Thursday, October 25, 2012

author interview: francine pascal

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Back in 1983 Francine Pascal created the series Sweet Valley High starring identical twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield.  A number of spin-off series (following the twins not only in their early years, but eventually moving on to college life) came after that and there was even a TV show that briefly aired.  Now decades later, the twins are back!  Their creator took some time to answer questions about Sweet Valley.

The first Sweet Valley High came out nearly 30 years ago and inspired many spin-offs.  What’s kept the saga going?

The characters.  Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.  Everyone could identify with at least one of them and wish they were the other. Even though the twins were blond and from Los Angeles, girls all over the world loved them and their adventures. I didn't expect that, but I should have because some many teenage girls were going through the same feelings as the twins no matter where they lived or who they were. 

Diablo Cody is adapting Sweet Valley High for the big screen.  What are your thoughts?  Have you been involved with the screenplay?

I'm delighted that Diablo is adapting the books. She's a very good writer and particularly good with teenage girls. Up until now I've had little to do with the screenplay, but now that I've read it I've given them some of my ideas and they seem to like them so I will be more involved.

Which of the many Sweet Valley characters is your favorite and why?  

Elizabeth. I identified with her because she was closer to my teenage life than Jessica or any of the others. We both wrote for the school paper and I gave her many of my own feelings. 

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?  

The Wandering Jew by Eugene Sue. He was the French Dickens and his novels had fabulous characters and stories.

Any more adventures planned for the Wakefield twins? 

Well, now that The Sweet Life has done so well, perhaps I will do more. I liked the novella style and writing the serial was fun for me.

review: the sweet life by francine pascal

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Over the summer six novellas about the Wakefield twins of Sweet Valley were released in eBook form; now all six have been combined into one book.  The Sweet Life picks up three years after Sweet Valley Confidential where fans of the series discovered Jessica, Elizabeth, and their friends were older, but still up to their old antics.  When the novellas were released, I reviewed the first two installments which revealed that Jessica was now a mom(!) and splitting up with Todd while Elizabeth wound up with relationship troubles of her own after Bruce was accused of rape.  The story that unfolds over the next four novellas reveals whether or not Elizabeth was right to doubt Bruce's innocence as well as plenty more of Jessica's relationship drama.  As any fan of the series knows though, the Wakefield twins are not the only characters of importance; The Sweet Life includes subplots about Jessica's best friend, Lila (now a True Housewife of Sweet Valley) and the brother of the twins, Steven (now raising a demanding daughter, who he fears will wind up like Jessica). 

As I stated in my review of the first two novellas, the characters are back to behaving as they were originally written which is great, especially after a disappointing departure in Sweet Valley Confidential.  It was good to once again be back with the twins I loved as a kid.  The writing is much more reminiscent of the original series although some of the modern-day inserts (how many times does Pascal have to write “iPhone?”) are a little wonky.  The Wakefield twins remain a wonderful guilty pleasure.
Review copy provided by Get Red PR.

Friday, October 19, 2012

review: coco chanel by lisa chaney

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It’s hard to imagine that a biography on someone as remarkable as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel could be boring, but that’s exactly what Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life was as Lisa Chaney tediously documented events and people with only a little bearing on Chanel.  The biography could go on for pages without mention of its subject.  Furthermore, Chaney constantly bragged about her new findings and pompously pointed out flaws in previous accounts of Chanel’s life.  It was not unusual to read things like, “It has been customary to say that Gabrielle began embroidering her clothing under the influence of her Russian lover, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich.  This is quite wrong.”  It became quite off-putting.

About the narrator:  Carole Boyd is British while Chanel was French, but the European accent and French pronunciations were a nice touch to the audiobook version.  It made some of the book seem more alive.  However, Boyd frequently dropped to sotto voice, which sent me racing for the volume control far too many times.  
Review copy provided by AudioGO.
To purchase the audio version, go to the AudioGO website.

Friday, October 12, 2012

giveaway: the gemini virus

Thanks to Tor-Forge you could win a copy of Wil Mara's The Gemini Virus!  One copy is up for grabs.

Here's the publisher description:
"Bob Easton thinks he has a cold. Before he dies in agony, four days later, he infects dozens of people. Local health agencies become quickly overwhelmed by the sick and dying and beg the CDC for help. Dr. Michael Beck and Cara Porter, a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, race to identify the deadly bug. They can't cure it until they know what it is.

Dennis and Andi Jensen and their children are terrified. Schools and offices close. Fresh food disappears from store shelves. Three of their children's friends die. Their neighbors are dying or running away, fleeing the unstoppable infection. Desperate, the Jensens join the exodus, making a nightmarish journey to their isolated mountain cabin along empty roads, through abandoned towns, past looted shopping malls.

The superbug—and the panic—quickly spreads beyond America’s borders. On a packed plane, someone coughs—and at their destination, the pilots are told, “you can’t land here.” US military bases are quarantined. Yet the virus continues to spread. Some believe the plague is man-made. Others see it as a sign of the end times.

In the lab, Cara Porter makes a potentially fatal mistake. In the mountains, Andi Jensen tells her husband that she doesn’t feel well.

The world is running out of time."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on November 3. Winner will be selected at random. Since this is from Tor-Forge the winner must have mailing addresses in the US; no PO Boxes.

review: the gemini virus by wil mara

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A few days after a man who never get sick starts running a temperature, he dies from the illness.  Shortly thereafter, the people who came in contact with him also become violently ill and die.  No one, including the CDC, knows what this fast-moving virus is, but it resembles two strains of smallpox which causes speculation that a terrorist group is behind it.  As Michael Beck and Cara Porter from the CDC attempt to track the origin of the virus and come up with a cure, Dennis Jensen flees the “hot zone” with his family.  What Dennis doesn’t realize is that he’s brought his family right into the area of origin.

The Gemini Virus begs the reader to keep on going—you just have to find out how the virus got started and if they’ll find a cure before it spreads across the country.  It’s truly an excellent thriller, but the political aspect distracted me.  Had Wil Mara created a fictional president, I would’ve been fine with all that was written; instead he uses President Obama, which made me feel Mara had an agenda.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge Books.

Friday, October 5, 2012

review: and she was by alison gaylin

Years ago Brenna Spector’s older sister got into a blue car and disappeared forever.  That event triggered Brenna’s ability to remember absolutely everything in vivid detail.  Little things frequently cause her to remember the past at inopportune times.  Although her memory is a hindrance in her personal life, it is an asset in her work as a private investigator.  The disappearance of a six year old girl has haunted Brenna for eleven years, but she has no reason to be involved until the disappearance of a woman connected to the missing girl prompts the woman’s husband to hire Brenna.  Brenna and the officer assigned to the case end up uncovering a conspiracy that puts many lives in danger.

While the conspiracy and the investigation were entertaining, the actual reveal of what happened to the missing girl was quite the let-down.  Furthermore, the Hyperthymestic Syndrome detracted from the plot at times.  In some instances Brenna’s memory was essential to the plot, such as when she realizes the current police report on Iris doesn’t match the original; but the memories about Brenna’s past with her sister and ex-husband sometimes seemed like filler.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.