Saturday, December 11, 2010

What?! With a side of Why and Noooooo!

Had to post this here after browsing the Urban Outfitters website and seeing this!

For some odd reason (the movie?) Sweet Valley High is being rereleased and sold at Urban Outfitters. I'm curious to know if there was some repackaging and editting/updating going on there too, as you can tell from my previous review that this book is cold boogers on a plate next to the Gossip Girl series or 99% of the young adult lit that is out there right now. I liked the new tagline for this book "Secrets are meant to be spoken" but I would have suggested "Secrets this lame are meant to be kept to oneself, srsly!" And I cannot believe they're charging $5.99 for it when I got mine for a quarter.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Secret secrets are no fun, secret secrets hurt someone"

I decided to take a break from my "serious adult reading" and read the recently donated "serious teen reading" Sweet Valley High: Secrets.
I didn't really get into the Sweet Valley High series -- by the time I was old enough to read them, I wasn't interested (college is a different story). I did read about 30 or so of the Sweet Valley Twins series in grade school. Actually, I am embarrassed to admit I was probably in 5th or 6th grade still reading SVT, while I noticed today that when I cracked open Secrets, it's recommended for ages 12 and up. Alright, I was a bit immature back then and still wanted to be a member of the unicorn club, ok?!

This title was the second in the SVH series following the lives of beautiful California twin sisters, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield (I recall each SVT book was required at some point to mention their tanned skin, sunkissed hair, eyes as blue as swimming pools) as they navigate the turbulent waters of teen life at Sweet Valley High. I found Secrets to be particularly dull as it spent most of its 118 pages chronicling the break-up of secondary characters Enid and Ronnie after Jessica gives Ronnie a copy of a letter from Enid's ex-boyfriend (discussing how they used "bennies" and once hit a kid with their car!) and instead of being upset with Enid's drug abusing, kid running over past, Ronnie is jealous that she's still communicating with her ex! At the same time there is a rumor going around started by that bitch Lila Fowler that their French teacher is having an affair with the student she tutors after school. This is some scandalous shiz for a 12-year-old!
I thought a more appropriate title for this book would have been Gossip, since that was going on throughout, and I was more than half way through when I remembered that it was about secrets instead: Enid's secret past, the fact that she was keeping it a secret from her jerky boyfriend, and Jessica secretly copying the letter and letting Elizabeth take the rap. Oh yeah, the reason why Jessica is trying to ruin Enid's life is because she doesn't want her sister Elizabeth to have any other friends and Jessica wants to be crowned queen of the dance so that she can be with hunky Bruce Patman.
I was only 5-years-old when this book came out, and I find the language and descriptions even embarrassing for back then -- the teachers "sock it to (them)" with homework, outdated references to E.T. and the Boston Strangler, and the clothing descriptions! The lead singer of the Droids (SV's "answer to the Rolling Stones" with a female lead?) is all decked out in "black velvet jeans, sparkly pink leg warmers over the jeans and a purple satin top." Yes, I think I turned out fine for having skipped this series during my formative years.
On a scale of squeaky clean teen fun, Sweet Valley High: Secrets is more badass than staying out past your curfew since Jessica actually gets into some wine(!), but not as hardcore as, say crushing up Smarties candy and snorting it like cocaine off of your desk during recess.
Not recommended for: adults with a reading level above 6th grade, or today's teen, who probably doesn't know who E.T. or the Boston Stranger are.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Golly gee, working in the library sure is swell!

Back in April, I mentioned this book after it was featured on Awful Library Books because...well, look at it! Since there weren't any libraries near me carrying this gem, I requested it as an ILL for a fun-bad-book-summer-read and just finished it over the weekend.
Jinny Williams is a recent high school graduate who lands her dream job -- library assistant for the local library she loves and has volunteered and paged at for as long as she can remember. The book follows Jinny for a year in her life as she learns the ins and outs of the job, experiences dizzying career highs (a chat with the mayor) and soul crushing lows (a theft in the library), in addition to the trouble of balancing two interested suitors at once. The book often reads like a cheap romance mashed together with a instructional manual with a scene on how to process late notices followed by a (tame) make-out session at the drive-in, so it's easy to see how two authors wrote it (one a librarian), but maybe didn't blend their work as seamlessly as they imagined. The writing is very simple, everything is modified by adjective or adverb: "shaking her head vehemently", "Jinny said blithely", or Jinny's new hat is "disgustingly cute", etc.
The book is wince inducing painfully outdated at times. While somethings can be accounted for due to its 1962 publication date (on page 80, Jinny feels a “housewifely pride” in the neat appearance of the library shelves), it's Jinny's romantic options that caused me to cringe the most. Joe, her current boyfriend, is 21, works a blue collar job, and is pressuring her to settledown. He also argues with Jinny in nearly every interaction they have, does not appreciate the library or her need to have a job, and calls her a "snob" when Jinny complains that she can't marry him because she hasn't even met his parents yet. Paul is the "other guy," a junior college student transfering to Princeton that meets Jinny in the library. Paul introduces Jinny to activities that she has always wanted to do that Joe is never interested in, such as going to see a play, or square dancing. Paul is also polite to Jinny, comes from a wealthy family that likes to sing Swedish Christmas carols (?), and happens to look like Joe's twin. I won't spoil the ending for you, but Jinny says some stuff that would have Helen Gurley Brown spinning in her grave.

Overall, this was a very quaint read and I do at times feel sorry for poor Jinny Williams, Library Assistant, because she is on the brink of an age that is about to change forever. While organizing some magazines, Jinny mentions that she likes Caroline and Jackie Kennedy and how nice it is to have a lovely looking family in the White House. Jinny doesn't know that within a year the President will be assassinated, that Beatlemania is on its way to change the landscape of music, that paintings of soup cans will suddenly be art, that we will land on the moon, and that men will be faced with the Vietnam war lottery draft while women will burn their bras in protest of being second class citizens. There is a simpleness in these old books that is simultaneously ignorant and charming. However, Jinny does live in the most bland world and salary for a Senior Library assistant is listed as $1.25 - $1.85 an hour -- with that kind of dough you can buy yourself a whole Coke!
On a scale of career girl reads, I'd rate Jinny Williams, Library Assistant better than sitting home barefoot and pregnant, but far less liberating than being Oprah or a congresswoman.
Recommended for: librarians who need a laugh or nostalgic nerds who enjoy these career romances written during a time they never had to live through.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Bad Author Photos

Meet Johnny Boggs. Johnny is a writer of--wait for it!--westerns. Johnny feels the need to look "authentic." Who can blame him? Lots of us white people feel similarly fraudulent most of the time. Some of us put on hoodies and rap CDs and start using our version of the urban patois we picked up from TV shows and movies. Some of us get MLS's and write bitter nonsense in blogs. But Johnny has a real need to look authentic: he has an author photo shoot to go to. He had to think fast, our Johnny. He could have worn the Dockers and polo shirt he wears most days, but that didn't feel right. Even if Zane Grey himself (or rather, his own self) dressed like an accountant for his author snaps, times have changed, and the people expect their western authors to look, well, western. Such a problem! He had the hat and the unshaven look of the mountain man, but he didn't have the clothes. Quickly, he dashed to his closet. There, in the back, past the Members Only jacket from his youth and the souvenir velvet Chicago Cubs pullover, was the scratchy wool tunic he wore in high school band where he cut a fine figure marching along in his white shoes, swinging his clarinet to and fro to the jazzy, marchy renditions of the Prince songs he loved so dearly. But he'd put on a little weight in the intervening years, and it no longer buttoned up at the neck so well any more. What to do? But Johnny is nothing if not resourceful. He rifled Mom's linen closet until he found the yellow tablecloth she only used for about a week and a half in the spring when the jonquils were full on. She wouldn't miss it for one afternoon. Or would she? If she did, there'd be no pie on Sunday. Throwing caution to the wind like the ornery desperadoes in his books, Johnny wrapped the tablecloth around his neck, hopped in the Hyundai with the "I'd Rather Be Killin' Injuns" bumper sticker on it, and sped off to the photo studio.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Satan + Teens = Good Times

I first read Jay's Journal when I was like 11 or 12 because it seemed like a pretty badass thing to do, like wearing Megadeth t-shirts to school and flipping off my gym teacher (when he wasn't looking). This book seemed like it was the ultimate taboo: drugs, sex, alcohol, and SATAN!!! And it was someone's personal true diary so reading it was like extra naughty.
Now, nearly two decades later, I decided to give the book another try as crossed by my desk on its way out of our library collection. Jay's Journal is supposedly the "true" story of a 16-year-old boy who committed suicide in 1971, based off his diary discovered by "Dr." Beatrice Sparks who just so happened to come across another shocking teen diary, the more popular Go Ask Alice, another "true" story of a teen girl who gets involved with drugs and prostitution. This cautionary tale starts off with 14-year-old Jay starting high school and scribbling in his diary lots of stuff a 14-year-old boy would never say, not in the 1970's, not now. The language is probably one of the things that bothered me the most, in that it comes across as so unauthentic and reads exactly like a phony doctor trying to sound like a teen - can you dig it?
Jay's life is full of ups and downs: Jay hates his parents, Jay loves his two best friends, Jay gets a girlfriend, Jay's girlfriend is addicted to amphetamines, Jay gets a job in his dad's pharmacy, Jay steals drugs for his girlfriend, Jay has sex, Jay drinks and uses drugs, Jay gets sent to bad boys town type place, Jay gets introduced to psychic powers by a weirdo staff member who later molests another boy, Jay becomes religious, Jay gets another girlfriend, Jay plays with a ouija board, Jay plays with crystals, Jay joins the debate team -- you know, typical teen stuff. Except, oh yeah Jay learns to levitate things (he does this a lot in the book), uses PCP, has his girlfriend cut her fingers and bleed into his mouth and call him "master," practices hexes and voodoo, sacrifices animals, gets married, has a demon named "Raul" haunting him, and watches his friends die as they try to turn their backs on Satan! Rereading Jay's Journal made me feel like Sparks had some serious problems with editing, as each scene is just one over the top moment over the next. And let's not forget the poetry scattered throughout:
Golly Gee I'm glad I'm me/There's no one else I'd rather be./I smile on every bird and tree./Life is a ball. I'm in love with me!/And the music is great too!
Uh, yeah. Reportedly, the book is based on a real teen who did commit suicide and had a diary, but only 25 of the total 221 entries are from his diary, and none of them were about the occult, which he wasn't into. RUH ROH! Sparks filled in the rest herself based on experiences working with other teens, while she didn't bother changing enough details so that people recognized the real teen and terrorized his Utah family. The book has been described as a "Mormon Horror Fiction" because Sparks the book uses church scare tactics to serve as a cautionary tale. Apparently she didn't stop there, her other titles include: It Happened to Nancy (she's dying of AIDS), Annie's Baby: The Diary of Anonymous, a Pregnant Teenager, Treacherous Love: The Diary of an Anonymous Teenager (teen gets involved with her teacher), Kim: Empty Inside: The Diary of an Anonymous Teenager (eating disorders). "Dr." Sparks was sure lucky she kept coming across all these troubled teen diaries!
On the scale of Satanic Teen Fun, I would rank Jay's Journal's spook factor higher than any of the Harry Potter series or listening to KISS records, but less than watching Paranormal Activity or saying "Bloody Mary" 13 times in front of a mirror. Recommended for 11 or 12-year-olds who like wearing metal t-shirts to school and flipping off their gym teacher.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kids books where the beloved pet dies

I picked up this title from our donation bin, where someone had donated a bunch of 1960's children's chapter books. Jenny Lind and Her Listening Cat looked cute enough, but it turned out to be one of those kids books where the beloved pet dies.
The back cover provides the best summary: "Jenny is so lonely. Her mother is too busy to take care of her, and her father is almost never home. That's why she must live with strangers. One day the lonely girl finds a cat. Jenny loves to sing, and now she has someone to sing to. Her cat listens to her beautiful voice. And so do others. Then one day someone very special hears her sing."
Spoiler alert: the very special someone isn't her cat, because the poor thing dies less than half way through. Jenny lives a miserable existence, even compared to 60's kids without their cable tv. Her mother shames her about her singing and then convinces Jenny's dad that they should give their daughter away to neighbors. At this point, Jenny has spent the majority of the book crying and the only silver lining appears in the form of a stray kitten that Jenny adopts and names "Kissy-Cat." Things seem to be looking up for Jenny and her new music career when, of course, Kissy-Cat kicks the kitty bucket. Jenny is sad, but then she's on her way to becoming Sweden's biggest singing star and a national hero. The story concludes with noting that it is a fictionalization of a true story.
Kissy-Cat's death is almost mentioned as an "oh yeah, we need to end that storyline" afterthought so it is not as emotionally crushing as it is annoying because the cat is mentioned in the title -- and who kills off a title character?! Naturally, the cat can't live forever and it is supposedly based on the true story of Jenny Lind, but then why get kids all excited to read a story about animals? Why not just call it The Story of Jenny Lind or Don't Get Too Attached to That Cat.
On the scale of books that scar children forever, Jenny Lind and Her Listening Cat doesn't even come close to Old Yeller or The Yearling, but is worse than say Henry and Ribsy where at least the pet gets to live. Recommended for: people who like to gently sob into their pillow while denying that they're crying because it's probably just something in their eye, ok?!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Herb Moss

No, really, that's his name. You see, Herb Moss is just your average half-human, half-plant clone, just looking for love in the cold universe. I think the Space Babe in the background is Spring herself. She has just emerged from her Shower Pod clad in nothing save for her too-small towel. They use Space Water out there in space, so your hair doesn't get all wet and tangly. Herb looks a little horrified, which is a strange reaction if you're out looking for love in the cold depths of the universe, but maybe that's just how plant guys are.

It really looks like a cover from the fifties, but it was published in 2000. I only skimmed it, but it does not appear to be ironic, just an attempt to be breezy and cute.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's Bad Author Photo Time

This one is easy. Jim Butcher is the crazy-popular author of the mega-successful Dresden Files books. I don't even read Sci-Fi and think they're pretty good. The author photo, however, is a different story. Maybe it's the My-Brain-Is-So-Giant-I-Have-To-Prop-Up-My-Head pose. Maybe it's the arched eyebrow that tells us that he's knows we're not as smart as him. But really, I think it's the hair. Long hair on any guy who isn't up on stage in a band at the very moment you see him or maybe Fabio (if he's still alive) looks kind of silly. Now that I think about it, forget Fabio. The flowing locks are what I like to call the Hola Babes look. "All I have to do," the long locked fellow thinks, "is shake my head like this and the ladies are gonna flock to me."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Are we that gullible? Yes. Yes we are.

About 30 years ago, David Bowie put out an album called Lodger. Pretty good album, some good songs on it. One song got on the radio that I didn't think much of and stayed on the radio far longer than it deserved. It was called "DJ," and had lines like

I am a D.J.,

I am what I play

I got believers believing me

Like so much of Bowie, it sounds way better than it reads. In any event, by sucking up to the people who put the music over the air, he got a lot more mileage off his album. That, I believe, was what was going on with The Dewey Decimal System of Love, by Josephine Carr. In our case, it totally worked. We bought the Large Print edition when it came out and kept it on the shelf year after year, even as it did not circulate. But then I came along with my belief that books have to earn their keep in order to stay on the shelves, so The Dewey Decimal System of Love goes the way of actual card catalogs and quiet in the library.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Old Gimmick Hits New Trash Can

I just unburdened our shelves of this little gem. It was for all of us know-it-alls who second guess their way through mystery novels, trying to stay a step ahead of the hero. I guess they had an actual award. That's certainly one way to boost sales. The best part for me was that you had to send a buck fifty in with your solution as an "entry fee." So after the first 6667 suckers contestants sent in their fees, it was all gravy.

The contest ended in 1991, so don't get excited. This happened during the dark, pre-Internet age, so my searches for the winner turned up nothing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Battle Surgeon

Children, I need your attention! Children? All eyes on me! Jeremy Dunlap! Eyes on me, please. Thank you. Now children, I want you to know that I am very proud of the work that you have done for the third grade art fair. Now, I have something very important to share with you. Are you listening to me? Jeremy! Now, children, as you know there will be some grownups judging the art at the art fair and there will be prizes awarded, including a $15 gift certificate to the art supply section of Target that was going to go to the first prize winner. But now there is a new prize for first place, so the certificate will now be for second place. The winner now will get to draw the cover for the Large Print edition of a book by Frank Slaughter called Battle Surgeon! Isn't that
wonderful? Jeremy!

Battle Surgeon was actually quite popular in it's day. The author, Frank Slaughter, banged out more than 40 novels in a long career and sold over 60 million books. Perhaps the most successful author I'd never heard of. As with so many Large Print covers, they really skimped on cover design on this edition, but the regular print ones weren't a whole lot better. Here are a few of the earlier efforts:

I thought that the appalling image of blood/kisses on the surgical mask was enough to make we want to weed this one. But it also hasn't circulated in years. So out it goes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Contributions, Looking For

Because I don't read very fast and amazingly want to read some real quality books at the same time I am interested in any possible contributions of Very Bad Books to this blog or anyone who might be interested in being added as an author. Already I am excited to add deskslave as a contributor and look forward to being exposed to more Very Bad Books!

Dolores - miserable by name and by content

The title of 60's sensational author Jacqueline Susann's last book is Dolores -- a name of Spanish origin, meaning "sorrows". And what a sorry book this was!
Susann made the big time in 1966 with the barbiturates influenced modern girl's story Valley of the Dolls and continued to churn our likewise fluff, but never as successfully, for the rest of her writing career. Dolores was her last book, published posthumously and based off of a short story she had done for a women's magazine and finished by a close friend.
Because I like trash and had been somewhat entertained by her other works, I decided to give Dolores a try. The book reads like one of your friends is telling you their deep dark secrets -- but only if that friend has had too much to drink and is drifting in and out of a Jim Beam induced coma. The story meanders without character development or anything really interesting going on. I read it a few years ago and apparently was so bored with it I didn't pick up on the fact that it was a thinly veiled take on Jackie O's life, complete with the main character being married to an Irish Catholic president who is assassinated during a parade, and then the main character goes on to live it up glam style in NYC. The New York Times review of the book called it "a fanzine version of clippings and rumors about the former First Lady and the people who surround her. The writing is sluggish and the plot limp."
The only thing that interested me about this book was a folded up piece of paper in the back of it. I had purchased my copy from a bargain bag at the thrift store so this was not a library copy, but the paper in the back was a listing of about 12 people's names and work addresses with directions that Dolores was their book club's selection and that once one had finished reading it, they should cross their name off of the list and send it on to the next woman. The date at the top said "August 1977." Only three names had been crossed off, but it did interest me to see that apparently Peg Johnston, employed on the Second Floor at Mitre had broken the chain. Good for you, Peg, hope your coworkers appreciated you took a bullet for them!
On the smut scale, this book barely gets an eyebrow raised and certainly no gasps, nothing worth underlining and rereading later. I think I have witnessed episodes "Antiques Roadshow" that had more shock value. Recommended for: Susann fans who absolutely want to read everything she wrote including stuff she barely wrote for whatever insane reason, people obsessed with Jackie Kennedy, and possibly extremely bored teens who have finished reading all other books that reference drugs looking for instruction and want to reminisce about 70's pill-poppin' NYC, but where nothing ever happens.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Things that go bump in the night

Slogging through this book was an unhappy incident, but one unfortunately of my own choosing. I decided to read Werewolf: A True Story of Demonic Possession by Ed and Lorraine Warren as part of the background research I was doing on werewolves for my unfinished attempt at a literary classic retelling with monsters. Since my classic monster tale never even really got started, I was quite sorry to have wasted time reading this work.
Werewolf: A True Story of Demonic Possession is supposedly the story of Bill Ramsay, a Brit who seemed to be under the impression that he was turning into a werewolf. The authors of the book, the Warrens, claimed to be expert "demonologists," and became involved with Ramsay in order to tell his story and attempt an exorcism. The Warrens were also involved in the more famous Amityville Horror, which was penned by a different author, and I can only say that perhaps they should have done the same for this tale because it was one big confusing yawn.
The Warrens refer to themselves in the third person, strange enough, but they also extol their own virtues as experts in exorcism in the third person, without the slightest hint of self-awareness or irony. There were tense problems too which added to the confusion and the story of Ramsay as the werewolf never really solidified. There were some silly old black and white photographs reported featuring Ramsay mid-transformation during the exorcism, but little else of interest.
This book was set to be discarded, but it was suddenly recalled for a hold and placed back into circulation.
On the cheap thrills scale, this book ranks a 1 out of possible 10 -- better than shaving someone's back hair, but more boring than staring at the DVD cover of The Amityville Horror. Recommended for: weirdos who are into this stuff, older kids bored of reading the "Goosebumps" series.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Darling, My Hamburger

During my late elementary school and early middle school years, I remember constantly flipping by this book in the scant young adult collection, curious about what it might be about, but repelled by its weird title. The author, Paul Zindel, is probably best known for his play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, but also dabbled in writing young adult novels (also with usually weird titles). My Darling, My Hamburger explores the relationships and friendships of four teens in their senior year of high school. Typical teen problems are examined like insecurity, romance, family problems, and teen pregnancy. I found most of the characters to be sort of flat, stereotypical/stock characters (the pretty girl, her fat friend, the awkward nerd, the cool guy, etc) and would've liked more character development, but the story is definitely more plot driven (by the "unexpected" pregnancy).
The book is probably not very relevant for today's teens (considering teens are much more sexually active, the legalization of abortions, etc.) however, when examining the book from its publication date of 1969, it was probably groundbreaking in its subject matter.
On a scale of teen fun, I'd say reading this book is probably better than actually having an abortion, but you will probably fantasize about punching every character in the face. Not recommended for: the not so easily fazed fans of Gossip Girl, or foodies who think there might be an appearance of a hamburger somewhere in this book.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

90210: The Book

I found this little gem at a local thrift store, as I assume if my library did own it that it was probably weeded around the time some of those West Beverly kids were entering their 30's (or 40's considering some of the actors).
Beverly Hills, 90210 by Mel Gilden is a novelization of the (original) show almost literally, though they did leave out commercials and you have to imagine the fashion faux pas yourself. I thought perhaps they stopped after the first book since anyone watching the show would've probably viewed the book as a rerun, but apparently it was a series (and also in German!) so I'll have to be on the lookout for more of these in the future.

On a scale of teen fun, I'd rate this book better than playing "Girl Talk," but lamer than a pizza party with an early 90's mixtape and talking to real friends. Recommended for: Gen-Xers or pre-Millenials who are feeling nostalgic and might be snowed in.