Monday, June 13, 2011

Review of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?: The Lost Toys, Tastes & Trends of the '70s and '80s"

“Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops: The Lost Toys, Tastes & Trends of the ‘70s and ‘80s” is truly that, a compendium of things that are apt to be forgotten. However, unintentionally, Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont, the editors, have touched upon another lost facet of the ‘70s: the encyclopedia. I think the authors summed up the problem with this book in the titular entry on encyclopedias: “the general idea lives on online, thanks to Wikipedia and other reference sites.” The book may still appeal to 40- and 50-year-olds nostalgic for books – real books! Made of paper and stuff! – but “Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops” is just a static, snarkier version of Wikipedia, prone to quickly become out-of-date. Worse, its entries are brief, merely skimming the topics presented. Some of the topics worked in this brief format; the entry on “Hugo, the Man of A Thousand Faces” was funny – remember that hideous doll advertised in 1970s comics?

However, other entries on subjects with which I was more intimately acquainted were lacking. Many were no more than summaries with a few lame jokes added. If you want to relive the nostalgia of the ‘70s, skip this book and google “retro toys” instead. To start you on the way, I’d recommend this blog entry on the Archie Christian Comics, for which Cooper and Bellmont provided only a dim summary:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sweet Valley Confidential Review

First, let me say how truly disappointed I am with this book. I've been anticipating its arrival ever since I heard about it a few years ago.

However, the book - beautifully packaged with a delicious candy-pink cover, an emo Elizabeth on the front - failed to deliver. The Sweet Valley books have never been particularly well-written, the style purposely invisible to allow a series of endless ghostwriters to take over. But at least you got what you were looking for - you never left Sweet Valley without another 130-page convoluted plot, complete with hunky guys, cheerleaders, backstabbing and lust - plus the occasional murderous loon. And the writing, while not great, at least didn't interfere.

Sweet Valley Confidential is the first in the series Pascal penned herself. And it shows; oh, how it shows. I read with an imaginary pen, crossing out needless words galore, and even whole paragraphs that just restated things. I found Jessica's using "like" and "so" in every other sentence particularly irritating, as if Pascal had never met a real valley girl and was desperately trying to remind us that Jessica was one. And we didn't need flashbacks told and then re-told from another character's perspective. The book was unimaginative, unfunny, un-inventive, and just plain un-good.

This is disheartening, because I loved Pascal's writing in the Victoria trilogy, where she was witty and captured the voice of her adolescent protagonist. There are two things Pascal is good at: characterization, and churning out ideas one after another that never fail to be entertaining. Sweet Valley Confidential excelled at neither. Its plot was old and tired, a stodgy soap opera. If Sweet Valley High was the precursor to smart shows like Beverly Hills 90210, then this is ... season 9 on One Tree Hill.

Most importantly, the book failed to remind me of what I liked about the original series. It is not a book anyone would want to read for any other reason than finding out what happened to the characters. But even on that count - all it did was give a kind of depressing finality to Sweet Valley, a place where it seemed like literally anything could happen. I think it's clear from reading this that Pascal is tired of Sweet Valley. For all the fans out there who want a more mature taste of the old stuff, I'd give Sweet Valley Confidential a miss--and pick up My First Love & Other Disasters.