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Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years On - Francine Pascal

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Genre: Junior Books / Author: Francine Pascal / 304 pages / Book published 2011-04-14 by Arrow

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      21.11.2011 21:02
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      For Diehard Sweet Valley High Fans

      As a woman in my early 30's I don't think I could have made it through my younger years without reading a couple of Sweet Valley High books in my time. I can't say I was a massive fan, I was more of a babysitter club kind of girl, but they were the chick lit of my adolescence! However my best Friend was a huge fan at the time and she passed this one on to me.

      Sweet Valley Confidential picks up the story of twins Jessica and Elizabeth ten years after they graduated from Sweet Valley High. Things are not well between the Wakefield Twins - Jessica has 'committed the ultimate betrayal' and this time she has pushed Elizabeth too far. While Jessica is working as a marketing executive in Sweet Valley, Elizabeth has fled to New York to make her name as a journalist. While Jessica is consumed by guilt and longs for her sister's forgiveness, Elizabeth is being eaten up by bitterness and the need for revenge. Will the twins ever be reconciled...?

      Sweet Valley Confidential is actually written by Francine Pascal, the creator of the series, as opposed to the team of ghost writers who put Pascal's ideas in words in the original series. The book is written in the third person format, alternating between following Jessica and Elizabeth, with chunks of flashbacks written in italics inserted in each chapter. However this makes the narrative feel very disjointed. I think the idea was to keep the reader guessing as to what had happened between the twins, but to be honest the whole plot was very predictable that if you don't figure out what has happened in the past and what is going to happen next, in the first few chapters then I would be very surprised.

      For me, the main problem with Sweet Valley Confidential is it seems confused as to whether it is aimed at an adult audience who are intrigued by what happened to the characters they grew up with, or if they are still aiming for a teenage fan base. The language used by Jessica reminds me of the way my teenage sister (coincidentally also a Jessica) speaks, punctuating every sentence with the word 'like' at least once. Having read the book, I felt it was one I probably would have giggled with my friends about at 15, but at 32 it just felt bland. I was expecting more of an early Louise Bagshawe style, with a bit of raunchiness, and although I wasn't expecting in depth plots and characterisation I was left feeling disappointed.

      Even the cover of the book suggests that it is still teenage fiction - one of the things that put me off buying the book, as it just didn't look right amongst other chick lit titles. The models on the front representing Jessica and Elizabeth looked too young, and it was basically a carbon copy of the original covers which I admit drew me to the book as I originally thought they were revamping or re-releasing the series, but as an adult book it just didn't work for me.

      There is not a lot of substance to the book, and at 302 pages would be a quick read - but it actually took me a few days to get through it as it just wasn't one that I had to keep reading. However, it wasn't so bad that I felt I couldn't finish it, it was just ok. However I was glad I read to the end as I quite liked the little catch up section on all the other characters which originally appeared in the series. It would be okay as a beach read, and if you were a fan of the original series and you find it in a charity shop or similar then it is worth a read, but it's not one I would recommend spending a lot of money on!

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        20.09.2011 16:37
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        Ten years has passed and yet nothing decent happens.

        It has been over 15 years since I last read a Sweet Valley book, when I was a young teenager. I have read most, if not all, the various Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley University and the various spin offs as well as watching the television show. So it was a nice surprise to see that there was a new follow up being published. I purchased my copy on-line, as I really wanted to catch up on what had happened to the twins over the years. I knew that the near 300 odd pages would not make for a detailed epic novel, but this really did have potential to become a decent catch up for the twins and the Sweet Valley saga.

        The plot is weak, with Elizabeth escaping to New York having discovered that Todd Wilkins has cheated on her with Jessica - surprise! The gentle natured and always ready to help Elizabeth, is now a bitter journalist and busy plotting revenge. Jessica has abandoned the party life and acts more as a home maker than being interested in her job. This plot seems to lack thought or depth. How do two people change so much, despite repeating a similar mistake that the twins have made in previous books. Each twin is guilty of messing around with the other's boyfriends from past books, so this is nothing unexpected.

        There are fleeting references to other characters like Lila Fowler and Bruce Patman but to be honest, they seem rather unbelievable. The most comical storyline stems from the twin's brother revealing that he is gay, yet fans of the original books would have no indication of this as he had heterosexual relationships throughout the series.

        There are plenty of inaccuracies in the book like Lila's father's name mistakenly being called Richard instead of George (any Sweet Valley should be able to pick this out immediately) and Jeffery French being married then at the wedding, he is supposed to have never been married - all these inaccuracies are in one book! These little things do not please me as a fan. I did finish the book in one sitting and liked the references to the other characters at the end, but yet again some of the key characters have been excluded such as Tom Watts.

        Also, why did the author feel it necessary to insert references to facebook and twitter? In a few years time, this book will become dated. Jessica has developed a habit of saying "like" in every sentence. It really does feel like you have to force yourself to continue to read the book because you think it will get better. Alice also swears in the book but again, I do not recall her being foul mouthed in any of the other books. I know that this is supposed to be based around the adult Elizabeth and Jessica, but the book is so unrealistic, it misses the point. Elizabeth sleeps around? That does not seem like her at all.

        It is well known that Francine Pascal did not pen the original Sweet Valley books but one would have hoped that if she was writing a new book, especially after this length of time, she would have at least made some effort to reacquaint herself with the characters. Sadly, this is not the case and this book lets the author down greatly.

        Overall, this book has done its damage and shattered the idyllic image that I once held for life in Sweet Valley. Maybe if the author had spent more time and given us a worthwhile story then we could end the series on a high note. This book just leaves more questions than answers. A huge disappointment.

        Only worth a read for nostalgic times, if you read the previous Sweet Valley books when you were younger, otherwise best to give this a miss. This book marks the end of my Sweet Valley journey and the Wakefield twin's saga.

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          15.04.2011 16:27
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          One for fans only

          Ten years have passed since twins Elizabeth and Jessica graduated Sweet Valley High and all is not well. The twins have had the falling out of the century after Jessica committed an act of ultimate betrayal to her loyal and loving sister. Unable to stay in Sweet Valley, Elizabeth has fled to New York in pursuit of her dream to be a famous writer.

          Meanwhile Jessica is suffering without her twin, even living the beautiful life doesn't help. Can she do anything to win back Elizabeth again, or this time has she really lost her for good? With thoughts of revenge, it doesn't look like Elizabeth is about to forgive anytime soon. The roles have reversed....

          To say I was excited when I heard that Francine Pascal was writing Sweet Valley Confidential is an understatement. The Sweet Valley Twins and High series were the staple of my reading diet between the ages of 11 and 15. I devoured book after book of this series and lapped up everything that happened in the lives of beautiful Californian twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, as well as their equally beautiful friends. I often looked back at these books with fondness, and immediately wanted to know what happened when the twins grew up as soon as I knew this book would be published.

          Sometimes though going back to an old favourite with the wisdom of age banishes the rose tinted memories once held, and in a way this is the case with Sweet Valley Confidential. Years ago the implications that only the beautiful succeed, only the rich, handsome jocks were worth dating and being a few pounds overweight was on par with criminal activity didn't register and flew right over my head. This time round I found it more than a little annoying and it truly made me question my previous devotion. Not enough to completely banish my fondness for the series or to spoil any enjoyment at all in this latest catch up book, I'm still able to see it as fun, meaningless but enjoyable fluff, yet enough to make me wonder why I hadn't been bothered about these things before. One thing I'm sure of, there's no way those books would stand up in today's market.

          Sweet Valley Confidential begins with shocking melodrama and carries on for the rest of the book. It's like the worst kind of soap, which you feel somewhere deep down you shouldn't like but can't help wanting more. It's real guilty pleasure reading and engrossing throughout. At age 27 we find the tables have been turned for Elizabeth and Jessica. While former party girl Jess is settled down and planning her wedding, it's Liz who's living in NYC and seemingly getting it on with anyone who offers. The reason? Because Jessica has committed the ultimate betrayal and her husband to be is long term boyfriend of her twin, Todd Wilkins...yes...who'd have thought? Well I guess anyone who knew Jessica wouldn't be surprised she saw her sister's true love as fair game. The reason for the rift is revealed very early on, so it's no spoiler to mention and the story revolves round the build up and aftermath of the betrayal in the form of flashbacks. Kind, lovely (and all round martyr) Elizabeth is now bitter and twisted, filled with thoughts of revenge. She was always a little too good for me, so I loved seeing her dark side!

          We find out the full story of poor Elizabeth's betrayal from flashbacks, some from the past series and some from the time between and with this we learn other shocking truths about the regular characters who make up the world of Sweet Valley. Lila Fowler, Bruce Patman, Caroline Pearce, Enid Rollins, Winston Egbert, Steven Wakefield and Arran Dallas all get a mention and while some turn out pretty much as you'd expect (Lila is still rich, beautiful but pointless) others will leave your mouth hanging open. One notable absence for me was Amy Sutton though; who isn't mentioned at all yet from what I remember played a huge part in both the Twins and High series. However I did outgrow the series in the mid 90's while the books were still being published and never read the Sweet Valley University series, so maybe I missed something there. The biggest change though is definitely between the twins and how their relationship and personalities have been developed. I'm glad Pascal didn't just leave them the same people but 10 years later and really felt the weight of the past decade on both characters.

          It's a well known fact Francine Pascal didn't write the original books herself and was only the 'creator' so I was surprised to learn she had actually penned this one. While too many years have passed for me to compare the writing styles I did notice quite a few inconsistencies. The writing itself isn't fantastic but is enough to keep you reading, although the over use of 'like' and 'so' from Jessica really bugged me.

          Overall my trip back to Sweet Valley was mixed. I enjoyed it, but felt in a small way I probably shouldn't have. This is definitely a book for fans of the originals, if you've never read them or didn't like them in the first place then give this a big miss. You'll hate it. If like me though you grew up with Elizabeth and Jessica I'd say this is a must read, despite the fact I didn't love it as much as I hoped. Sweet Valley will always hold a place in my heart, even if now it isn't as bright as it once was. I loved the chance to see what characters that are almost like old friends are now up to (despite 10 years being more like 20 and by rights they should now be in their late thirties!) Despite the faults I'm glad it exists and I read it, the iconic cover was enough to make it worthwhile. If there's ever a Sweet Valley...30 years later will I read it? Probably Yes!

          Published by Arrow April 2011
          Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.

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            14.04.2011 11:51
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            A disappointing return to a great series

            Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield were the closest twin sisters you can imagine, and they love each other dearly. However, something shocking has happened which has caused such a rift between the sisters that they haven't spoken for over eight months, Elizabeth has moved across the country to live in New York, miles and miles away from the home she had in Sweet Valley with her sister Jessica, who is now convinced everybody hates her, and she pretty much hates herself too. Despite a successful career in journalism, it's not enough for Elizabeth but she doesn't know how to fix everything she left behind. And with another failed marriage behind her, Jessica just wants to be happy but she can't without her sister around her. Will the Wakefield twins ever heal the rift or this is the end of Elizabeth and Jessica as we know them?

            I dare so most women my age, older and younger as well, have grown up reading some form of the numerous Sweet Valley novels with the Wakefield twins, or at least seen the TV show which was on a lot throughout the 1990′s. I really loved those books, I read a lot of them, probably not all but a huge portion so when I read that the author Francine Pascal was bringing the characters back, but ten years on from when we first met them, I was both curious to read it and also somewhat dreading it at the same time - would they be as good as I remembered or would it be a cringing revisit to the past that perhaps should have been left there? My copy, with its somewhat dated looking pink cover dropped through my front door, and I sat down to devour it, hoping for the best.

            From the opening chapter, I knew it wasn't going to be a literary masterpiece and I was right. The writing style feels a bit clunky and uncomfortable reading, a bit like Pascal was writing for an audience she was totally out of experience with and it definitely felt that way. However, I pushed that aside and ploughed on with the story. We aren't told for a while exactly what has split up the Wakefield twins, but it doesn't take too long for the reader to put two and two together and realise. We meet Elizabeth living in New York, very alone and unhappy, away from her family but doing a job she loves. Jessica is also successful in her career, but also alone and feeling extremely hated. It certainly doesn't ring true of the carefree 17 year old girls I used to read about!

            We can certainly tell that the twins have grown up, not just by the fact the cover tells us that this is "Ten Years On..." but the fact they are adults, living away from home - miles away in Elizabeth's case, but also the multiple references to sex, alcohol and other grown activities throughout the book. Some of these were quite cringing to read, especially the sex scenes which felt a little too overdone for my liking, like Pascal was testing the waters rather than diving straight in with it. Also, I felt the constant name dropping of things like Facebook and Twitter just to bring it into the modern day felt overused and tacky in parts, like they were merely there to function as a reminding tool for the reader, a fact which I felt spoke down to the reader a bit too much.

            The story itself is okay, although for a near 300 page novel, not a lot really goes on! We obviously have the break up of the twins for this mystery reason, then the possibility of them meeting up again at an elderly relative's birthday party. All the action leads up to this event, and in between, we are told the story of what happened in the missing 8 months, some flashbacks to further before that too, so the book does jump around a lot. As well as focussing on the main story between Jessica and Elizabeth, we also have to follow what is going on in their modern lives, although I felt the book was weighted a lot more in Elizabeth's favour than Jessica's on this front. The narrative constantly changes too, for the most part being told in the third person which works well because of the amount of characters involved, but then it quickly switches to an untitled first person narrative, so it takes you a few seconds to work out which character is actually speaking.

            I couldn't help but feel as I was reading that Pascal has written another Sweet Valley novel for 17 year old's, albeit with the grown up references which, let's face it, most older teenagers happily read about now anyway, yet it is being aimed at the women's fiction market because we grew up with these characters. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice enough read for nostalgia's sake, revisiting characters I haven't read about in around 14 years or so and catching up with them again, but it just felt like it wasn't adult enough to be an adult novel. Things like the name dropping,clunky writing and huge time-hopping in the novel made it quite a hard (not difficult, more taxing) read but I did really enjoy it, all except the somewhat unnecessary epilogue! Fans of Sweet Valley will definitely want to read this, if for nothing but nostalgia's sake but be warned it's as cheesy as we all remember, perhaps if not more so!

            ISBN: 978-0099557739. Published by Arrow on April 14th 2011. RRP: £6.99. Pages: 304

            Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com

            Thank you for reading.

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              13.04.2011 11:50
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              Sweet Valley revisited - but nothing ends how you expect it to end

              "Have you ever wondered what happened when Elizabeth and Jessica grew up?"

              Until I read that tagline, I have to admit I hadn't. But as soon as the idea was in my head, I was wondering. I recently started collecting Sweet Valley High books, and was amazed when I came across Sweet Valley Confidential on Amazon, a new book set ten years after the Wakefield twins graduated from high school, published April 2011.

              As a pre-teen and teenager, I devoured Sweet Valley High books. I devoured pretty much any book I could get my hands on, but especially these stories of the sixteen year old beautiful blonde twins and their friends in picture perfect Sweet Valley, California. I also read a lot of the Sweet Valley Twins series, and began reading Sweet Valley University when it started.

              In Sweet Valley Confidential, Elizabeth and Jessica are now twenty seven. A lot has changed since we last saw them. Jessica has committed the ultimate betrayal of her twin, and Elizabeth has fled to New York, pursuing her journalism dreams and hiding from the pain of what her twin has done.

              Within pages, I was hooked. The story is immediately shocking, and for someone who grew up in the perfect world of Sweet Valley, it rocks you to the core and could be described as devastating. Perhaps you think I am being melodramatic, and maybe I am - but I grew up on these books, and I knew the characters better than I knew my friends. If you've read the blurb and wondered what Jessica could have done, thought of something and then said to yourself "no, that couldn't be it" - well, you're probably right.

              The story alternates between Elizabeth in New York and Jessica in Sweet Valley, and flashbacks from both are included to build up the story. We are reminded of things which happened in high school and university, and some gaps are filled in for the years since. There are, however, some errors in these. The most obvious for me was the very first flashback, when Elizabeth is recalling a drive to high school which so happened to be almost the opening of the first SVH book, Double Love. In the flashback, Jessica is forced to travel to school with Elizabeth as she is not allowed to drive following an accident. They pick up Elizabeth's friend Enid, and then Jessica hops out to get in Bruce Patman's car. Having not long reread Double Love, I know some of this is incorrect - Enid didn't travel with them, and Jessica didn't get into Bruce's car.

              This novel is actually written by Francine Pascal, whose name was all over the previous series but as creator, not the author. She did not write the Sweet Valley series, and so I wonder if she actually did her research on what happened during those series before writing this novel. Whether it is her writing or the fact that this is a novel written more for adults, the style is noticeably more mature. There are less short sentences and paragraphs than in the books for younger readers, and there is more depth revealed about the characters and their stories.

              However, to go back to the flashbacks, most of these are fine and play a very important part in the story. The present of the novel is taking place after the earth-shattering event which caused Elizabeth to leave Sweet Valley, and so the flashbacks do much of the storytelling.

              As the book goes one, we also hear a little from other characters, all of whom we know well from the previous Sweet Valley series - Todd Wilkins, Bruce Patman, the twins brother Steven Wakefield. From each character we learn more about their present, and there are flashbacks to help us see how they got to that point. In addition to the characters who tell their story directly, we also hear a lot about other characters through gossip - and not much of it is good. So many people haven't turned out how you would have expected them to, and there are a lot of sad stories.

              I found all the events of Sweet Valley Confidential shocking and almost difficult to read about. When I was younger, I wanted to live in a town like that, to be beautiful and popular, so to see these characters struggling with grown up life was quite sad for me. And especially because it seems unlikely that any will have a happy ending. However, I soon realised that this is what sets Sweet Valley Confidential apart from the rest of the Sweet Valley books - life is no longer a fairy tale, and this is a more grown-up concept than any that was explored in the books for younger readers. Like its readers, Sweet Valley and the people we know so well have grown up. Life isn't a picture perfect Californian high school, and that is reflected in the events of this novel.

              At the end of the novel is an epilogue, which contains the very final part of the story, and updates on all the characters we knew from Sweet Valley High, entitled "For All Sweet Valley Fans of Old". While many of these characters may not have featured in the story of Sweet Valley Confidential, many were important in Sweet Valley High, and so Pascal obviously wanted to tie up their stories - perhaps for herself as much as for her reader. I loved this section, even though many of the characters have not had it easy since we last saw them in the corridors of Sweet Valley High. It turned out it was important to me to know what had happened to everyone, not just the main players. This section provided an ending, not only to this novel, but to Sweet Valley overall.

              It goes without saying that this is a novel for the fans, for the thousands (maybe millions? I don't know) who grew up alongside Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. If you didn't read Sweet Valley High, you will have no interest in Sweet Valley Confidential. It is a quick read - I recieved my pre-order copy early from Amazon, and read the whole book in an evening. It probably helped that I quite literally could not put it down.

              I am in two minds about having read this. It was an excellent story, and provided an ending to the Sweet Valley saga which I hadn't realised I needed, but it has torn apart the image I have of Sweet Valley. I think I may now find it difficult to continue rereading Sweet Valley High for a while (I've been reading them as I have built up my collection). Nothing has ended how I expected it would end.

              Saying that, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to fans. This is a truly compelling novel, and perhaps for those who have not read any Sweet Valley books for fifteen years it will leave you less shocked than it did me, and simply provide a good story and a final goodbye to Jessica and Elizabeth.

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