEY WENTWORTH (ROFL!) who found a hidden stash of gold in an old mine shaft and now lives on a yacht.

Jessica prides herself on hiding her fear of things because Ken doesn’t like “histrionics.”

Todd says he will use his riches to buy himself a brand new car – just any new car – and acts like nice cars are alien to him. Yeah, maybe back in the Datsun days, but they made him rich a long time ago and he drives a brand new BMW!

Heather: “Platinum is my favorite – gold is so pedestrian.”

Bruce: “Darnit! Jessica Wakefield is always cramping my style.” And pretty much everyone’s, dude.

Todd to himself, amazed that Liz wants to brush off Heather’s near-death experience in the river and keep going: “Liz usually loves to discuss and dissect intense experiences, running them into the ground until they just about lose all their meaning.”

WTF: “Jessica blinked, then blinked again. She’d had enough biology to recognize the sight. Skeletons! Human skeletons!” So like … she passed kindergarten biology?

In the back of the book: Nothing new – book listing, fan club ad, TV show listings.

Up next: We find out how the gang inevitably triumphs. I’m still kind of betting that gold is fake and this is all a set-up designed to test their mettle, except for the convict part. I’m waiting for Yosemite Sam to pop out.

It’s All Happening at … Sweet Valley High (a 1983 Waldenbooks promotional booklet)

As I mentioned in my last post, I have something brand new-to-me for today’s review! This is courtesy of the fellow SVH fan behind the awesome SV nostalgia Instagram account @svthenandnowview their March 20, 2020 post to see all of the screen captures if you’d like to read this little goody yourself.

*Drumroll* … straight outta Waldenbooks from 1983 ….

Screengrab from @svthenandnow on Instagram (the 1/10 mark is an Instagram slide marker)

I love everything about this, from the blue cover (does it match the twins’ eyes tho?) to the Waldenbooks logo. Speaking of Waldens, per @svthenandnow, this 8-page booklet was a special free publication of that beloved long-lost mall chain bookstore. I need to take a minute to pour one out for Waldens and my other lost love, Borders! (If you’re not familiar with those names, these stores went out of business and closed across the U.S. in 2011 after the parent company, also named Borders, went bankrupt. Yes, I am still in mourning. There’s nothing like a great brick-and-mortar bookstore, whether it’s a national chain or a small local business. And as small businesses especially can use our help these days (and always), let me take a minute to encourage you to lend them your support where you can. Commence the book-buying binges!)

The front cover is so fun, and I love the mention of the Sweet Dreams teen romance series! On the back cover, as I pointed out in my previous post, note that book #2 is called Love Secrets, not just Secrets. We know there have been other last minute title changes in the past, so I’m willing to bet that was in fact its original title and they just forgot to update it on the cover graphic.

The booklet opens with “Welcome to Sweet Valley High”, an introduction. The physical description of the twins is interesting – I’ll delve more into that in a little bit. We also get a description of each twin’s personality (you knew we would) including a long paragraph on how perfect Liz is (of course), then it talks about how Jessica regularly schemes to take advantage of her sister bla bla bla. There’s also mention of how Jessica is very possessive of Liz and is jealous of any of Liz’s friends who seem too close to her. I feel this trait of Jessica’s was dropped after the earliest books in favor of Jessica simply thinking Liz’s friends were too nerdy for her liking.

Next, the intro starts outlining the personality traits of other major characters such as Enid Rollins (“you might not even notice her …” – correct), Lila Fowler, and Bruce Patman, who apparently has “big blue eyes” … what? I had to go back and look at some Bruce cover art and I’m not seeing it. Does he really have blue eyes and I just forgot? I mean, it’s been a hot minute since I did a full book read-and-recap. There’s also some chatter about Mr. Collins, the Dairi Burger vs. the “dingy roadhouse” that only the bad kids go to, and the supposed “old money vs. new money” feud between the Patmans and the Fowlers, which really only seemed relevant in book 1. You know, that feud always sounded like an intriguing plot point to me but seemed like it got dropped faster than Bruce’s drawers at a sorority house. I swear to god I think there are many unpublished SVH stories out there! I like the description of the SV mall; we learn it has “lots of stores, a video arcade, two twin movie theaters, and a giant supermarket.” No mention of Casey’s.

Next we get brief synopses for the first six books. Book 2 is back to being called just Secrets again. The booklet also keeps calling book 2’s Fall Dance the “prom.” Is this another oversight or did they change it last minute? Then in the synopsis for book 3 (Playing with Fire), there’s a mention of a “homecoming dance” (by which I think they mean the dance-off in the beginning of that one). I don’t know if these are genuinely representative of changes or if it’s just someone at Waldenbooks had to whip this booklet up last minute and didn’t bother to fact check what they wrote, because they didn’t have a crystal ball to tell them that a grown woman would be sitting here documenting every little inconsistency on a thing called the internet a few decades later. The synopsis for book 4 just goes on and calls Robin Wilson “small, round” and “Butterball Robin Wilson” … yikes. I don’t know why I’m surprised given how badly Power Play treats the topic of weight (and I mean, the series in general).

Finally, we have an excerpt from Double Love, which is chapter 1. I won’t recap that whole thing but it opens with our classic introduction to Jessica, in which she makes a scene carrying on about how horribly ugly she thinks she is, insulting Elizabeth who is watching the spectacle, and continues through the end where Liz and Jessica prepare to find out if they made it into Pi Beta Alpha and Liz sadly thinks that Todd prefers Jessica over her. Now, there are some interesting changes in this excerpt vs. the final published version, not surprising since most likely this excerpt was taken from the review copy prior to the final edits. But whereas some of the edits are simple grammar & style changes, others are more notable. Here are the ones I found worth pointing out to fellow fans:

-We’re told the twins have “cameo skin”. Uh, so like the ivory profile of a cameo necklace? My copy of the finished book does not say that; it says “perfect skin” in that spot. I guess they realized that the twins might not be that pale with all the time they spend in the California sun. Of course, in later books their skin would be emphasized as a “peaches and cream complexion.”
-In the booklet, Jessica adds a complaint about her height that is not in the final book. “She lamented that she would probably have to spend her entire life being no more than five foot six.”
-Liz’s annoyed response to Jessica’s carrying on in the published book simply says: “Your figure’s terrible, your legs are chopsticks, your knees are bony, and on top of that, your face is all wrong. Right?” In the excerpt, it goes (changes bolded by me): “Your figure’s terrible, your legs are chopsticks, your knees are bony, your face is the wrong shape, your hair’s dull, and your eyes are blah. And on top of all that, you’re practically a midget. Right?” I would say they probably changed this since “midget” can be considered a pejorative, but I think that might be too much credit for 1983.
-The paragraph about Jessica’s not wearing a watch has an extra sentence in the published book: “And if she was late, let ’em wait.” Glad they added that – it sums up Jessica’s selfish attitude perfectly.
-The paragraph about a previous conversation Liz had with Todd changed from Liz “hoping he wouldn’t notice the way her cheeks were flaming” to “hoping he wouldn’t notice how nervous he made her.” I prefer the original.
-In the excerpt, when Liz agrees to let Jessica borrow her infamous tuxedo outfit, Jessica gleefully “planted a noisy kiss on the top of her sister’s head.” In the published book, she simply “headed for her sister’s closet” instead.
-In a scene where Jessica completes a Pi Beta pledge task by having a pizza delivered to Mr. Russo’s class in Liz’s name, the class looks at Liz with shock. In the excerpt, they’re surprised because Liz is “the brain, the serious twin” whereas in the final it becomes “the level-headed, serious twin.” Hah! They didn’t want to make her sound too nerdy I guess.

The booklet ends with a note to look out for the first book on its release date of September 15, 1983, although it’s touted on the cover as debuting in October. Close enough, sure.

If you’re curious about those PBA pledge tasks, since I don’t think I documented them in my original recap (honestly, because when I was younger I thought all the details I love to nerd out over, would bore people and nobody would read my blog, LOL):

  1. As I mentioned before, Jessica orders a pizza to Mr. Russo’s chemistry class and embarrasses Liz by having it put in her name. Maybe this was inspired by 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Liz explains it away by saying the class wanted to see how much heat the pizza would lose on its way from the pizza parlor to the classroom. Mr. Russo actually buys it, most likely just because it’s Liz.
  2. The pledges have a singing telegram sent to Principal “Chrome Dome” Cooper’s office. (By the way, I’ve always assumed Principal Cooper’s character was inspired by Archie Comics’ legendary Principal Weatherbee.)
  3. The pledges dye the mashed potatoes in the cafeteria purple, grossing everyone out because I guess they don’t realize there are in fact purple potatoes (and they are delicious), not that this is particularly common knowledge.

Some other choice quotes from the excerpt:

“This sounds like a job for my new tuxedo shirt.” Liz, in response to Jessica whining she has nothing to wear for their all-important PBA induction day.

“A wicked gleam of mischief lurked in the aqua-marine depths of Jessica’s eyes, while Liz’s reflected only sincerity.” I immediately thought of Linus in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: “Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.” Hah! That’s what y’all think. Just give Liz a little while.

After Liz makes Jessica promise to have her outfit cleaned and back in her closet by the weekend:
Jessica: “On my honor.”
Liz: “I’m doomed.” You’re damn right you are, it’s amazing you’re still alive 100+ books later with a sister like this, Liz!

Speaking of doom, coming up next, we’ll see if the twins survive Death Valley or wherever it is they’re going in the next miniseries! Till then, as Heather Mallone would say, toodles!

More vintage Sweet Valley ads and photos

I’m back with another batch of vintage Sweet Valley High magazine ads and photos! Let’s see what we’ve got!

You may remember in my last post about stuff like this that there was a “great twin search” launched in the late 80s, in which series creator Francine Pascal and her daughter Jamie sought a pair of actresses to represent Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, for what was originally envisioned as a TV movie. Eventually, the “movie” was launched as a 1990s TV series starring Brittany and Cynthia Daniel. There was a photo I shared from the July 1988 issue of ‘TEEN magazine showing Jamie interviewing a potential set of Wakefield twins, where you could plainly see some kind of Sweet Valley artwork with a whole ensemble of characters on the back wall. The artwork image was too distant / blurry to make it out, and I desperately wanted to know what it looked like up close. Here’s that photo and blurb again:

Desperately seeking the Wakefield twins!

Because awesome reader F. Musa sent me a tip, I’ve got a great close-up, black-and-white view of that very artwork from the FANTASTIC svthenandnow account on Instagram! Here it is in all its glory … AHHHH, I love it!

The gang’s all here! …. Oh wait …

I love that we have new (well, new-to-me) portraits of characters we’ve seen many times, and they’re all grouped together! svthenandnow gives the year for this art as 1983, which makes sense when you see the outfits featured. Man, this would have made an awesome book cover. Our twins, of course, are front and center. Jessica is dressed in the same outfit she had on for Double Love, and Liz has those damn barrettes on again. I’m thinking that might be Liz’s Too Good to Be True outfit. In the middle row, we have Bruce Patman (with the same outfit from Playing with Fire), Courteney Cox Annie Whitman (looks like the tank top from Wrong Kind of Girl, but hard to tell in black-and-white), and our girl Lila Fowler looking like, well, like Lila would, haha. Nice pearls, Lila! Annie looks like she’s pissed to be stuck behind her tormentor Jessica and is considering just pushing her ass over. In the back row, there’s Tricia Martin (RIP), Todd Wilkins (in the same polo shirt and windblown hair from Dangerous Love, I assume), and Bill Chase peepin’ at you from the way back. LOL at Bill’s come-hither look! They really gave us new expressions for everybody here, even if only slightly … except for Tricia, who looks pretty much exactly as she does on the cover of When Love Dies. In fact it kind of seems like they just jammed Tricia’s existing portrait in there as an afterthought (after reversing it first). Oh yeah, and where’s Enid? Hahaha, I love that she’s Liz’s best bud but literally nobody cares about her. Or maybe they just got her mixed up with Tricia, LOL! (More likely, they didn’t have cover art for Enid yet since we didn’t see her until book 26, because again, nobody cares about Enid.) I would be asking where Winston Egbert is, but we already know they don’t think Winston merits any painting at all, unless it’s for the SVH board game!

Speaking of that twin search, since that July 1988 copy referenced a previous issue having announced the search, I also got a copy of that mag. From the March 1988 ‘TEEN:

Haha, I love that they made sure to clarify they want real twins, not “lookalike” friends, and they don’t want boys sending in any photos.

Also in that same issue, an ad for some SVH merchandise:

I’m ready to rock that sweatshirt myself, maybe with a cool pair of barrettes.

Remember the Sweet Valley High Slam Book tie-in to Slam Book Fever? (If you don’t, here’s my review of it.) Here’s an ad for it from the October 1988 ‘TEEN magazine:

Hehe, I like the way the ad makes slam books sound all positive and like innocent fun, while Slam Book Fever made slam books sound like they came out of Satan’s personal library.

Lastly, I want to share something with you that I had no idea even existed until very recently … once again, thanks to the svthenandnow Instagram, here’s a preview of my next SVH review …

OMFUG I need this

Holy shit! I had never seen this in my life! This is an 8-page free booklet that previewed the Sweet Valley High series and characters and also contained an excerpt from Double Love. (Please ignore the Insta dots and arrows on my screengrab, lol) When I saw this with the freakin’ Waldenbooks logo – my PLACE TO BE as a kid, okay – I just about keeled over. And check out the back cover – they’re calling book #2 Secrets, Love Secrets! That’s a hell of an editing error, if that’s what it is. I’m inclined to think they changed the title last minute and forgot to update the back cover of this booklet before going to print. (On the inside of the booklet, they do call it Secrets.) And if that’s the case, then hat’s the latest pre-publication title change I’ve become aware of. If you want to read the booklet in full, there are page scans on svthenandnow. (See the March 20, 2020 post.) You should definitely browse through this account regardless if you want a serious nostalgic smile – there are so many great old ads, articles, interviews, and promotional items for multiple Sweet Valley series over the decades, as well as the TV show!

As always, stay tuned for more stuff like this, including my soon-to-be-posted review of this little booklet!

YESSSS: Original Sweet Valley cover model photos, James Mathewuse sketches, and correspondence!

This is officially my favorite review ever, before I even start it. And this post has been a long time coming. (Not least because I really dislike working with the “new”(ish) WordPress block editor thing.)

Are y’all ready for this? You are so not ready for this! (unless you already knew, lol) This is the type of shit I have been hoping to find for EONS!

Thanks to the Double Love Sweet Valley High podcast (which is awesome by the way), I caught wind of a fairly recent discovery – some of the original cover modeling photographs used to design and create the Sweet Valley High cover art! And let me tell you … they are even cooler than I could’ve imagined. Not only do these provide the amazing behind-the-scenes details I crave, but they also testify to just how incredible of an artist original SVH cover artist James Mathewuse is.

Here’s the story of how these came to see the light of day: Buenos Aires-based artist (and fellow Sweet Valley fan) Victoria Colmegna started writing to our beloved James, and they struck up a friendship. James sent Victoria many of his Sweet Valley reference materials, and she incorporated them into her art.

On Double Love’s Instagram, podcast hosts Karyn and Anna are sharing some zoomed-in, close-up detail of some of these photos! I mean, I’m having Christmas in February over here! Are you ready? The following screen grabs are all from Double Love’s Insta. Let’s start off with one of the earliest …

#2 Secrets

The final cover art …
Since model Jonna Leigh Stack is only one person and could not be cloned, these shots had to be set up with a stand-in for the other twin. I am laughing at the droll expression on the Jessica stand-in compared to the final painting. “Yeah hang on Lila, this bitch over my shoulder has a problem or something.” Also, cool jacket and pin! And, please take note of the REAL-LIFE LAVALIER on “Liz”! AAAAH!
Now Jonna plays Jess, while the stand-in, who now looks slightly amused, changes over to playing Liz.
Here are the two images stuck together to make the full cover! It’s magic!

#5 All Night Long

Cover art of Jessica and porn star Scott
Reference photo! Scott looks so different! Not a clue who he is in real life but he looks … oddly familiar. Maybe just ’cause I’m getting a Matthew McConaughey “alright alright alright” vibe. Jonna’s hair is partially pulled back and she’s doing the classic Jessica smirk. Plus, she’s actually wearing the blue shirt that wound up over her shoulder in the final. I’m really intrigued by all that equipment surrounding them. This photo has a serious spontaneous vibe to it.

#6 Dangerous Love

Take a good look at this art, especially the motorcycle …
…because THIS is what Todd’s Yamaha really looks like!

Dude, this is pure GOLD. Look at that freaking “motorcycle”! Oh my god, this is hilarious and creative. Never in a million years would I have guessed this is how the reference photo was put together. I guess this was a lot cheaper and less time-consuming than having to rent an actual motorcycle.

#8 Heart Breaker

Jessica and Bill on the cover
Jonna clearly cracking up at Bill’s HILARIOUSLY misspelled “Sweet Valely Surf Club” shirt!
PS That bikini is totally rad. I want one!

By the way, at least one of my readers thinks this model is a young William Zabka (who played Johnny Lawrence in 1984’s The Karate Kid). I certainly see the resemblance. What do you think?

#18 Head Over Heels / #59 In Love Again

Okay, this one is interesting for a whole other reason. As Double Love noted on their Insta, the following photo appears to be a mash-up of Head Over Heels and In Love Again – with those two titles being years apart. What’s up with that? Take a look, starting with the cover art for each:

Head Over Heels (April 1985) final cover art by Mathewuse. I love the totally 80s graphics that Double Love added! Take special note of Regina’s dress.
Cover art for In Love Again (October 1989). Same dress, different color!
And here’s the reference photo in question … with Todd and Regina (RIP) in the In Love Again pose!

So … what’s going on here? Here is my best guess. Book 18 (HoH) came out four and a half years before book 59. I don’t know how far in advance they planned these cover shoots, but it seems doubtful they would already have #59 set in stone at the same time they were putting together the shoots for #18. I think what happened is the model who previously posed as Bruce wasn’t available the day they were doing the shoot for #18. So, they just substituted the model for Todd so Mathewuse would have a figure/pose to reference for his Head Over Heels painting, then Mathewuse just substituted Todd’s face with Bruce’s in his art, using a previous shot of the model for Bruce. When the time came to get the cover done for #59, the models in question had probably long since moved on. So, Mathewuse was likely instructed to design the cover art a certain way and then he referenced older photos he already had to do so. The above photo was probably pretty convenient for creating In Love Again – since he didn’t use this exact pose to create Head Over Heels, all he had to do was paint it with Jonna’s face vs. the Regina model’s, then change the dress color.

This next one has zero mystery around it …

#26 Crash Landing!

The final cover art, featuring Liz and Enid acting all dramatic …
The reference shot! Man, that’s pretty exact! Except for Enid’s hair length.

Super Edition #3 Spring Break

Original cover art … with this blown up like that, Liz and Jessica’s expressions are even funnier!
Fresh from Double Love’s Insta, here’s the zoomed-in reference shot of Jonna as Jess! Notice her hair was still pulled back Liz style.

Are these fantastic or what? BUT WAIT! There’s more! A lot more! Here are links to all of the Colmegna art/collages I could find that feature these and other Sweet Valley goodies. Check them out to see incredible archival photographs (modeling photos), sketches, correspondence and more – from Sweet Valley High as well as the Sweet Valley Twins and The Unicorn Club series! There are also portraits of Colmegna & friends from various stages of her life that she commissioned Mathewuse to paint, which look great. Jimmy has still got it!

Here is a collage on Victoria Colmegna’s website,“Graduazzione”, featuring some Sweet Valley High and Twins reference sketches for the covers by James, complete with a commissioned portrait of Victoria by James. The referenced titles are listed below the photo of the artwork (including the one for her portrait!).
2018 exhibition at Park View, Los Angeles, California: Check out this link to read more about Victoria and her art. There are also four SV collages in the photos at this link, which you can zoom in on and really get a good look. The reference photos include way more Secrets, Crash Landing! and Heart Breaker shots. The Crash Landing! ones include one where I swear to god Jonna is laughing. Also loads of sketches – I’m 100 percent fangirling out over The Carnival Ghost one, from Sweet Valley Twins – AND AND AND! You can spy a letter to Mathewuse from Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc. in one, with instructions on how the art for Bruce’s Story should look! I’ll let you know now that it reminds Mathewuse that Bruce is “the richest, snobbiest boy at Sweet Valley, also one of the most obnoxious.” I’m dying over here, lol. Bonus! Can you find the little photo of Jonna posing as Liz for the cover of Spring Break peeking out in one of the collages, with the guidebook and the uh, curious outfit?
MORE! From a 2019 exhibition in Zurich: Here you’ll see lots more sketches, photos of Jonna posing as Liz for the Malibu Summer cover in the famous striped swimsuit, and a close-up color photo of Jonna as Jessica for Power Play. You’ll also find some typed correspondence around the art for Pretenses featuring Cara and Steven, although they only referred to it as “book #44” at the time.
We’re not done! Check out this article for more on Victoria and scroll to the bottom to see yet another collage! You’ll get a more close-up view of some of the Malibu Summer shots as well as the aforementioned modeling shot of Jonna as Jess for the cover of Spring Break. There’s also correspondence around the cover for #38 (Leaving Home); apparently the original photograph and/or sketch had Liz frowning!
From La Maison de Rendez-vous in Brussels, with a much more recent exhibit (it closed last month), you’ll find some similar images but also some absolute GOLD shots of Jonna posing as a sad Jessica for the cover of Runaway. Until I saw these photos, I didn’t know Jessica was wearing booty shorts when she ran away. There are also more pics from Crash Landing!, All Night Long, and the mysterious Head Over Heels / In Love Again mash-up!
God, it must have been so much fun shooting these and acting out being a Wakefield twin.
For more stuff like this, make sure to follow Double Love’s Instagram and Twitter! Their Insta is amazing; along with cover photographs like the ones above, they routinely post Sweet Valley covers from the editions published outside the U.S. Did you know that Sweet Valley was called “Sun Valley” in France – and that the French version of All Night Long featured Jessica smokin’ a cig on the cover? Hah! And make sure you give their fun & funny podcast a listen too!

Stay tuned because I have some more fun stuff coming up! 🙂 For more cover model discussion, check out my post from May 2020.

Some SVH mentions from vintage copies of ‘TEEN magazine

One effect 2020, which I don’t believe is actually over yet, has had on me is to spark up major nostalgia. This has manifested in my buying a bunch of shit I don’t need, to include teenage fashion magazines from the days of my youth (and earlier). Here, I’ll share with you a few snaps I took of SVH book blurbs and other stuff from late 80s / early 90s ‘TEEN magazines (all released years before I was a ‘TEEN myself). My patience is really low these days, so please forgive the meh quality of these photos.

First up, from the December 1987 issue:

You, too, can be an SVH Super Sleuth!

You might recall in my review for Super Thriller #1 that I mentioned the back of the book advertised an SVH mini-camera, which you could send away for. (I see now that the photo of said ad is missing from that earlier post – WTF? Or maybe I just forgot to upload it to begin with, which I wouldn’t put past 2010-me (or any-year me).) Well, this is a better photo of that camera, anyhow. Let’s get a closer look at this ad:

The top:

The book cover design in this ad doesn’t quite match that of the final. Notice, for one thing, that the word “Super” isn’t as fancy on the final design – I guess they didn’t want to overshadow Liz’s 80s career woman outfit:

Now let’s get a better look at the bottom of this ad:

Not gonna lie, I lowkey want that freakin’ camera!

Next let’s check out the July 1988 issue, which had a “twins” theme. First up, from the occasional “Have You Read?” column, is this blurb for book #44, Pretenses:

Which is definitely overshadowed by this fascinating tidbit:

We get a picture of Francine Pascal’s daughter Jamie (for whom I believe the Sweet Valley Twins ghostwriter alias, Jamie Suzanne, is named), with a prospective Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. AND we get some insight on the making of the SVH TV show. Apparently, this thing was under development much earlier than I thought. (More on that later, as a copy of the March 1988 issue mentioned above is on its way next.) What I find particularly interesting is that at this point, they were just looking to make a TV movie, not a full series. I’m not sure I knew it started out that way. I am also desperately wanting a close-up shot of that poster on the wall behind Jamie!

The Wakefield twin candidates, Anastasia and Brittney Singletary, were also featured in a twins photo shoot later on in the same issue. They also made the cover (see the small inset pic on the left of the cover, next to the headline “Make-over Moves Made for Two”). What do you think, could they make good Wakefields?

Potential Wakefields on the far left!

Finally, short and sweet, from the Have You Read? column in the May 1990 issue:

I don’t think this little blurb adequately prepares readers for what’s coming!

I’ll keep an eye out for more SVH mentions in these old rags (say I, affectionately), and share any I find. Plus, stay tuned for more info on that early SVH TV movie/show twin search!

Oracle Newsletter Recipe: Crispy Dogs

Hello there everyone. After much delay, which is typical for me, I have finally made the enticing “Crispy Dogs” recipe from Volume I of the Sweet Valley High Fan Club’s occasional newsletter, The Oracle (circa 1994).I thought it would be a fun experiment and a tasty pandemic snack. Wrong on both counts! 

So before we get into that mess, let’s talk about this recipe. It was featured as part of a regular (or semi-regular, since I think they only put out two whole issues of this newsletter) column, called “Treats for the Sweet” and that name bugs the shit out of me for some reason. Liz introduced the recipe with this claim: “Whenever a group of our friends comes over, Jess and I like to make this easy snack.” Well, I’m calling bullshit on literally everything she just said.

Here’s the exact text of the recipe itself, as shared by Liz herself:


1 lb frankfurters
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp prepared mustard
3/4 to 1 c finely crushed corn chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut each frankfurter into 4 pieces. In small bowl, combine mustard and water. Dip frankfurters into mustard mixture; coat with chips. Place on baking sheet. Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until hot. Serve hot with toothpicks. Refrigerate leftovers. This recipe makes about 40 snacks. Be sure to ask an adult for help in the kitchen. 

Okay, it’s me again. Every time I read “frankfurters” I heard Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show saying “Come up to the lab … and see what’s on the slab.” Oh, we’re gonna see all right. Also, since it told me to ask an adult for help in the kitchen I dragged my husband into this. Before we go any further, know that when I saw “corn chips” in this recipe I thought Liz was talking about corn tortilla chips. I have a pandemic-addled brain, okay? It wasn’t until I was actually starting the recipe that I realized she was probably talking about Fritos! Fuck! Oh well, she should’ve just freakin’ said so but she didn’t. On with our meal … please brace yourself, because the Food Network this ain’t.

My husband got to chopping up pretty much the entire pack of hot dogs (Ballparks) while I bagged up some of the chips (Mission Tortilla Rounds) and rolled over them to crush them as best I could. I wound up crushing them a bit more than this photo shows to get rid of any BIG pieces, but stopped short of grinding them into a powder. 


Next, I mixed up the water and mustard like Liz said which struck both me and my husband as pretty odd but like I tried to explain to him, Liz knows everything so it must be right! Since she told us to use prepared mustard, I just grabbed a bottle of French’s out of the fridge. Time to mix up some bright yellow paint!


Time to set up the assembly line! It sounds easy enough; you just roll the hot dong I mean hot dog pieces in your watery mustard mix and then dredge each one in the corn chips.


Mmmm, mustardy!


My patient husband did the dirty work while I kept interrupting to tell him “Wait, I need a photo of this.”


The chips didn’t stick to the hot dog pieces very well and kept sliding off and making big clumps all over the tray. 


The overpowering scent of mustard was in the air. I like mustard and all but …
We baked as suggested and it came out looking basically like what I’m sure you thought it would.


Taste test: It tasted like … you know, hot dogs and mustardy clumps of tortilla chips. Look, I love hot dogs so I felt like I should be saying “not too bad, just needs some improvement” but I actually think this is terrible. The chips come out all soggy and with their crunch diminished by all the mustard they have soaked up. Baking them in the oven doesn’t change that. I don’t think making this with Fritos would’ve made much of a difference in the end result, except that it would’ve tasted like hot dogs and mustardy clumps of Fritos instead. And that’s probably marginally better, if you can actually still taste the Fritos flavor through all that mustard! I probably could’ve crushed the tortilla chips a bit more than I did, but I don’t think that would’ve made a huge difference either. Who tested this recipe before publication?

If LIZ wanted the chips to stick, my assumption is that she could’ve had us pat the hot dogs dry and then use an egg coating rather than mustard. (Maybe the editors feared some kind of outlandish lawsuit if a kid making this ate raw egg, I don’t know) Not only did Liz have us use mustard, she had us MIX it with water. What was that supposed to do? Anyway, I felt sick after eating this regardless and I had to go lay down. My husband was not impressed with the recipe either, but he wound up eating most of it and was not similarly afflicted.

Was it worth it? Yes, of course because now I can continue to reference this disaster every time I make fun of Liz for being a know-it-all in my future reviews!




Sweet Valley High Fan Club: The Oracle Newsletter, Volume II

Have I got a treat for you today! Courtesy of Sweet Valley superfan Jessica Poschel, I am sharing her photos of what I will dramatically call the long-lost second issue of The Oracle newsletter! This is the newsletter Bantam sent out to Sweet Valley High Fan Club members back in 1994. Thank you SO much Jessica; this is like early Christmas for me! And a hat tip to Snark Valley reader F. Musa for tipping me off to this, and the fact that this issue does in fact exist (as I had my doubts!).

If you want to take a look at the first issue of The Oracle, check out my post on that here. Without further ado, on to the second (and last?) issue …

Ta-dah! (I feel like a Wakefield twin saying that)

Overall, the format seems pretty much the same as Volume I. Although this time, the theme color is pink! Once again, we have a theme letter from Elizabeth. Liz promotes the Sweet Valley University series (at that time brand new), as well as the new SVH TV show. A sidebar urges us to pick up SVH #93, Stepsisters.

Page 2

On page 2, there’s a small article attempting to encourage kids to stay optimistic if they have to move to a new place. As part of the prep work for your big move, you’re encouraged to answer a series of questions about what your life would look like if you moved to Sweet Valley. Is this really supposed to help? Isn’t this setting people up for disappointment since everyone knows Sweet Valley is the most perfect place on earth? There are no criminals or rainstorms there unless it’s convenient to the plot. How is any other place supposed to compare? Well, now that I’ve womp womped all over that, let’s look at the questions. If you moved to Sweet Valley, “who would you want to be your best friend?” I pick Lila Fowler because she’s the most interesting and hopefully she’ll take me on some of her whirlwind vacations with her. As long as she doesn’t pull that shit she pulled on Jessica with the kids’ camp in Jamaica, I mean. The other questions ask you to imagine which boyfriend, clubs, teacher, car, house and curfew you would have. I find the last one kind of odd since that’s not something my parents would’ve changed just because we moved, but then again, it kind of feels like the Wakefield twins do pretty much whatever they want and get away with it so …

The awkwardly-named “Treats for the Sweet” feature is back and this time the recipe is for Frozen Pudding Pops. My thing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been whipping up all sorts of random recipes, so I’m absolutely doing this one. Sounds pretty basic. (Say I, right before I manage to make a huge mess in my kitchen.) I never got around to making those “Crispy Dogs” from the first issue so I’m gonna tackle that too whenever I realize it’s been too long since I had indigestion.

“Personal Profiles” is also back, and this time our featured Sweet Valley-an is Todd Wilkins. I can’t help but crack the fuck up that they once again call his eyes “coffee-colored.” Oh excuse me, technically it’s supposed to be Todd filling out his own profile which makes it even funnier. I assume for anyone else that eye color would just read “dark brown” but Todd’s eyes have been special since the beginning and he is not about to let go of that claim to fame. I am also cracking up that Todd described himself as “Kind, sensitive, intelligent!” Yes, with the exclamation point ’cause he’s feeling smart AND fancy!

Jessica’s “Eye for Fashion” column is missing this issue which is a shame because I really wanted to see what kind of dubious tip she might give next. Instead we have an ad for the new SVH dolls followed by a “Dear Sweet Valley U.S.A.” section which is essentially letters to the editor.

Page 3

There’s an interview with Cynthia and Brittany Daniel, the actresses who portrayed the Wakefield twins on the TV show. Cynthia notes that Dangerous Love is her favorite. Next to their interview, there’s a “Sneak Preview” section which gives blurbs for books 106-111. I like how each Jeremy / Sue book blurb essentially spoils the book before it, lol.

Lastly, you get a word search!

Page 4

On the back page, there’s an order form for some Sweet Valley merchandise, plus a Sweet Valley I.Q. Test! (The answers are upside down at the bottom of page 2.) I remember the answers to all of these except #5, although I’m positive I had that book in third grade, and #6, which I never read myself but I think I recall it was Liz fighting this “battle of the bulge.” (Can I just add that I feel really weird they put it that way in a kids’ newsletter?) If there were any justice in the world, it would’ve been Jessica after how she treated Robin Wilson and Lois Waller (and countless other people).

Well, that’s it! All snark aside, that was awesome. Last time I closed my review of issue 1 by saying I didn’t think issue 2 existed, and was delightfully proven wrong. So let me end this one by saying I’m very sure there’s no such thing as the third issue of The Oracle 😉

Super Thriller #8 Murder in Paradise

We’re at a point in the series where it seems they want to hit us over the head with loads of Super Thrillers on a regular basis. In other words, things are apparently going to get even MORE batshit.

So that you get an idea of what we’re in for with this one, let’s examine our cover412141

It’s another special stepback cover! On the front flap, we have two girls just cracking the fuck up in a waterfall. The one on the right has to be Lila, but are we supposed to think the girl on the left is Jessica? She looks decades older! Does Alice wear bikinis? Maybe it’s Grace? At upper right, we have Liz Wakefield (or maybe THAT’S Alice), identifiable by her pulled back hair and obligatory tank bikini, looking down in horror at something … Maybe it’s at how much Jessica has aged? There’s a Sweet Valley timeline joke in here somewhere.

Open the flap and we see ….


Hahaha! Some random (naked?) dude springing from the undergrowth to grab Liz’s leg. I’m simultaneously creeped out and highly amused. Liz’s hair is super 90s layered. If she takes it out of that ponytail, is it going to look like “the Rachel” shag that everyone was into back then?

Alice Wakefield has been “picked at random from the phone book” and won a vacation to Paradise Spa, which is “the most luxurious spa in all of California.” Uh, I hope old Alice thoroughly vetted that shit first, but given her past decisions and how fucking gullible the Wakefields are in general, you know she didn’t. She’s allowed to bring six guests, so along with the twins, she’s invited Enid and Lila and their moms for a mother-daughter retreat. Enid’s mom can’t come, so the sixth guest spot is just a waste I guess. Now the ladies are riding a train up to wherever the hell the spa is. Everyone is gushing and cooing about their adventure, including the Fowlers, though I’m somehow doubting Grace and Lila Fowler are all that impressed since they probably go to spas in Paris and shit all the time. This spa is run by someone named Tatiana Mueller who promises she can make ugly people beautiful, or something like that.

Liz and Enid go to the club car for snacks and drinks, and Enid starts bawling because Hugh apparently dumped her recently because he didn’t want to be tied down. Enid is sure it’s because she’s not as pretty as, say, the Wakefield twins. Oh GAWD, we are going to have to listen to Enid mope all throughout this damn book, aren’t we? Liz tries to reassure Enid about her looks, but privately, she recalls how Hugh started dating a “cute” and “curvy” sophomore named Sabrina right after he dumped Enid and thinks that Enid is right. Doesn’t Hugh go to Big Mesa? How would Liz know who he’s dating now? Hugh is even more boring than Enid, so I’d really like to see Enid hook up with someone who can liven up her personality a little.

The train pulls into the Paradise train station after many hours of traveling “up the California coast”. So is this supposed to be in the real life Paradise, California? History lesson time! I looked up whether Paradise had a train station at some point, and it seems it did, but it closed in 1974. The train depot survives and houses a couple of museums, and was one of the few structures to survive the awful Camp Fire of 2018. Wondering if the ghost writer knew the train depot history at that time or was just pulling a cool town name out of a hat. Anyway, our mom-and-daughter group arrives and is met by a sexy porter/driver named Chris. Jessica gets all hot and bothered and Liz gives her a lecture about how she should be thinking about Ken, as Liz, everyone’s favorite hypocrite, simultaneously finds herself also hot and bothered by Chris.

Chris drops the ladies and their luggage off at the spa and everyone gawks at the tons of beautiful people they see, as the entire staff is supermodel-level gorgeous. They’re certain Tatiana must be the most beautiful of all, but when they meet her, she’s quite dumpy. Jessica calls her a “toad” to her friends, then feels ashamed when she sees Tatiana up close and realizes that half of her face is disfigured. Wait, Jessica can feel shame?

Tatiana, who I now think of as the female version of the Batman villain Two Face, takes the group to their lodgings at Tranquillity Cottage, which has three luxurious bedrooms, and a hot tub, but no mirrors, which just about ruins things for Jessica and Lila. The girls take a dip in a “mineral pool”, and then we get a humorous description of Liz plugging her new laptop into the phone line so she can send Todd an “E-mail” (with the E capitalized, yes). As it turns out, Todd has his own personal computer and modem! Woo hoo, it’s officially 1995 in this series. The group goes to dinner, where they all gawk at hot men everywhere and Jessica preens at Chris and gets him to agree to give her a golf lesson. He immediately tries to invite some of the others, but Jessica doesn’t get a clue. Enid picks at her food and thinks about how ugly she is and how she wants Tatiana to save her. I hope she gets food poisoning. Dinner consists of salad with “oil-free vinaigrette”, poached salmon with “light dill sauce”, haricots verts (uh, as in French green beans? FANCY), steamed potatoes, and fresh fruit. OK people, how the fuck do you make vinaigrette without oil? The ingredients are freakin’ oil, vinegar and lemon juice! Is it just lemon flavored vinegar? What the hell? I’m so confused.

Lila and Jessica are disappointed with breakfast the following morning, which only consists of fruit, plain yogurt, muffins or toast, and grapefruit and orange juice. In fact, the waitress casts shade in Jess’s direction when she wants to try one of each bread item on order. After breakfast, Lila and Grace are gonna go get their nails did, while Alice shocks Liz by announcing she will be attending a yoga class. Shut the fuck up Liz. Then Tatiana Mueller comes by the table and coos over everybody. She introduces them to her young, lovely assistant Marguerite, then creepily pats Enid’s hair, calls her “my little sparrow” and assures her they’ll definitely take care of her since her mother couldn’t come. At the sight of this, Lila and Jessica are reduced to hysterics behind their breakfast napkins. Jessica asks Tatiana if she can have some mirrors put in their rooms, and Tatiana suddenly gets all moody and says they don’t have any at the spa because it’s inner beauty that counts. Alice thinks this is so admirable while everyone else rightly thinks that is fucking weird to not have mirrors at a beauty spa.

Nosy Liz takes note of a shy young waitress named Katya who hides her face behind her hair, and wonders why she isn’t upbeat like everyone else. Liz decides Katya obviously just needs a friend, like herself. We’re gonna get a scene of Katya pouring her heart and soul out to Liz while Liz does a reassuring shoulder pat, aren’t we? Fuck. BTW, I’m fresh off drinking wine and shit on a late night Zoom party as I write this, so I’m just sitting here sleepily laughing my ass off at the mere thought.

As the group exits the “alfresco dining room” after breakfast so they can skip about looking for opportunities to cheat on their significant others, a new family is coming in. It consists of a “portly man” named Kurt Spencer, his wife Joanne, daughter Chelsea (13) and son Randall (16), who is also portly. Jessica and Lila run away as soon as they see that Randall is a little heavy, and Liz is off in the clouds daydreaming about her latest hot Oracle story about a sad chick she met at the other end of the state ’cause that’s real riveting and all. I mean who am I kidding though, it’s Liz, she’ll probably win a Pulitzer. Anyway, Enid chats up Randall and feels sad that no one wants to talk to him but her and thinks everyone is so mean and she is so kind. Enid is a sad sack of protoplasm that has slowly absorbed Liz’s self-righteousness via osmosis.

Our sighing protoplasm sack glides out into the main lobby where Tatiana catches her just wandering dopily around the lobby staring at everything and trying to figure out where the fuck she’s going. Man, this place doesn’t have any staffers to help anybody? Tatiana hears sad sack Enid moaning that she wishes she had beautiful blond hair like her friend Liz, and tells her to shut the fuck up because red hair is beautiful. She takes Enid to the hair salon where she administers a special conditioning treatment for redheads while Enid pours her heart about how her mom doesn’t have as much time for her anymore because she’s a busy divorced woman. Tatiana seems very interested in convincing Enid her mother doesn’t treat her right. She also, like every other fucking person in this series seems overly interested in talking about the twins and their mom because why not, they’re obviously the most beautiful and alluring people on the planet and can’t help attracting all kinds of psychos. It’s a hard knock life!

While Enid is getting her hairdo therapy or whatever the fuck that was, Liz is approaching Katya to ask her about her life because she is a nosy ass bitch who can’t mind her own business. She actually walks up on Katya while she’s trying to change uniforms or something. Katya is nice to her because, you know, Liz is a customer and she has to be. She offers to take Liz on a tour of the property so she knows where everything is. No one else has done that yet which I find bizarre. These people won a contest at this resort and they were just dumped off at their rooms like, Okay have fun wandering around and figuring out what the fuck is going on here. Sounds like a cheap ass spa that doesn’t want them to actually take advantage of any services since they won’t be paying. Oh yeah, Liz is grossed out by the mud baths. I hope there’s a scene where Katya drowns her in them. Katya makes some wistful comments about her mom and hints at how sad she is, and of course Liz and her “reporter’s instinct” are intrigued GAWD I HATE YOUR BITCH ASS REPORTER’S INSTINCT.

Meanwhile, Jessica is having her private golf lesson with Chris the generic-named hottie. No disrespect to any Chrises, but Jessica has already mounted a few of those and they need to throw a Glenn or something out there. However, this Chris is more interested in talking about Liz. Why not? It’s the same plot we have at least once in every new SVH arc, Jess wants some dude and he wants Liz. Chris dreamily talks about how enchanting it is that Liz is a writer and tries to set up a double date with the twins plus him and his friend Alex, but Jessica is mad she had to pretend to like golf for a whole 7 minutes for someone who’s mooning over her twin, flings her golf club on the ground and stomps away.

Chris finds Liz and blushes and stammers his way through an invitation to play tennis with him. Liz is like, oh yes, another dude to cheat with, so hot. Her fantasies about the things they can do with tennis racket handles are rudely interrupted as she remembers there’s a sack of protoplasm named Enid next to her that can’t shut the fuck up about its lost boyfriend and how ugly and fat it is because it’s not a Wakefield sack, so she insists the sack join them and play doubles with the mysterious friend of Chris’s, Alex. (Remember Alex from that Spring Fever Super Edition from hell? Unpleasant flashbacks …) Enid is a little pissed that Liz is apparently pitying her and trying to find her ugly best friend a boy.

Tatiana drops by the dinner table to coo about how “ravishing” the twins and their mother are. Shit is getting disturbing, but the Wakefields are used to people acting like they’re the collective second coming of Christ and just brush it off. Enid gets called Tatiana’s “lost little redbird” and invited for more personalized beauty treatments. Alice is super disturbed by how familiar Tatiana Mueller seems to her. She goes so far as to call Ned to ask him if they knew anyone in college by that name, but he’s no help, so Alice is like, eh well. I’m sure this fucking annoying ass creepy woman isn’t of any concern.

It’s time for the Liz/Enid/Chris/Alex doubles tennis game / “double date”. Alex turns out to be just as gorgeous as Chris, and Enid is interested. But then Lila and Jessica spot their game while out for a walk and crash it, and Jessica goes all out doing stupid cheers to catch Alex’s eye. It works – Alex fucks up the whole tennis game because he can’t stop staring at Jessica. Enid is very upset. Jessica suggests the group go out to Paradise Station (where the train station is) to get some ice cream, and the guys suddenly get all weird and say they can’t leave the grounds. Apparently they have a hidden stash of ice cream and a blender squirreled away in their staff cottage, so they offer to make the girls milkshakes there. At the cottage, Enid and Lila are stuck talking to one another while the boys fawn all over the twins. (Chris and Liz are talking about writing – of course. You know that seals the deal where Liz is concerned. She learned jack shit from her Lucas / werewolf experience.) To make matters worse, Enid thinks the milkshake tastes like mud. She feels uglier than ever, and she tells Liz all about it that night while Liz unsuccessfully tries to convince her that she is also beautiful, just in a different way. For all my ragging on Enid, these scenes seem like a decent reflection of teenage angst. You know, minus the fact it’s happening at a glamour spa with spooky employees.

On Monday morning, Katya the staffer takes the Sweet Valley group, plus Randall and Chelsea for a run up the mountain. Liz is the only one who can keep up with her and gets praised effusively. They reach a waterfall and have a swim, then walk back down where Liz starts nosing into Katya’s life again. Katya suddenly admits out of nowhere that she’s a runaway and that she’ll never see her mother again, then takes off bawling and disappears. Meanwhile, Enid hangs out with Randall all walk long, who the book keeps reminding us is pudgy and out of shape. Then Enid bashes her looks some more to Liz. Enid is sad that she doesn’t have a “peaches and cream” complexion like Liz. Liz tries to reassure her but only does a half hearted job, so off Enid goes for her freckle-fixing appointment with Tatiana’s skincare consultant, Wilhelmina.

Jessica and Lila take therapeutic mud baths and whine about how much the mud stinks. Afterward, Lila spots some man she’s been stalking going into the men’s mud bath area and flips the fuck out. You see, Lila has been sticking her nose up at the twins ogling the gorgeous spa employees because she doesn’t believe in banging the “hired help.” On the first night at dinner, she spied some man in sunglasses, presumably a guest, sitting at one of the tables and started swooning. She saw him again yesterday in the woods around the tennis court as she and Jessica were about to crash the doubles tennis game. He disappeared, but left a rose on the ground which Lila is sure was for her. Now, Lila is literally sneaking into the men’s mud room to see if she can catch him naked and she’s dragging Jessica in there with her for some reason. Uh, that’s super disturbing. Unfortunately, the only naked men she sees are Randall and his father, whom the book once again reminds us are totally fat. The girls shriek with laughter at how fat they are. Can someone arrest these bitches for sexual harassment?

Enid has her freckle appointment, which leaves her face stinging, then heads to Tatiana’s office for her red hair treatment appointment. Enid starts whining about how jealous she is of Liz’s looks and how the twins get all the boys, once AGAIN. Then you know, Tatiana just goes ahead and hypnotizes her and plants the idea in her head that her mom doesn’t love her and resents having her around. Then it’s back to the present, and Enid has no memory of this session. Ooookay. I’m reminded of that mom in Get Out. Ding ding ding goes the tea cup. Tatiana promises she will make Enid super beautiful and that Hugh will regret dumping her.

Chris takes Liz on a special picnic in the woods and I can’t stop thinking about all the ticks they must be getting on themselves. They eat their meager rations in a cave, and Liz starts asking him about Katya, but he doesn’t know very much about her. Chris says he’s 18 and he hopes Liz doesn’t mind that he’s so much older which is hilarious that this would suddenly be an issue in these books. Liz embraces Chris and starts kissing him and thinks it’s “magic.” I wonder if she’ll send herself on a huge guilt trip later like she did following the last trip where she had a side piece. You know, they went out of their way to show us how bad she felt about that stuff, but I guess she is over it now.

Katya finds Liz by one of the pools on the property and apologizes that she reacted the way she did to Liz minding Katya’s business. Then all the teens, minus Enid, join Katya for a frisbee golf game in the woods. Liz and Chris take advantage to do some more smooching behind some trees. Things go sour when Katya accidentally leads the group through the woods to a clearing with a big, windowless white building. Everyone stands there staring at it in awe, and Katya starts panicking and quickly leads them away. Later, Liz overhears Katya getting reamed out by Tatiana. Katya seems afraid and nervous at dinner again, and a different server (Sierra) waits on the Wakefield & Co. table. Liz encourages her mother to take Katya under her wing and solve all her problems, and Alice agrees.

Enid starts talking shit about her mom Adele, and Liz doesn’t understand what is going on but also doesn’t give much of a fuck because she’s ready to get dicked down by the hired help. She meets up with Chris later that evening and tries to ask him about Katya and the building, but he doesn’t seem to know anything. Then Liz thinks to herself that she’s got to push Todd out of her mind so she can have a hot make-out session with Chris guilt-free, which she does. When she gets back to the cottage, Jessica points out the grass in her hair and Liz is very mildly ashamed. Jessica happily announces that she and Alex are falling in love. Yay, the twins are finally bonding over the fact that they are both coo coo for cock! Now that Liz is finally letting her true colors shine through, she and Jess can be closer as sisters.

Alice takes a walk in the garden the next morning and runs into Katya. How convenient. Katya readily confesses that after her father died, she spent many years living happily with her mother and brother, but then her mother remarried and her brother went off to college, and Katya is convinced her stepfather doesn’t like her, even though she doesn’t really have a solid reason to feel that way. So she just took off and ran away. Now, she keeps insisting she can’t leave the spa and won’t see her mom again or something. Alice finally convinces Katya to consider giving her mom a call. As Katya leaves, Alice sees her run into Tatiana the creeper. Tatiana then comes over to the pool as Alice is about to swim some laps and starts cooing over Alice’s good looks again and saying it’s too bad she can’t stay there forever. Alice quizzes Tatiana on if she’s seen her before, and Tatiana is as weird about it as you would expect and insists she doesn’t know her.

Enid goes to her latest freckle cream appointment and Tatiana substitutes for Wilhelmina and applies the cream herself, then hypnotizes Enid again. This time, she drones on about it’s not fair that Liz and Jessica get all the boys, and then she inserts a false memory in Enid’s brain that when she was 13, her mom told her no boys liked her because she was ugly. Post-hypnosis session, Enid tells Tatiana she wants to look like a new person and Tatiana tells her she knows a surgical procedure that can help her. Yikes.

Liz sees Katya in the lobby and runs over to loudly say she’s glad Katya talked to Alice, and to ask Katya if she called her mother yet, without even noticing that Tatiana is standing nearby listening until it’s too late. Some detective you are. Katya reacts like a robot and starts giving a rehearsed speech about how Paradise Spa gives her everything she needs.

At dinner, Enid barely touches her food and takes some special “redhead vitamins” that Tatiana gave her. Lila spies her mystery man across the room and gets up to go talk to him, only to crash head on into Katya and cause a huge wreck. Katya collects her dishes and runs away crying.

That night, Liz and Enid have an argument in their room because Liz doesn’t like how Enid keeps calling herself ugly and is determined to change her entire appearance. Enid goes on and on about how she wants to be just as beautiful as Elizabeth and weigh the same. Even though these books have continuously preached to us that the twins have “perfect” figures, Liz is suddenly on some body acceptance trip and starts preaching at Enid that the size that works for Liz doesn’t work for everyone. Enid gets mad that Liz doesn’t want her to be as beautiful as she is and stalks off, then Liz leaves the cabin to go meet her side piece.

Jessica sneaks out to go meet Alex in the sauna room, and for some reason, she drags Lila along claiming they can swim first. Instead, Jessica goes straight to the sauna where she finds Katya’s dead body slumped over a bench. Jessica starts screaming and everyone who matters in this book comes running. Liz wants to call the cops, but Tatiana insists that Katya had a heart condition and clearly just died from taking too long in the sauna. Everyone blindly accepts what Tatiana is saying immediately, even Liz. But then Tatiana goes to get a tissue out of her pocket to give Lulu (Katya’s devastated fellow waitress friend) – and a paper falls out on the ground. Before Tatiana snatches it away, Liz manages to see that the paper is a note from Katya asking Alice to meet her in the sauna. When she asks Alice about it later, Alice knows nothing about it. Liz deduces that Tatiana must have intercepted the note and knew Katya would be in the sauna, and she goes to get a flashlight so she can snoop around in Katya’s (conveniently unlocked) room.

Meanwhile, Jess is holed up with Alex in his room, making out and sobbing about Katya. Alex doesn’t seem very disturbed by Katya’s death, and he finally suggests Jess go back to her own room and get some rest.

Liz enters Katya’s room and prowls around to see what her little reporter’s brain can find. There’s nothing earth-shattering in there. Liz sees a framed photo of someone who must be Katya’s mother, and a Help Wanted ad for Paradise Spa falls out of a book. Liz takes note of the publication the ad was posted in, something called Manford House, and tucks it in her pocket. She vows to get to the bottom of Katya’s death. She seems overdue for confiding in Chris and teaming up to accuse Jessica’s man or something.

Enid is hanging out in the cottage by herself, checking out her reflection (in a compact she brought) and contemplating the surgery Tatiana offered her. She thinks about how her own mother doesn’t care about her, and that Tatiana is like a mother to her now.

Liz gets back to the cottage and logs onto the internet with her modem and starts “dialing Olivia Davidson’s E-mail address”. Dialing an email address, what the fuck? I don’t remember that shit working like that. You logged onto the Internet by dialing into a local provider or maybe a bulletin board service (BBS). (The book glossed that over as well and acted like Liz was just automatically connected when she plugged into the phone line, like it was ethernet, in which case I would think she wouldn’t need a modem.) Then you used your email client or your web browser. You definitely didn’t “dial” an email address. Right? Or maybe it depended on what service you were using and this was in fact the way Prodigy or AOL or Compuserve worked back in the day? Oh my god, my head hurts. I have no idea if this was the way the shit actually worked as described in this book and my memory is bad, or if Bantam didn’t give a fuck about how it worked at the time and never fact checked whatever the ghost writer came up with.

Anyway, after Liz emails Olivia, Olivia responds right away and looks up Manford House for Liz via that INFOMAX service this series keeps pimping out, the one that played a big roll in felling Jeremy Randall in our last book. O. reports back that Manford House is a chain of shelters for runaways, with its own magazine published for the teens who reside there. Olivia then advises Liz she can just dial into her own Oracle account number and use INFOMAX herself. I’m so confused. This book is suddenly reading like a valuable historical artifact holding the keys to mid-1990s American humanity. Anthropologists need to study this.

Liz finds Chris and straight up asks him if he and Alex are runaways. He’s like, well, yeah. He says they ran away to escape abuse at their respective homes and that Tatiana is like a parent to them now, but he doesn’t want to discuss it any further. Back at the cottage, Mrs. Rollins calls for Enid, but when Liz tries to pass the phone to her Enid refuses and starts smiling oddly.

Liz marches into Tatiana’s office and starts asking what Katya’s autopsy revealed and is shocked when Tatiana says they didn’t do one because one isn’t needed. I’m just wondering why it’s up to Tatiana whether Katya gets an autopsy.

Jessica and Lila are sunbathing at the pool. Lila is complaining about how bored she’s getting when her mystery man walks up, and she stops being bored real fast and begins flirting wildly with him. The man, whose name is Michael, is clearly interested in her and happily brags about how he works in Hollywood casting. There’s just one problem: His voice is squeaky like he just inhaled helium from a balloon. It’s an instant turn off for Li, who (quite literally) takes off running.

That afternoon, Elizabeth organizes a waterfall hike in remembrance of Katya. Enid doesn’t go because she’s in Tatiana’s office agreeing to some surgery or whatever the fuck Tatiana has been talking about. Liz of course takes the opportunity of this memorial hike to sidle up to Katya’s fellow servers and friends, Lulu and Terry, and confirms that they are also runaways. What’s more, they don’t get paid. They work in exchange for room and board, and “mothering” or whatever. Liz is horrified by this probable violation of labor laws, but Lulu and Ter just stare blankly at her and smile like a pair of Stepford wives. When the group reaches the waterfall, Liz tells Jessica that Alex is a runaway. Jessica knew something was off. Jessica doesn’t believe Liz’s theory that Katya was murdered and Tatiana knows who did it, though. Then Alice abruptly vanishes while testing the water in the waterfall or something, I don’t know. One second she’s there, the next she isn’t and Grace is flipping out. Everyone searches for Alice, but she’s nowhere to be found. The group races back to Tatiana’s office, but old Tati is not concerned and insists Alice probably just wanted to go off on her own for some privacy. And I’m going to keep calling her Tati because I’m getting tired of typing out Tatiana. Liz goes back to the cottage to call her dad for advice, but the line is dead. It would’ve been a useless call anyway. Old Ned is probably losing his mind right about now from having to cook his own meals for a whole half a week.

Jessica overhears Tati talking on the phone in her office and waits to enter until she hears her hang up so she can ask to use her phone. But when Jessica enters, Tati claims none of the phone lines on the spa campus are working. I’m finding it really hard to believe that Grace and Lila wouldn’t have an early version of a cell phone on them. Even Zack Morris had one and that was years earlier! Jessica waits until Tati leaves, then sneaks back into her locked office through a window to use the phone and leave her father a voice mail at his law office asking for help and telling him to call the police if he can’t get through to the spa. She notices a copy of her mother’s Sweet Valley University yearbook, just sitting right there in plain sight on Tati’s shelves. It has Alice’s photo cut out of it (from a superlative page where Alice was voted “Most Popular”). Then Jessica digs through some file cabinets and discovers that all of the staffers at Paradise have had plastic surgery. There are Before and After files for Chris, Alex, and Katya and they all look totally different. Afraid of needing to escape quickly, Jessica unlocks the office door (why? couldn’t she just go back out the window? it’s not like the person entering would be coming in through the window) which makes it convenient for Enid to walk into the office just as Jessica has found Enid’s “Before” file. Jessica shows it to Enid, certain that Enid will be horrified, but Enid is all brainwashed and talking about how she can’t wait to look like a supermodel and become an aerobics instructor (presumably for Paradise Spa).

Meanwhile, Liz approaches Chris and asks to use his phone, but he claims it’s not working either and encourages Liz to trust that Tati is right and Alice just went off somewhere. Liz takes off to her cottage and sees that the phone lines there are all cut. So she plugs her computer’s wire directly into the phone jack and that works. Wouldn’t that just be the same as a regular phone line? So why doesn’t she plug the phone in and call the police? Jesus, I never wanted to refresh my knowledge of 90s internet so bad, what the hell is wrong with me. Why can’t I just accept this series makes no sense! So anyway, Liz sends a couple of E-mail messages to her dad and sits there waiting for him to answer, but he doesn’t, so he must be doing some actual work. Then Liz remembers what Olivia told her about INFOMAX, so she dials into that and starts picking through news articles. INFOMAX has some kind of search engine where you can enter multiple terms or elements and the tool will tell you what they all have in common. Uh, okay? Liz enters the treatments Enid has been telling her about and the tool tells her this means Enid is going to have plastic surgery.  Then Lila and Grace come back into the cottage. Liz gives them a quick rundown, then grabs a flashlight and takes off to search for Alice herself. The Fowlers are supposed to just … sit there and wait to see if Alice comes back.

Jessica returns to the cottage and she and the Fowlers exchange discoveries. They hear Liz’s laptop ping with a message – it’s an E-mail from Ned. He doesn’t seem too terribly concerned about Liz’s message and I guess he didn’t get Jessica’s frantic voice mail. With the number of times his daughters have nearly died in their 16th year alone, I’d be a lot more panicked if I were him, but maybe he’s sick of them and knowing in the real world, one of these serial killers would be able to take care of that for him eventually. Ned mentions in his message that he realized he and Alice did know Tati after all. She lived on Alice’s dorm room floor junior year and followed Alice around “like a puppy dog.” Ned very nonchalantly mentions that everyone called Tatiana “Tatty Mule” because she was so “homely and pathetic.” Damn Ned, you were a bully! This explains a bit about how your daughters turned out. Love how Alice remembers nothing of this person that idolized her and followed her around. But I suppose this is just following the classic horror trope of the wronged individual coming back for revenge. Also love how Tatiana goes by her real name and just somehow knew that Alice wouldn’t have a clue who she is. The last thing Ned remembers is that Tatty Mule went to medical school. Suddenly Jessica and the Fowlers realize that this must mean that Tatty plans to operate on Alice and steal her face for her own. Happy Mother’s Day bitch!

Meanwhile, Liz has found the waterfall where Alice disappeared. As she’s poking around, a hand suddenly grabs her ankle and pulls her through the waterfall into a hidden cave. It’s Chris! Liz is happy to see him because she’s a moron and also because she tends to forget that both she and Jess have a thing for falling in love with killers and shit like that. Chris is unsympathetic to Liz this time and he roughly drags her through a secret passageway to the windowless white building everyone saw earlier. Turns out it’s the spa’s clinic.

Grace goes to Tatty Mule’s office to call the cops. Tatty Mule sounds like a groove band or a rapper’s name or like a frat boy nickname for a weak ass beer. Enid shows up and is acting fucking weird like she always is now, so Jessica grabs her and shakes some sense into her, literally. Jessica and Liz want to go back to the waterfall where Alice disappeared and look to see if they can figure out where she went from there, but Enid suddenly speaks up to say they should look for Alice by going to the clinic. Then she falls silent and becomes useless again as Jessica and Lila tramp through the woods trying to find the clearing Katya accidentally brought them to, where they first saw the clinic building. Enid follows but has nothing useful to say. So they all get lost, argue and finally figure out where they’re supposed to be going.

Inside the clinic, Alice has woken up inside an operating room and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. Tatty Mule looms over her cackling about how she’s going to become an Alice clone and then kill off Alice and take her place. I’m a little unclear if she’s going to actually take Alice’s face like in the movie “Face/Off” or if the surgeon will just mimic Alice’s looks, but I think it’s the latter. Tatty explains she had her face operated on before but the surgeon botched it, hence her scars. So Tatty deliberately went to med school and worked on becoming the best plastic surgeon in the world so she could train others, all so she can have her face operated on to look just like Alice’s. That operation will be done by Marguerite, hopefully you remember her since we haven’t seen hide nor hare of her since the very beginning of the fucking book. Marguerite and Tatty have worked on all the other staff to make them gorgeous; now Marguerite will complete the imitation-Alice surgery on Tatty. Chris and Alex are their assistants, and so is the spa’s aerobics instructor, Candace who also hasn’t been mentioned before. A gas mask or something is lowered over Alice’s face and she passes out.

Chris drags Liz up to a secret clinic building entrance and on up to Tatty’s clinic office, and Tatty gives her a tour of the facilities and cackles about how evil she is. There’s an operating theater which has giant blown-up photos of Alice Wakefield all over it, and of course, Alice lying knocked out on her stretcher or whatever. Liz starts freaking out and nobody cares. Tatty indicates she will kill Liz so that she only has to be mother to one twin post-surgery. Then Jessica and Lila finally break in to the building with Enid and are confronted by Alex and Chris, who chase after them as they flee to the operating theater, which they guessed the location of because Alex is a moron and looked right over at it when Liz asked. There, Liz tries to get Chris to let her go and call the police, telling him he doesn’t have to be a slave to Tatty anymore, while Tatty menaces Liz with a scalpel and reminds Chris of all she’s done for him. Liz can’t get through to Chris, but she apparently gets through to Enid who leaps forward and snatches the scalpel from Tatty like it’s nothing. Chris and Alex then suddenly snap out of the brainwashing they’ve been under for YEARS, and they jump on Marguerite and Tatty and restrain them. That’s it? Enid proclaims that everyone is now free. Is this for real?

The cops bust in and arrest Tatty and she just sits there and explains her whole sad sob life story to everyone because that’s what the criminals always do in these books. Now you caught me, so let me tell you how I became a bad person so you can feel sorry for me. In this case, Tatty became who she is because her mom was gorgeous and dragged her to European beauty spas and talked about how homely Tatty was her whole life, or something. Who cares. Ned calls and offers to come up to Paradise and retrieve everyone so they can go home now, but they DECLINE. They just had the shit traumatized out of them and have been harassed by brainwashed staff, but they would rather go ahead and stay another night in this creepy ass place with the same staff and just trust that they’re all magically back to normal and won’t try to hurt them.

Breakfast the next morning is the cheesiest affair I have ever seen, sadly not literally. Lulu and Terri and the rest of the staff mill around not knowing what the fuck to do with themselves because they don’t know how to make breakfast without someone to tell them how to do it. Suddenly, they realize they can do whatever they want because Tatty no longer controls them! THEY’RE FREE! HOOOOOORAY! Seriously, everyone crams into the dining room, all the guests and everything, and cheers, even though these kids probably need some serious therapy pronto. With the love of the twins, Chris and Alex are now back to normal and talking about how they’re free. Chris wants to see Liz again, and she sheepishly admits she already has someone else. Chris isn’t even mad because he just took one look at Liz and knew she was a cheater, pretty much.

The freshly free-minded guys drive all the guests back to the train station. Everyone realizes with shock that in the space of under one week, Randall has slimmed down and  gotten tan and suddenly looks cute. He and Enid are gonna stay in touch. Michael is there, but Lila ignores him because she’s still traumatized by his voice, and I don’t get what the point of that whole plot line was. And did he drop the rose on the trail on purpose or not? Why do these writers insist on hooking Lila up with the stupidest men?

Liz and Jessica smooch the boyfriends that were gonna have them killed just last night goodbye. All the runaway kids are gonna call their parents and go back home, except I guess the ones who were being abused, not sure what the fuck they’re gonna do since they don’t have any income, but they’re not worried about it! And, someone is gonna figure out how to get in touch with Katya’s mom and let her know her daughter is dead. Yay!

Liz somehow gets her dial-up internet working on the train and sends Todd a goddamned E-mail to tell him everything … except, she thinks with a little smile, about Chris! Tee hee! Cheaters are so cute. Although by now, I’ve decided they actually have an open relationship and just occasionally get mad at each other about it. Maybe they decided on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Hope they use condoms.

I didn’t set it up this way, but this was certainly a well-timed book for Mother’s Day weekend, huh?

Seriously, what a shit show.

Other shit I noticed: Ned Wakefield is said to have “a brain like a computer.” Too bad they never programmed any common sense into it.

The ghostwriter remembered that Enid’s mom’s name is Adele and that Enid is an only child.

When Jessica reacts in horror at Lila trying to sneak into the men’s room to see Michael’s dick, Lila reminds her that the cheerleading team once spied on the boys’ locker room and implies it was in order to see everyone naked. What in the FUCK. Were they trying to show equality by showing women can be harassers too? Besides, it’s not realistic they would spy because half of those girls have already seen all those dudes naked at Miller’s Point at one time or another.

Stupid fucking moment: When Liz is playing tennis with Chris, Alex, and Enid, Chris announces the score as “Fifteen love”.  Liz’s reaction: “Elizabeth sensed that in addition to announcing the score, he was sending her a special message. A message about love …”

Alice tells the group that she got stuck in a pose called the Serene Swan while taking a yoga class with Grace, and Grace had to unbend her.

Chris tells Liz he’s 18, but then later on, he says he’s been at the spa for three years, “since I was sixteen” making him 19.

Great typo on page 184: Alice is missing and Grace, Lila and Liz are talking about how to find her, when suddenly “Alice stood up” and offers to accompany the group to find … herself. Book’s over, Alice found herself.

Mrs. Mueller’s maiden name is apparently Mueller, but she goes by “Mrs.” Did she maybe keep her maiden name when she married, and then kill off her husband?

In the back of the book: Nothing new or interesting.

Coming up next: These dumbasses are gonna scrounge around in Death Valley looking for buried treasure! It better be at least as silly as this one.

SVH Celebrity Cover Model Mysteries

From time to time I make a post about who the cover models were for Sweet Valley High books. It’s always fascinating for me to see what obscure jobs folks took before they went on to become big stars. My readers have been a big help with this as well. So while I work toward my next book recap post, I thought I’d give an update on some of what we know so far regarding the original SVH cover models:

Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield: The original model was a truly stunning soap opera actress named Jonna Leigh Stack. I came across this scoop several years ago courtesy of blogger Cliquey Pizza, who was tipped off by her reader Kathleen. I had never heard of this actress before, but there’s just no way it’s not her. Check out this post by blogger Red Lemonade to see lots of photos for comparison – it’s uncanny. (It also looks like Jonna herself left a comment on Red Lemonade’s post confirming this, although the poster’s name is “Unknown.”) The original SVH cover artist, James Mathewuse, did an amazing job capturing Jonna’s likeness. (He’s still in business today, by the way – visit his website here.)

To see a video of Jonna in character as Summer Blake on the soap opera Santa Barbara, try this Facebook link.


Jonna Leigh Stack photo from Red Lemonade; book covers from Goodreads

Annie Whitman: It’s already known that star actress Courteney Cox appeared on multiple young adult book covers over the years, including in color photographs taken for the cover of romance series like Sweet Dreams. There are many, many examples out there & I’ve shown a few below. The belief that Courteney modeled for Annie Whitman’s initial appearance on the cover of Wrong Kind of Girl is one I have heard given as a certainty over the years, but have never heard or seen the actress speaking on the matter. But I absolutely believe it myself, especially when you compare Annie’s hair with Courteney’s hair on the cover of other YA books and with her appearance in the Bruce Springsteen video “Dancing in the Dark.”


Jonna makin’ Courteney cry


Courteney Cox book cover photos from Brin’s Book Blog

(Thanks to Brin’s Book Blog for the above photos of some of Courteney’s other books.)

Lila Fowler: One of my readers once commented that Lila’s early covers look just like a young Jennifer Connelly, the gorgeous brunette movie actress. I hadn’t thought of that before, but since then, I can’t unsee it and can’t believe I didn’t realize this before. I think that’s definitely her. We do know that the future movie star modeled for plenty of covers with color photographs, including Sweet Dreams, etc. In fact, a couple of years ago Jimmy Kimmel brought her on his show and got her reaction to some of those covers. There was no mention of Sweet Valley High, but I’m convinced. I really hope Jennifer mentions SVH some day because Lila is an iconic character.


Jonna and Jennifer face off!


Jennifer Connelly book cover photos from Brin’s Book Blog (Note that the first book is authored by a “Lila” … coincidence? LOL)

Joelle Carter: This actress starred as Ava on the crime drama Justified, which was a favorite of mine. I noticed that Joelle bears a striking resemblance to one of the portraits on the cover of Sweet Valley Saga: The Patmans of Sweet Valley (which I haven’t gotten to yet), and she did indeed model as a teenager, so I think I got one!


Ava Crowder, is that you?

There have been others I’ve noticed but am really not sure of. For example, I think early paintings of Bruce Patman kind of look like Patrick Muldoon, but I could also see where maybe it’s just a model with a strong resemblance. Dana Larson on the cover of In Love with a Prince reminds me of a young Katherine Heigl, who did model as a teenager, but it’s another big “if.” Finally, Dee Dee on the cover of Too Much in Love reminds me of pre-Married … with Children Amanda Bearse, but Amanda was already a movie actress around the time the portrait would’ve been done, so I’m not sure how many book covers she would’ve been doing at that point.

Various other people have been identified as modeling for things here and there beyond SVH; e.g., actress Amanda Seyfried did some cover photographs for some other Francine Pascal books in her pre-Mean Girls days. When the SVH series was (briefly) re-released in 2008, TV and movie actress Levin Ramblin (The Hunger Games, One Tree Hill, soap operas) appeared as the new cover model for everyone’s favorite annoying twins.

Back when SVH still used painted artwork for their covers, it seems that typically, a photo would be taken of the model(s) and the cover artist would then paint the cover off of that. Jennifer Connelly and others have noted that the photographers would tell the models a little bit about the story so that the models can try to get in character. In later years, Bantam seemed to favor more action shots on their cover rather than portraits, so that may be why they started using other cover artists beyond James Mathewuse. Although, if you look at Jimmy’s web page, he’s painted plenty of lovely action shots (Nancy Drew Case Files, anyone)? I have to say, I really miss beautiful book cover art!

Got any more SVH cover model tips? Let’s hear them. 🙂

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