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Spicy, Sweet Final Chapter in Conrad's Trilogy
on October 8, 2010
After a surprisingly mediocre second novel in her "L.A. Candy" trilogy, Lauren Conrad has returned to form with "Sugar and Spice." She effectively pays off all the umbrella arcs set in motion in the first two novels while still bringing in fresh, fun drama that (dare I say) firmly establishes her as a fresh, interesting voice in the teenage book market.
Before I dive in, let me warn you that I will be making note of the parallels between this novel and Conrad's now defunct television show "The Hills." If you have not seen the show, then please check Wikipedia if you get confused.
"Sugar and Spice" begins with the premier party for the second season of "L.A. Candy." Jane and Scarlett (different halves of Conrad's personality) have patched up their friendship and enter the second season with mixed emotions, both wanting to be there but also wanting to embrace other ambitions. Jane's feud with Madison (Heidi) has only deepened over the hiatus thanks to Madison continuing to lie to the press about leaking explosive personal information to the press about Jane, and Jane must struggle with the fact that her side of the argument cannot be portrayed on her reality show. Oh, and Gabby has hired a publicist ready to rocket her from the D-list to the double D-list.
Conrad introduces a juicy, soapy new character in Madison's half-sister Sophie, who basically blackmails Madison onto getting a role in "L.A. Candy" after a little nipping and cutting. Conrad has wisely realized that it would have hurt Jane's character to have her sink to Madison's level in order to take her down, and her introduction of a mini-Madison brings the book a lot of life and fun.
After "Sweet Little Lies" spread 50 pages of material to novel length, it's refreshing to see "Sugar and Spice" filled cover-to-cover with enough plot developments, twists and pay-offs to merit re-reading. My favorite development happens when Jane discovers her producer's notebook...a book that reveals a few too many secrets about how little control Jane really has over her life. But there is more, like having Madison becoming Jane's new co-worker only to realize that she really, really hates working or the curious case of how real Hannah's office romance really is.
Conrad still allows time for some darker, more real developments within the reality world, as when Jane visits her horrible (horrible!) ex-boyfriend in the hospital after he rolls his car over on the freeway during a bender. We see (humorously at first, but later seriously), just how much of a toll the Hollywood machine has taken on the once-sweet Gabby. Conrad is also very, very careful in her handling of Jane's on-again, off-again love interest Braden. The way she pays off the building romantic tension in the book's final pages is quite smart, hugely satisfying and reinforces just how much Jane has grown as a character over the course of the book series. Bravo.
Problems? Yes, a few. Jane's romance with former-flame Caleb was predictable and we never see Madison and Scarlett go head-to-head for more than a few lines, which is a missed opportunity. Though I enjoyed the quiet scene between Madison and Jane that happens late in the book, I wish that Jane had some involvement in the climax to Madison's arc. Oh, and since the series is called "L.A. Candy," I found it odd that every story culminated in either Las Vegas or New York.
Quibbles. "Sugar and Spice" is a surprisingly sweet, spicy (oh look, a pun) novel that will offer fans of the series really enjoyable pay-offs. It's a testament to Conrad's talents that, by the middle of the book, you forget the connection Speidi, MTV and "The Hills" and begin reading it simply as a good story. Here's hoping this isn't the last time we hear from Conrad the author.