All That Glitters, V.C. Andrews (1995)

The third book in the Landry series sees our heroine, dumb as a fence post Ruby, agreeing to marry her wealthy half-brother, Paul Tate. She does this merely for security, but also because she’s an idiot, apparently forgetting she’ll come into an inheritance in a year or so. In a hilariously bad scene that goes on far too long, they play dress-up make-believe one evening. Then they have sex, because Paul thinks it’s cool if they were pretending to be other people.

Beau, back from France, marries Gisselle because she looks like Ruby, and if he can’t have the real thing, boffing her twin will do. Beau and Ruby start sleeping together on the sly, but Paul immediately figures it out.

Both step-mother Daphne and Uncle Jean die off-page because the author’s a hack.

Gisselle contracts encephalitis, and in a plot too ludicrous to believe, Ruby switches places with her comatose sister. Gisselle ends up dying, and Paul, having convinced himself she was really Ruby, drowns in the swamp after going on an extended whiskey-fueled bender.

A big custody battle ensues when Paul’s parents want their ‘granddaughter’ Pearl. It’s really just Paul’s mother sticking it to Ruby, because she knows of the sister swap. All the deception is revealed in court, and only some eleventh hour testimony from Paul’s father saves the day. Pearl is reunited with Beau and Ruby and they get a happily ever after that they don’t fucking deserve, including twin boys a few years later. So happy! So infuriating.

All That Glitters oozes so much trashy tawdriness it almost leaves you speechless. This book was absolutely wretched. Ruby and Beau were self-centered and selfish, willing to stoop to anything to get what they wanted and not caring who they hurt because, true love! Destiny! Fate! Paul needed to pull his head out of his ass and get over his romantic love for his sister. He was selfish, too, so no real sympathy there. Towards the end, Paul’s mother exhibited some uncomfortable mother love, but it could have been the grief. That said, she’s not blameless in any of this either; she went along with the baby buying all those years ago, faked a pregnancy, and never told Paul the truth. Don’t get me started on the ridiculous, implausible plot.

There was one, one, good thing in this. Louis resurfaces, albeit briefly, but even that’s slightly tainted by the author de-aging him by about ten years. Pretty sad that a partial chapter involving a peripheral character is the only freaking bright spot and worthwhile thing in this whole mess.

This book was utter garbage, populated with reprehensible, self-serving people. * out of 5


Pearl in the Mist, V.C. Andrews (1994)

The second in the Landry series, Pearl in the Mist picks up pretty much right where Ruby left off. Ruby and her twin sister, Gisselle, are shipped off by their insufferable bitch of a step-mother to an elite private girl’s school in another part of the state for their last year of high school. A major event in the first book has made Gisselle even more of an obnoxious brat in need of a serious bitch-slapping. No comeuppance is cruelly fitting enough for step-mother-from-hell Daphne, and father Pierre is fated to never retrieve his testicles from wherever his wife stashed them when she lopped them off.

At the Greenwood school, Ruby becomes good friends with another new student who is fodder, so I won’t bother talking about her. The school is mostly funded by a filthy rich, southern aristocrat old biddy named Louella Clairborne (blink and you’ll miss her). Her hard-ass niece is the principal who delights in bullying Ruby. But of course. Or should I say, mais oui? Mrs. Clairborne lives in a plantation house mansion and has small groups of students visit for tea.

When Ruby is invited with her sister and friend, she just so happens to accidentally meet her hostess’ grandson Louis, thirty-one, blind, and something of a recluse. He’s a gifted pianist and immediately takes a liking to our resident Mary Sue. The story of his parents’ deaths is interesting, until more details leads us into the bizarre, disturbing, and downright skeevy, revealing Mama was messed up in the head, hence, Louis ain’t right either.

One thing Andrews’ books were known for was their Gothic vibe. It was definitely present in My Sweet Audrina, and, from what I remember, the Flowers in the Attic series (read about 25 years ago). Sure, there’s the messed-up family dynamics, but I get no real Gothic feel here, not even Southern Gothic, apart from the glimpse into the really twisted backstory of Louis (molested by his mother, who infantilized him, he witnessed his father commit murder-suicide when he caught her with a very young lover, having moved on from her son). Set Louis aside, and this just reads like a teen soap. Which it is. I was hoping Ruby would be out on her own by now, but instead, I’m stuck reading about teenage love, mean high school girls, and uptight, matriarchal harridans bullying and abusing kids.

Another big complaint I have about these books are the numerous characters. Many exist simply as plot contrivances. You either don’t get to know them well enough to care about them, or you do care, hope to see them again and learn more, but they’re written out, having served a minor purpose. I hate it. There’s not enough character development where it’s needed. Instead, the story focuses too much on unimportant and repetitive bullshit. I’m still not a fan of the first person POV.

Ruby suffers from Mary Sueitis. Half-brother Paul still pines for her. There’s her lets-get-it-on boyfriend, Beau, who used to be Gisselle’s paramour. Then there’s Louis, who’s so enamored of our seventeen-year-old heroine, he’s not only composing a symphony for her, but is slowly regaining his sight (I called it as hysterical, psychosomatic blindness the second I read how he became blind). She’s so special, she’s almost magical, don’t you think?

Ruby is well aware of how her madonna-whore, saintly but sinning mother came to bear three children by two different married men within a year or two (but Mama was like an entrancing, mythical swamp fairy to the men she slept with, so it’s okay). Rather than take the extra effort to avoid the same mistakes, she sleeps with her boyfriend a number of times with the inevitable outcome. Boyfriend Beau strikes me as a popular guy who has that I’m invincible mind-set. He thinks nothing unfortunate can happen to him, so he presses his luck. He pressures Ruby to sleep with him, but if he cared as much as he claims to, you’d think he’d either be making regular trips to the drugstore, or, ideally, respect her wanting to slow down or wait to become intimate.

SPOILERS: Ruby’s father, Pierre, dies off-page in the middle of the book without us really knowing him. Louis heads off to Switzerland to see a specialist and attend a music conservatory. Ruby ends up pregnant and her precious boyfriend is hustled off to a foreign school. Rather than go through with a back-alley abortion arranged by her step-mother, she goes back to the bayou. Arriving at her old house with her now very wealthy half-brother Paul, her DT’ing grandfather conveniently drowns minutes later. Paul’s still in love with her, and everybody thinks he’s the father of her child. Hilariously, after refusing to leave the shack ahead of a storm, she goes into labor in the middle of a hurricane, with Paul delivering the baby. He keeps asking her to marry him.

Ruby makes piss poor decisions, so I’ve become ambivalent towards her character. If possible, it seems she’s getting dumber as the series goes on. Frustratingly, we’re led to believe she’s a talented artist, but she doesn’t do much drawing or painting in the course of this book. If she loved her art as much as we’re led to believe, it would be a big part of her life, but she’s too busy tangling up the sheets with Beau the Magnificent.

I’m hoping for more Uncle Jean. He appears briefly, but not enough, and by the end of the book, I really felt for the poor guy. And where the hell is gallery owner Dominique LeGrand? You can’t dangle him in the second or third chapter of the first book like he’s important, then drop him. Initially, Louis seemed too much of a head case, but once he started acting normal (he did mention seeing a psychiatrist) I started liking his character. I’m not really invested in Ruby and her story anymore, unless, by extension, it involves Jean and Louis. I’ve given up on Dominique having any significance. Honestly, I was hoping for more effed up Gothic stuff like the Dollanganger series, but this isn’t delivering, except for Louis. ** out of 5


My Sweet Audrina, V.C. Andrews (1982)

My Sweet Audrina is the saga of the Adare family, as told by daughter Audrina, spanning roughly two decades, from the time Audrina is seven, to a young woman in her twenties. The story revolves around Audrina, her parents, aunt, and cousin who live in the faded Victorian mansion, Whitefern, inherited by Audrina’s mother. It isn’t just the family who live in the gloomy house; secrets, deception, and betrayals are also in residence.

Audrina suffers from memory gaps. She’s never sure what day, month, or season it is. All the clocks are set to different times. There are no calendars or newspapers (except for the latter, when the plot requires them). Audrina doesn’t go to school, she’s taught by her mother and aunt. One other thing; Audrina has a dead older sister named Audrina, who was killed on her ninth birthday in the woods on their property. Audrina’s father tries to make Audrina the second take on all the wonderful qualities of Audrina the first by having her sit in her rocking chair in her shrine-like bedroom. This exercise has mixed results.

When a cottage on the property is rented to a family from town, Audrina is warned not to go there. She defies her father and goes anyway, befriending the boy who lives there, Arden, and his mother, Billie. Audrina thinks she’s seen Arden before, but that’s impossible, right?

The story goes along, with the characters aging and tragedy befalling some, until eventually, the truth comes out about both Audrinas.

I have a number of issues with this one. We’re never explicitly told where or when the story takes place. It’s left to us to glean that information from a random sentence or two. It’s told in first person by Audrina, who is an unreliable narrator by dint of her faulty memory and foggy perception of time. It’s never made clear whether the adult Audrina is relaying the story years later or we’re reading it as it happens.

There’s no solid anchor in this story, so it drifts. Plot points are dropped, resurface, then are dropped again. Some things are never explained, like the significance of the number nine, Audrina’s journal, and the wind chimes. There’s no clarity. Everything’s jumbled and unfocused, not due to the contrived memory issue but poor writing. The early chapters are stagnant, then years zip by. Do any of the characters grow in this time? Not a one. In fact, behavioral patterns repeat. Characters contradict themselves time and again. They flip-flop more than a gymnast during a floor routine.

You don’t know who you’re supposed to like or root for. The gimmick of the memory gap, meant to build mystery and suspense, wears thin, since almost everything is transparent. I wasn’t surprised by anything in this, having guessed the ‘secrets’ of every damn character from the first possible moment. This book reads like a soap opera story line meant to last three months that was extended to a year.  It exists on a skeletal plot as thin and brittle as cousin Vera’s bones (she suffers multiple fractures throughout) and fragile as Audrina’s mind. Speaking of Vera, despite being a vicious, spiteful, bitter bitch consumed with hatred, she comes across as the most real because she owns it. She’s like Veda Pierce, but on steroids.

Ridiculously, we’re supposed to believe that Audrina develops a psychic or telepathic connection, a ‘rapport’ she calls it, with her severely mentally challenged younger sister, Sylvia. Audrina can just think something and the child understands (I contend the entire story is the collected ravings of a lunatic in an asylum). In an already outrageously bad story, the last couple of chapters are so farcical they have to be read to be believed. They include such things as:

*MAJOR SPOILER WARNING*: Audrina revives from a three month coma, not dying when life support is turned off, even though she should. A mere three weeks of physical therapy and she’s home again. The day she returns to Whitefern, she has a fight with her estranged spouse and runs (get that runs) out to her dead sister’s grave in the middle of a hellacious thunderstorm and begins to dig it up with her bare hands. Her husband follows, she fights with him, then they have crazy, lust-filled, animalistic sex. Got that? A woman who just came out of a freaking three month coma is having physically demanding sex in the middle of a violent thunderstorm after dashing around like an Olympic sprinter and trying to dig up a grave. Careful, you may end up blind from such intense eye-rolling. I forgot to mention the miscarriage scene that takes place earlier in the book. That may elicit a ‘wtf did I just read?’ moment. To say it’s batshit insane would be an understatement.

My Sweet Audrina is a bland, exhausting read. Never have I read so many words that ended up saying nothing. You’ll expend a lot of energy reading it, but it has no value. It’s mental junk food. There’re so many preposterous, ludicrous, laughable events that occur outside the realm of possibility, you’ll end up wondering why you bothered to read it at all. 1-1/2 * out of 5