Dear Mom, You’re Ruining My Life By Jean Van Leeuwen

You always say parents and children should trust each other. Well, I trusted you.

This is the most mysterious book I have picked up for this project. While there are certain titles that the back-cover copy gives the potential reader very little idea what the story is about, this one goes further and doesn’t include any copy on the back cover at all! Flip it over and you just see Our Heroine’s legs and feet clad in hot pink socks (which is actually a minor plot point).

The Plot: It’s a lot of build up for not much pay off, because this story turns out to be about the very low-stakes conflicts between a middle schooler and her mother, that doesn’t even go all in on the faux-diary format. Continue reading

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Cute Is A Four-Letter Word By Stella Pevsner

You are about to witness… The Year of the Clara!

I wasn’t very impressed by Stella Pevsner’s Call Me Heller, That’s My Name, a pretty generic coming of age story about a tomboy becoming a young lady in the roaring 20s,  when I reviewed it a few years back. This one touts that Pevsner received a Carl Sandberg Award for it… but it’s unclear exactly what that IS. An award by that name is given out annually by the Friends of the Chicago Public Library, and recipients include heavy hitters such as Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut, but the awardees listed on their website only goes back to the year 2000.

The Plot: While I found this one marginally more entertaining than Call Me Heller, for goofball cheer squad-adjacent antics, I still prefer The Plot Against the Pom-Pom Queen.

The book opens as incoming eighth grader Clara Conrad sees her older sister Laurel head off to Julliard to study piano, which has been her lifelong passion and single-minded goal in life. Now that it is just her and her widowed mother, Clara is determined that things will be different in eighth grade: she’s going to ditch babysitting the annoying kid next door and finally do something for herself for once! Namely, make the Pom Pon Squad, become popular, and win Skip Svoboda,  the hunky captain of the basketball team for herself. Continue reading

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Sticks And Stones By Lynn Hall

One word was enough to destroy his life…

“Bury your gays” is the trope in fiction which rules that gay characters die (frequently by their own hand) before the end of the story. Especially prevalent until the mid-20th century (when authors like Marijane Meaker and Ann Bannon had their characters emerge somewhat worse for the wear but at least still alive), one of the best known examples remains Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play The Children’s Hour, in which two female school teachers are hounded by gossip that ends up in tragedy.

Lynn Hall, who mainly seems known for her horse-books and dog-books, seems like an odd choice for basically retelling the same story with young men in a high school setting, but ending with a climax that is rather jaw-dropping.

The Plot: Tom Naylor and his recently-divorced mother have moved from Chicago to her ancestral home of Buck Creek, Iowa and opened a local antique shop. Despite showing up halfway into his Junior year, Tom seems to have fit in with relative ease, effortlessly making new friends, becoming a top student and distinguishing himself as a musical talent. His comparative sophistication has also inspired many crushes amongst the female underclassman, and he himself is feeling confident about the possibility that Karen, a girl of similar interests and talent, might return his interest. Continue reading

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Light Of My Life (First Love From Silhouette #53) By Elaine Harper

Now real life would be an electrifying experience!

Background: I am on the record about how I’ve turned around my opinion on Silhoutte’s First Love romances (“AMERICA’S publisher of Contemporary Romance”), especially Elaine Harper’s loopy Blossom Valley adventures, especially when they involve tenuous connections to major holidays and constant bird-based peril.

First Love published 236 titles between 1981 and 1987, so this one appeared fairly early in the imprint’s run; only three other Elaine Harper titles are listed (including Be My Valentine), so, sadly, this one lacks some of the Blossom Valley characteristics I have reluctantly come to know and love (the Bird Sanctuary doesn’t even get a mention!!!!)

I also seem to have a earlier printing than the edition pictured: mine does not have the “A Blossom Valley Book” across the top pf the cover, instead substituting “First Love From Silhouette” at the top and “America’s Favorite Teenage Romance” at the bottom. It’s also lacks the map of Blossom Valley at the beginning of the book.

The Plot: This one focuses on Blossom Valley High sophomore Lucy O’Donnell as she learns the ropes of the lighting crew for BVH’s drama club and falls for one, and then another truly terrible young men. Continue reading

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We will return January 26, 2020!


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Freshman Christmas By Linda A. Cooney

Skiing snowmen in a frosty Montana playground!

While the back cover proclaims this as part of THE HIT SERIES! I wonder exactly how big a hit this series was: I have never come across any fond remembrances of it, although per Fantastic Fiction it did run 32 numbered volumes and nine additional unnumbered Super Specials, of which this is one.

Background: And Linda A. Cooney is an author that is unfamiliar to me- at a glance, it appears she wrote for a number of third-tier YA Romance series in the 1980s and 90s, including Sunset High (not to be confused with the marginally more popular Sunset Island series), Class of ’88, Totally Hot and a few volumes in the Couples series.

This copy lists 23 Freshman Dorm titles (plus one coming soon!) on its flyleaf, so I imagine this plot picks up in the middle of the Freshman Dorm Girls’ Freshman year…

The Plot: …but it also doesn’t really give us a recap of what has happened thus far (very Couples of you, Linda A. Cooney!) so it took me awhile to figure out which of the characters are even the main Freshmen, although I suppose I should have been tipped off by the gate-fold art, which shows the main Freshmen: Faith, Winnie and KC. Although they get as much plot-time, Liza and Kimberly are CLEARLY only supporting Freshmen! Figuring this out is hampered by the fact that there isn’t really much that distinguishes anyone’s personality from the other (except Liza, who we will get to presently). Continue reading

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New Release: Sticking It To The Man

Just in time for Christmas, I am pleased to announce the publication of Sticking It To The Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, a follow up to 2017’s Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette.

My contributions include pieces on YA social-problem novels including Kristin Hunter’s The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou, Gloria Miklowitz‘s The Love Bombers and Arnold Madison‘s It Can’t Happen to Me. I also cover the lady-detective genre in essays on Lee McGraw’s Mike Hammer satire Hatchett, and James D. Lawrence’s (the man behind Christopher Cool) Dark Angel series.

I am joined by more than two dozen more writers discussing three decades of pulp paperback writers who achieved their aim of…. sticking it to The Man.

From civil rights and Black Power to the New Left and gay liberation, the 1960s and 1970s saw a host of movements shake the status quo. The impact of feminism, anticolonial struggles, wildcat industrial strikes, and antiwar agitation were all felt globally. With social strictures and political structures challenged at every level, pulp and popular fiction could hardly remain unaffected. Feminist, gay, lesbian, Black and other previously marginalised authors broke into crime, thrillers, erotica, and other paperback genres previously dominated by conservative, straight, white males. For their part, pulp hacks struck back with bizarre takes on the revolutionary times, creating fiction that echoed the Nixonian backlash and the coming conservatism of Thatcherism and Reaganism. Continue reading

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Wrapping Up The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? By Henry Farrell

(Click here for information on the 2019 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature.  For the titles that have filmed adaptations, we will also be looking at the movies as we go along. This week, the September Selection, Henry Farrell’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

As usual, my best intentions to schedule a suspense/thriller/horror title for Halloween lands around Thanksgiving. Which I guess can still be appropriate, as you gather with your family, you can spend some time with the Hudson sisters!

Another case of the film version completely eclipsing its source material, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is best known through the 1962 film directed by Robert Aldrich starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and (more recently) the much-lauded, somewhat controversial, 2017 TV miniseries Feud, which centers on the making of the film, starring Susan Sarandon (as Davis) and Jessica Lange (as Crawford).

Aldrich’s film is mostly-faithful to Farrell’s novel, so the serviceable prose won’t hold any surprises if you’ve already seen the film. Continue reading

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My So-Called Life: A Novel Based In The Award-Winning Television Series By Catherine Clark

Less than perfect…

I realize I am about to alienate myself from my entire generational cohort, but: I never cared for ABC’s acclaimed, award-winning, Claire Danes-and-Jared Leto-star-making, abruptly canceled, fondly remembered “My So-Called Life”.

Aggressively marketed at the time as the anti-“Beverly Hills, 90210”, which had evolved from fish-out-of-water social problem show to glossy nighttime soap by 1994, MS-CL promised REAL TEENS and their REAL COMPLICATED LIVES.

A high school Junior the fall the series premiered, I was of the opinion that the show was what ADULTS thought being a TEEN IN THE NINETIES was REALLY LIKE and concluded that at least “90210” (this was around the time Dylan’s father was blown up by gangsters… OR WAS HE???) wasn’t patronizing me. I did not care for these pallid, plaid-clad mopers at all.

25 years on, I come to pretty much the same conclusion with the novelization.

The Plot: Compressing the 19 episodes into 200-some pages makes the basic plot almost indistinguishable from that of the average Sweet Valley High: boy probs, school probs, friend probs, parent probs. Author Clark attempts to capture the voice of a generation by having that voice say “like” and “whatever” a lot. Continue reading

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