Halloween 2018 (John Passarella)

John Passarella | October 23, 2018 | 376 pages
John Passarella | October 23, 2018 | 371 pages

It’s now November but it’s never too late (or early) to talk about my favorite horror movie franchise of all time, Halloween. Back in 2019, I had the honor of interviewing John Passarella, the author who wrote the official movie novelization for Halloween (2018). And with Halloween Kills debuting earlier last month, I figure now would be a good time to examine the movie novelizations for both films, starting with the 2018 version.

Hall2018BookBack

Halloween 2018 was a landmark film for horror fans. Not only did it mark the return of the Boogeyman (and not that crap Rob Zombie version we saw in 2009’s Halloween II), but it also brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to the franchise, reprising her role as beloved final girl, Laurie Strode. I was so ready for this film. I even attended the 40th anniversary convention in October of 2018 in South Pasadena, where the original 1978 movie was filmed. I also hold extra special nostalgia because the movie was my second date with the woman I eventually married. And as it was the case 30 years ago in 1988 for Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers, the grand occasion called for a novelization. John Passarella was bestowed with the honor.

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By the way, some of you may recall that I originally posted my interview with John Passarella at the end of my Halloween Books review. However, that article was so long that I’ve been meaning to break it up. Just like WrestleMania being split up over 2 nights. It also allows me to shamelessly segue into my Halloween Kills novelization review, but I digress. Let’s jump right into it. Enjoy the Q&A!

IconicHall27

When were you first exposed to Halloween (1978), and what were your thoughts?

JP: I don’t recall the first time I watched it, but it wasn’t in the theater. My guess is that I first saw it at home, probably a video rental. My mother was a big fan of horror movies at the time, while I was more of a science fiction/fantasy fan. She always had horror movies on the TV while I spent most of my free time reading. When I first saw it, I thought it was stark and effective, with a understated supernatural quality to it, while other “slasher” movies that followed seemed more interested in violence/gore for its own sake. Even then it felt unique.

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Top 5 favorite Halloween films?

JP: I am so bad at picking favorite things, let alone ranking them. The original stands alone at the top. I enjoyed H20 when it first came out. For the Halloween (2018) novelization, since I was pressed for time (less than 2 months to write it) and was told that the movie would ignore all the sequels, I didn’t take any time to re-watch any of those films. My wife watches the original movie every Halloween season, so I watched that again this year, but I definitely need to reacquaint myself with all the sequels.

MichaelStal

How did you get involved in the process of penning Halloween? Did you have to make some sort of pitch or did Titan Books reach out to you?

JP: Titan Books approached me. Probably the best early email I’ve ever received! I had done several original Supernatural tie-in novels for them, plus an original Grimm novelization. And I had worked with several editors there. The editor for the Halloween novelization thought it would be a perfect fit for me.

OhDamnKnife

How long did it take for you to write the book? When did you first start drafting it? How many copies have been sold as of November 2019?

JP: I’d have to check my first contact emails, but I think it was either late March or early April of 2018. After I agreed to write the novelization and the studio approved me, I had to wait for the script to get started. I think that came in the first week of April. The novel was due by the end of May, so it was a compressed time frame. I received access to the daily film photo archive after I had already started writing the first draft. I had to backtrack and rewrite some scenes after I saw the photos of those sets/scenes. They reshot the ending and added some other scenes, mostly flashbacks and some of those still didn’t make it into the final film, but I was fortunate in that I hadn’t gotten to the ending before it was changed. I only had to write the ending once. As far as sales, I have no idea how well it did overall. It has gone into a second edition. For these work-for-hire projects, writers don’t get royalties, so we don’t get royalty statements which would show sales to-date.

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How did you feel watching the movie for the first time? Was it surreal to see your (novelization) words (more or less) being played out in front of your eyes in a capacity-filled theater?

JP: Surreal is a good word for it. I did not see the film until the premiere. At the time, I had three versions of the story bouncing around in my head. The script and revision, my novelization, and then what actually made it into the final film. There were things that were in the script, but didn’t make it into the film. Other things, mostly additional dialogue made it into the film, but wasn’t in the script at all. I made a point of including all the script dialogue, while adding a bunch of my own. Whole scenes were cut from the final film. Other scenes were really truncated. A few played out differently than they had in the script. They added a lot more humor via dialogue. And the editing of the movie had a thriller feel to it, rather than a horror/suspense film.

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There were obviously some cuts made from the movie (script) as compared to your book. Was there any part or scene omitted from your writing where you wish made it on the big screen? For me, the book definitely made me care more about Dana and Aaron. They were fleshed out a lot more (naturally) in your book than they were in the film. Understandable, but unfortunate nevertheless.

JP: I think the filmmakers made a choice to make the film mostly Laurie’s story, so a lot of the character development and scenes involving other characters were trimmed. Reading the script, I had this idea that Allyson was the star, so to speak, and it would be a passing of the torch from Laurie to her granddaughter. But the film leans more on Laurie vs Michael, so a lot of Allyson stuff, early on and at/after the dance, got cut to keep a reasonable running time. And, yes, Dana and Aaron had more “screen” time on the page, more scenes, more character development. That’s one thing that helps give the novelization some life and purpose outside the film. Fans can delve a bit deeper into the story and the characters.

Classic Budd...
Classic Budd…

In the restroom scene, Dana reads a message scrawled on the side that recites Budd’s infamous “amazing grace come sit on my face” line from Halloween II (1981). Was that in the original movie script or did you add that in? I couldn’t help but smile when I read that, and was a little saddened realizing it didn’t show up in the movie.

JP: I can’t take credit for that line. It was in the final script.

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It’s been a year since your novel came out. How do you feel about the book overall? Is there anything you wish you could have written differently?

JP: I don’t know if I would have written it differently if I had seen the movie (a rough cut maybe) before I finished, but maybe. What I enjoy the most in books is suspense, so I naturally tried to create as much suspense as possible. The original film relies heavily on suspense and I took that as my model (since I knew I wouldn’t see the finished movie until its release). A couple scenes (conversations) changed a good bit from script to screen and I would have liked the book version to be closer to the finished film versions but that was out of my control. I didn’t have time to stray too far from the script’s plot, to explore any side roads or backstory, so I may always wonder about that. And in a couple places, I probably described a set in too much detail. Usually the “sets” are only in my head. This was the first time I had actual photos to describe to the reader!

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Have you been signed on to write the movie novelization for Halloween Kills and/or Halloween Ends?

JP: I’d certainly be interested in writing those novelizations, but I haven’t heard anything about them yet. The second film has finished filming but won’t be out for an entire year. The first film came out several months after filming wrapped and everything on the novelization side moved quickly so that it could come out the same time as the movie. Right now, we still have a long window, so I’m not surprised I haven’t heard anything yet. If Titan Books is planning a novelization for the second movie, I may not know until a few months into the new year.

"You cant kill the Boogeyman"
“You cant kill the Boogeyman…”

What do you think it is about Halloween and Michael Myers that has endured with so many fans 40+ years later and counting?

JP: The primal nature of the fear that Michael Myers represents, an unstoppable, merciless, and unknowable evil, represented by the unchanging, unflinching mask. He seems to be so much more than what we see on the surface. Loomis decides after years of examining him that he is simply evil, possibly evil incarnate.

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Advice for aspiring authors?

JP: Finish what you write. Once you finish, you have something you can use to get representation, to sell to a magazine or book publisher. And if it doesn’t sell or work for you, finish the next thing, and the next. I started writing at the age of 11, but didn’t publish my first novel until I was 37! I like to think it wouldn’t take so long if I started writing today. When I started, I relied on Writers Digest and Writer magazines, a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias (and my local library) for research, and a manual typewriter (I taught myself to type before they offered a course in school) with actual carbon copies as my only backups. These days, you have webzines, online writers groups, self-publishing tools, social media for marketing and networking, etc.

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Have you, by chance, read any of the other Halloween movie novelizations by Dennis Etchison or Nicholas Grabowsky?

JP: No, though I’d like to hunt down a copy of the original movie novelization. It seems they are hard to come by these days.

HalloErnie

What’s next for John Passarella?

JP: Thanks for your interest in my writing and the Halloween novelization. I’m working on a fourth novel in my Wendy Ward (Wither) series right now, but it’s not under contract, which means I don’t have deadline pressure pushing me to the finish line. I don’t suffer from writer’s block, per se, but procrastination is a real hurdle. I work much better and faster when there is a looming deadline!

Thanks again John for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk about all things Halloween! Click on the link there to buy the book on Amazon if you want. As of this writing, the paperback edition is currently 33% off and selling for $5.98.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Although it can be a bit wordy and long-winded at times, I think John Passarella did a very admirable job with this novelization. Characters are better fleshed out than how they were presented in the movie, such as the podcasters Dana and Aaron. You naturally get a little more background information here because a 371 page text can convey more details than what can be portrayed in a 100 minute horror movie. If you’re a big fan of the 2018 Halloween movie, and you’re looking to dig a little more in-depth, then I would definitely recommend this book. Next up, Halloween Kills by Tim Waggoner. Until next time, avoid dark corners and watch out for the Boogeyman

3HalfStars

Fragments of Horror (Junji Ito)

Junji Ito | June 16, 2015 | 224 pages
Junji Ito | June 16, 2015 | 224 pages

Recently, I wrote my first graphic novel review on RVGFanatic. It was for the rather bizarre and unsettling Summer Spirit. And now, on Halloween night, I proudly present to you, dear reader, RVGFanatic’s first manga review. As many of you know by now, in 2019 I rediscovered my love for reading. I never got into manga, however, until quite recently. And being that it is Halloween, I can’t think of a better manga artist to feature than Junji Ito. He’s sort of like the Stephen King of the manga universe. Late last night I read through Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror in one sitting. I’ve heard a lot about Ito and my first experience with Ito did not disappoint. A collection of short horror stories, all told through the manga medium, it left me feeling a little unsettled and I felt an undeniable urge to peek over my shoulder. If you have never read any of Junji Ito’s work before, it is my hope that after this review you might rectify that!

Warning: Disturbing imagery ahead...
Warning: Graphic and disturbing images ahead…
Here's my jack-p-lantern for Halloween 2021!
Here’s my jack-o-lantern for Halloween 2021!
Yes, I tried to copy the 1978 Halloween pumpkin!
Yes, I tried to copy the 1978 Halloween pumpkin!

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Ito opens up Fragments of Horror with Futon. From the title and first page, I knew I was in for one hell of a ride. And even though Futon is by far his weakest story of the lot (mainly because it is the shortest tale and feels undercooked), it still made for an intriguing and creepy read while it lasted.

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Futon had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it was definitely underdeveloped as it’s only 8 pages long short. Had Ito given it more time to marinate, it could easily have been a 5 star tale. Thankfully, Ito does not repeat this mistake as the rest of the stories in this book receive at least 30 pages of attention.

Ito's Afterword confirms what readers felt
Ito’s Afterword admits as much
Now let's get to the good stuff!
Now let’s get to the good stuff!

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Young Megumi and her dad, recently divorced, live in a house that was selected to be a registered national tangible cultural property. It’s a massive house containing 11 rooms. One day a mysterious woman arrives at their door and she’s smitten by the structure.

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Did I say smitten?? More like obsessed. I got the heebie-jeebies when she said “they’re very sexy.” Who talks like that about a house?! Mad weirdness be going on…

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It’s often been stated that Ito is a brilliant panel composer. He has a way of making the reader cling to a page’s last panel before the dramatic reveal on the following page. This here being a perfect example. As the reader, you instinctively know what the mysterious woman’s request will be. You also know that her request, which will be foolishly accepted, will lead only to ruination and ultimate misery.

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I knew it! This is classic horror 101. We feel helpless as our characters spiral into madness. I won’t spoil what happens next (or for any of these stories) but suffice it to say, this book isn’t titled Fragments of Happiness

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Ito recycles his characters from Futon for this ghastly tale of abomination. Tomio, that lying cheating son of a bitch, and his girlfriend Madoka are going through a rough patch in their relationship. Tomio cheats on Madoka by sleeping with a woman who is rather peculiar, to say the very least…

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There is one scene here in particular (don’t worry I won’t spoil the reveal) that is SUPER disturbing. It left me wanting to gag and puke. Ito is one sick bastard, I’ll tell you that!

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By far the “gentlest” story of the collection, Gentle Goodbye (fittingly titled) is a somber tale of family ties and how people grieve through loss and hardship.

Competently constructed but not my favorite story
Competently constructed but not my favorite story
Now THIS... this is what I'm talking about!
Now THIS… this is what I’m talking about!

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Dissection-Chan is, simply put, the stuff nightmares are made of. I love that it feels so much like an unsettling urban legend you might have heard sitting around a bonfire while shooting the shit with your friends back in the day. During a routine practice session, a group of medical students make the horrifying discovery that one of their cadavers isn’t quite dead just yet…

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The sheer demented ludicrousness of Dissection-Chan is deeply unnerving. It would be crazy enough if she had an obsession to dissect others, but to be obsessed with the dissection of her own body? Yikes! Couple that with the way Junji Ito drew her haunting face and you can’t help but feel a little perturbed.

Even her "HO HO!' sends chills down my spine
Even her “HO HO HO!” sends chills down my spine
Fast like a cockroach...
Fast like a cockroach scurrying away with the light on…
C-R-E-E-P-Y...
Gives me the willies!
Yup, just like something from Creepypasta
Like something from Creepypasta
Reminds me of the Slit-Mouthed Woman
Reminds me of the Slit-Mouthed Woman
AKA Kuchisake-onna
AKA Kuchisake-onna
How ominous...
How ominous…
I felt a little sick to my stomach reading this
I felt a little sick to my stomach reading this
It's the same med student we followed earlier
Why do I get the sinking feeling that this is bad news
OH SHIT
OH SHIT
UH OH
UH OH
That's not creepy at all
That’s not creepy at all
Better watch yo back, son
Better watch yo back, son

Dissection-Chan was by far my favorite story of this book. It’s fascinatingly eerie and gave me major urban legend vibes. I loved it! You gotta read it to find out what happens next. Easily one of the spookiest stories I’ve read in some time!

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Fragments of Horror peaked at Dissection-Chan as far as I’m concerned. But Blackbird is definitely a strong follow-up that is very disconcerting in its own right. In fact, it’s my second favorite!

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One day a young man’s hiking in the woods when he runs across a fallen and injured man named Shiro Morguchi. Poor Shiro was out hiking alone when he fell and hurt himself so badly that he couldn’t move from his spot. He survived by rationing the food in his backpack for a month (!) before being discovered.

The good Samaritan decides to keep watch
The good Samaritan decides to keep watch
Ah, just another quiet night
Ah, just another quiet night
WHAT IN THE -- !
WHAT IN THE — !

Junji Ito flexes his sinister brilliance with this twisted tale. Really creepy stuff that will stay with you long after finishing the book.

Not one of my favorites; this one was just alright
Not one of my favorites; this one was just alright

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Magami Nanakuse is something of a prolific writer of trashy pulp fiction. Kaoru Koketsu is a quirky woman who enjoys her alone time and writing. She is such a big fan that she jumps at the chance to meet her hero, Magami. Well, you know what they say: Never meet your heroes.

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This one is definitely dark and weird. It’s more methodical than things that go bump in the night. Not bad, but not on the same tier as the previous two stories.

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Fragments of Horror concludes with Whispering Woman. This was a strong entry to close things out. Just from the artwork and title page alone, you know this is going to get pretty fucked up fast.

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Sometimes my wife accuses me of analysis paralysis, especially when we play competitive 2-player board games such as Splendor and Azul, but this young lady takes it to the extreme! So much so that Paul F’N Heyman would be proud.

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The caretakers constantly quit after a short while because they cannot handle Mayumi’s maddening indecisiveness. Until one day a mysterious woman named Mitsu takes the job and surpasses all expectations. On one hand, Mayumi’s dad is very grateful and appreciative.

Addressing the pink elephant in the room
You damn right there is
Gotta pay attention to the red flags, people!
Gotta pay attention to the red flags, people!
No we dont, sir...
No we don’t, sir…
Read the book yourself to find out what happens!
Read the book yourself to find out what happens!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Two months ago I had no idea who Junji Ito was. Now that I’ve been exposed to the world of manga, and having read one of Ito’s works, I am freaking HOOKED. This guy is amazing. The artwork, the panel layouts and the stories are all so haunting and have this urban legend quality to them. It’s perfect to read during Halloween season or during the autumn and winter months of the year. I can’t wait to read some of his other books such as Shiver and Smashed.

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I’m not ashamed to admit that while I read Fragments of Horror late at night with nothing but a flashlight, I was genuinely creeped out. Some of the imagery is so disturbing that I know they will remain with me for the long haul. The way Ito builds up tension in his stories is masterfully crafted. Like a skilled composer, Ito weaves his way through to the very psyche of our minds and souls. He holds our emotions in the dead center of his palm, and you can’t help but enjoy every second of it!

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While Fragments of Horror isn’t a perfect 5 star read due to a few weaker entries such as Futon, most of the stories are effective in taking you on this wild and satisfying ride. If you like tales of the macabre and don’t mind reading and seeing some truly fucked up stuff, then this is the book for you. Hell, it’s worth buying for Dissection-Chan alone!

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Typically, this time of the year on these colder and longer nights I love few things more than firing up horror movies galore and reading paperbacks from hell. I’ll have to add a new tradition to the mix: reading Junji Ito! His dark imagination and insidious creativity knows no bounds. Yup, when it comes to chills and thrills, Mr. Ito has got us covered! In blood and severed body parts, most likely.

4Stars

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (Stephen King)

Stephen King | April 25, 2017 | 320 pages
Stephen King | April 25, 2017 | 320 pages

I love October. Leaves falling. Longer nights. The crisp October air. Halloween season. Baseball playoffs! So imagine my excitement when I found out that Stephen King wrote a horror book related to baseball. I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s It and 11/22/63. So I had high hopes for The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Did King hit a home run, strike out or land somewhere in-between?

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THE BOY WHO LOVED RAY FOSSE

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Earlier this week, the sad news came out that Ray Fosse died after silently battling cancer for 16 years. Ray Fosse was the color commentator for my favorite team, the Oakland A’s, for 35 years from 1986-2021. I became a fan of the A’s in the mid ’90s when I was about 10. Ray also played for the Athletics during his 12 year MLB career. The news hit me hard, as I grew up listening to Ray Fosse. His personality and stories always made me laugh or taught me something about baseball (or even life in some cases). I invited him into my home 6 days each week from April to September. I will always think of Ray Fosse when I think of the A’s. Thanks for the memories, Ray. You’ll be missed!

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a nine-year-old girl named Trisha McFarland. She is a huge Red Sox fan. More specifically, she is in love with relief pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon. She goes on a hike on the Appalachian Trail with her older brother and recently divorced mother. The horror begins when she gets separated from her mom and brother. It may seem a little far-fetched at first… after all, how the hell do you lose your nine-year-old daughter on a hike? But the sad truth is these things do happen from time to time, and is certainly more realistic than killer clowns and vampires (as seen in two of Stephen King’s most popular novels — IT and Salem’s Lot).

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As I said, I’m an A’s guy through and through. Never cared for the Red Sox, especially in 2003 when they ousted my Athletics in the ALDS in dramatic (and painful) fashion. In fact, my A’s have carved out some traumatic playoff blunders over the past 20 years. At any rate, the Red Sox are currently battling the Houston Astros right now in the ALCS, and I find it fitting to review this book. It was nostalgic to come across some old familiar baseball names such as Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra. That was definitely a great team.

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Nothing says the ’90s like Surge soda. Oh yeah, this book will remind you of how ’90s things are.

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Castle Rock! A little easter egg for King fans as the man has written about the fictional Maine town of Castle Rock in over 12 of his books. Hell, it’s even got its own TV series on HULU.

One of many books featuring Castle Rock
One of many books featuring Castle Rock

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So we have a nine-year-old girl lost in the woods, with not much else but some Twinkies, Surge and her Walkman radio. This is where the Red Sox/Tom Gordon baseball elements come into play.

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I got a chuckle out of this V.C. Andrews shout out. V.C. Andrews was infamous for her teenage/young adult horror novels. Walk into any used bookstore (like Half Price Books) and browse their horror section. I guarantee you that V.C. Andrews will litter the front end of that section. Followed by Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Anne Rice and John Saul.

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I liked the father-daughter relationship and how they bonded over baseball. More specifically, how their love for the Red Sox/Tom Gordon gave them an extra avenue to connect. I’m an old baseball romantic — fuse baseball into any medium (books, movies, games) and I’m usually there.

Better save her, Flash
Better save her, Flash

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“Handsome yet evil Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter.” Great line, ha! You can feel Trisha’s love for baseball bleeding off the pages. Her hopes for survival seem to hinge on Tom Gordon’s shoulders as much as anything else. If Tom Gordon could seal the save, SHE too would be saved. Hope. It’s such a vital thing to have, even when it comes from the strangest source. Blind hope in this case, sure. But hey, a nine-year-old girl’s got to hang on to something, right?

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I guess Stephen King didn’t like Tino Martinez much, because he went out of his way to call Tino awful, awful. I like how Darryl Strawberry was simply referred to as the Straw Man.

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Throughout the book, Trisha is “hunted” by some ominous being. Is it an evil person or something supernatural? I won’t spoil it but it is revealed in the end.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

TomGordonBlurb

I was really hoping to like this book. It started out promising. I enjoyed the various baseball bits littered throughout. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more. Most of the book is about a nine-year-old girl navigating the Appalachian Trail by herself. A lot of goddamn trees and brooks. It got a little boring after a while, and then I felt like reading this became somewhat of a chore. I also felt that Trisha didn’t act like a nine-year-old girl. She felt more like early teens? Maybe King should have made her 12 or 13. It took me out of the story a little bit. Honestly, it was a dry read. I was quite disappointed. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon has its fair share of supporters and fans, but it simply didn’t work for me. I came pretty close to not finishing it at several points, but I powered through to see the reveal of the “sinister entity” at the end of the book. The premise of this story had me sold, but the execution left a lot to be desired. A booming smash double off the Green Monster? More like what looks to be a home run only to sail past Pesky’s Pole. Oh well. You can’t win ‘em all. As baseball fans know, there’s always next season.

2Stars

Remembering Bruce Coville

Gooseb4

Readers who grew up in the early-mid ’90s loving monsters and all things macabre often cite R.L. Stine as one of their favorite childhood authors. But even before Mr. Stine cranked out Goosebumps month after month, there was good ol’ Bruce Coville. If that name evokes nostalgic memories of cozy reads from ages ago, you’re not alone. I feel he’s been kind of forgotten over the course of time, so today, on the eve of October, I’d like to cast the spotlight on the author largely responsible for introducing me (and many others) back in the early ’90s to the fascinating world of sci-fi. His all-around strange stories were often times bewitching and mystifying. Without further ado, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of his most memorable work.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Almost up there with Lee and Springsteen! Almost :P

MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN SERIES

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Before Covid-19, there was “Coville-89″ (sorry). Bruce Coville had some other work published prior, but I feel it was really My Teacher Is An Alien, published in the summer of 1989, that put Bruce on the map. At the time I was only six, so I was too young to read it. But I remember my brother, two years my senior, reading it in the fall of ’89. Even though the book was clearly beyond my reading level at the time, the cover haunted me for years. Coville wrote 3 sequels, and you couldn’t help but spot them everywhere throughout the early ’90s. They were an absolute hit series with kids before Stine released his first Goosebumps book, Welcome to Dead House, in the summer of ’92.

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I ran across these bad boys at a second hand bookstore in 2019 and was greeted by a tidal wave of nostalgia. It was like stepping into a time machine and remembering that warm feeling of entering a classroom only to find the latest Scholastic book order buys waiting for you, sitting pretty on your desk. In some ways, it was like a mini Christmas morning.

For kids of the late '80s, this was an iconic series
For kids of the late ’80s, this was an iconic series

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Let’s talk about the art! They had a very distinct sci-fi flair that never left me. If I close my eyes, I can still see them as though they were right in front of my face.

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Looks like a dinner date with the Grinch and SpongeBob SquarePants! There was always a fantastical element to the illustrations found in Coville’s books that did well to transport you to a different planet.

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They were also a bit creepy! Stuff like this stays with you for a lifetime…

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Credit John Pierard for these imaginative and provocative illustrations! Later works would be illustrated by Coville’s wife, Katherine, although Pierard would pop back in here and there. Both did an amazing job accentuating Bruce’s madcap stories.

ALIEN ADVENTURES

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If it wasn’t already readily apparent that Bruce was obsessed with aliens, the fall of 1993 provided further confirmation with the release of Aliens Ate My Homework. This was a brand new series with new characters. You gotta love the artwork on those covers. Super ’90s! With, dare I say it, a hint of Lisa Frank but for boys.

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That age-old excuse “My dog ate my homework” was a huge line in the early ’90s, even though it originated many decades prior. So it was brilliant that Mr. Coville would adopt and modify it to Aliens Ate My Homework. It was an easy and instant gateway to another quadrilogy of zany sci-fi shenanigans.

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The artwork really added a lot of life to the books and made them even more fun to read.

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I remember some of the illustrations were pretty creepy and gave me the heebie-jeebies!

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The most disturbing thing about this picture is probably the adult diaper that the alien is wearing. There was definitely some legit “nightmare fuel” in some of the artwork.

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When the pictures weren’t mentally deranged, they took on a delightful and whimsical feel. Very adventurous, indeed.

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Looking back on it, the art in Coville’s books was truly amazing. The kind of stuff that any 10 year old kid would eat up.

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You can almost hear the crickets chirping the night away. You can almost feel that warm gentle summer breeze lightly brushing the back of your neck.

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Bruce Coville’s books always did a great job of capturing that magical mix of blending whimsical adventures with just the right amount of creepiness and heart.

THE MAGIC SHOP SERIES

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My Teacher Is An Alien wasn’t the only Bruce Coville book to hit stores back in the summer of 1989. The Monster’s Ring kicked off yet another quadrilogy for Mr. Coville. They weren’t as well known as his two aforementioned series, but they were still a blast.

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I love the depiction of the old shopkeeper. Decrepit and slightly hunched over, he’s smaller than even the kid. He’s definitely seen a thing or two. Who knows what skeletons are hiding in his closet…

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Michael J. Fox and 1985 called — they want Teen Wolf back! :P

CAMP HAUNTED HILLS

Monster of the Year is a standalone, though
Monster of the Year is a standalone, though

The first in the Camp Haunted Hills trilogy, How I Survived My Summer Vacation, was published in the summer of 1988 (a full year before even My Teacher Is An Alien). This was followed by Some of My Best Friends Are Monsters in 1989 and The Dinosaur That Followed Me Home in 1990. Monster of the Year is a standalone, but I had to throw it in there as it’s classic Coville. You could always count on him to conjure up stories of monsters and the macabre.

MONSTERS, ALIENS, GHOSTS — OH MY!

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Beginning in September of 1993, Bruce Coville released the first anthology in a longstanding spooky series that would span 12 volumes. The first was called Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters: Tales To Give You The Creeps. Coville curated various selections from different authors, ranging from veteran horror writers such as Joe R. Lansdale and Al Sarrantonio to beloved authors Jane Yolen and Jack Prelutsky. Of course, Coville made sure to include 3 of his own stories in this collection of 13 chilling tales. It was a no-brainer day 1 buy for me, and I must have read my well worn copy 50 times over. I haven’t read it in damn close to 30 years, so I’m not sure how well it holds up, but I certainly endeavor to find out one day soon.

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It covered everything: monsters, aliens, ghosts, nightmares, magic and spine tinglers. The 12th and final volume, Bruce Coville’s Book of Magic II: More Tales To Cast A Spell On You, was published in the summer of 1997. I fell out of reading by then, and I have only ever read the first books in the Monsters and Aliens edition. So I have a lot of catching up to do! I’m looking forward to it.

So many books, so little time...
So many books, so little time…

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I love how the sequel’s cover sees a role reversal. Callbacks and clever changes like such always score high in my book, no pun intended.

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I quickly snatched up Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens: Tales To Warp Your Mind when it came out in February of 1994. The cover art is just so badass. The color scheme, the huge bulky alien creatures, and the look of fear etched on the boy’s face as he knows danger is lurking right behind him… it hits all the feels! The sequel’s cover art — not so much.

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Really digging that wavy font on the GHOSTS portion of the title. Also enjoy the feature story of each volume being highlighted in a nice sleek yellow box. They definitely nailed down the aesthetics.

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Spine Tinglers, eh? I see we’re starting to run out of ideas but no matter. I’m still a sucker and will always be down for a mutant spider story!

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I’m not sure what the difference is between Nightmares and Spine Tinglers, but the more the merrier! That skeleton there does 1980s Zebra horror paperbacks and Ruby Jean Jensen proud.

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As if we haven’t jumped the shark already, here comes the Magic editions. These are probably more fantasy-based rather than horror-based, but I had to buy them anyway. Like I said, I’m a sucker.

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PAINT ME A PICTURE

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Like most Coville books, these anthologies had some really neat artwork. Since I read the first volume numerous times as a child, a lot of the images are burned in my mind. Just very spooky, eerie and imaginative illustrations that captivates as well as creep out…

This one left me unsettled as a kid
This one left me unsettled as a kid
Their zombie like nature gave me the willies
Their zombie like nature gave me the willies
Like straight out of a dark disturbing nightmare
Like straight out of a dark disturbing nightmare
"I'll show you the REAL Squid Games..."
“I’ll show you the REAL Squid Games…”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Although R.L. Stine stole much of his thunder, Bruce Coville was always one of my favorite writers when I was growing up in the early-mid ’90s. His writing was a bit more sophisticated than Stine’s. They’re quite different actually, if memory serves me right. Coville cranked out a number of memorable series and books. I haven’t read any of his works in close to 30 years, so I’m not entirely sure how well they hold up today. But his stuff will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s so wonderfully nostalgic and a reminder of a simpler time in my life. My favorite of his is the Book of anthology series. I’ve only read 2 of the 12, so there’s no telling how good (or bad) the other 10 are. But that’s all part of the fun when you get a chance to watch, play, listen to, or in this case read stuff you missed out on back in the day.

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Bruce Coville is thankfully still alive as of this writing. In the unlikely chance that Bruce sees this… I just want to say thanks for all the fun and spooky memories. I hope you come out with one last final Book of volume. It would be entry #13. A fitting number, indeed. But I already know what you would say. “Actually, I did write a volume #13 but alas… the aliens ate it.” Touché, Bruce. Touché.

Any anthology with Ray Bradbury is a winner! :)
Any anthology with Ray Bradbury is a winner! :)

Summer Spirit (Elizabeth Holleville)

Elizabeth Holleville | July 7, 2020 | 262 pages
Elizabeth Holleville | July 7, 2020 | 262 pages

Being that it’s Friday the 13th as well as the fact that summer is quickly winding down (I resume teaching on Monday for the first time in-person since that fateful Friday the 13th of March 2020 when COVID-19 shut everything down), I can’t think of a better time than right now to review Summer Spirit. This book will always have a special place in my heart for 3 reasons. 1). My wife bought this for me as one of my birthday gifts in late July. 2). It marked the first graphic novel I’ve read, which was something I wanted to do since I got back into reading in early 2019. 3). Fittingly so, it marks the first graphic novel review on RVGFanatic. So without further ado, let’s dim the lights, bust out the Ouija board and take a closer look at this quirky and creepy coming-of-age graphic novel…

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Summer? Check. Spooky supernatural shit? Check. Coming-of-age tropes? Check. Yep, the moment I saw this book in the store for the first time I knew I had to get it. The pastel colors and unique art style really drew me in. It’s not like many of the other “me too” graphic novels you typically see lining up the shelves at your local book store. There is a distinct and fun flavor to this one!

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Louise is looking forward to spending another lazy summer at her grandma’s house with her cousins. Reading endless stacks of comic books, chilling at the beach, feeling the sand and water between her toes. Yup, this was going to be another awesome summer. Little did she know that she would get way more than she bargained for!

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Some interesting subplots involving the grandma are hinted at, although never fully explored. Admittedly a bit of a missed opportunity. My imagination filled in the gaps, but I wished that the author had flesh out grandma a little bit more.

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There are quite a bit of boxes where there’s no text at all. Elizabeth Holleville did a great job at creating an unsettling and uneasy atmosphere. You could just feel that something off was lingering in the air… perhaps wafting around the corner just beyond the scope of your vision…

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A sense of mystery and creepiness pervades throughout the story. You’re just waiting for that shoe to drop!

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There’s definitely something disturbing about all those closeup shots that focus on some rather iffy artifacts. It’s like I know something just ain’t quite right…

Even Louise can sense that there's something in the air...
Even Louise can sense that there’s something in the air…
Hey, that's grandma... but who the hell is that?!
Hey, that’s grandma… but who the hell is that?!
Poor Lisa?? Wait a second here -- what the hell happened to her?!
Poor Lisa?? Wait a second here — what the hell happened?!
If looks could kill, right?
I don’t like the way Lisa stares into my soul…

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Slumber parties and summer go together like ghost stories and a campfire. This stuff will take you right back to your adolescent years. It personally brings back a lot of fond memories as my friends and I spent countless summer nights regaling one another with tales of the macabre.

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Oh damn, say no more. The Koreans know their horror shit for sure!

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A how-to guide to seeing ghosts, eh? Go on… I’m listening…

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That’s very true… and quite unsettling when you think about it. Even more so when there’s a creepy ass figure right behind ya!

Legit nightmare fuel. I've got the heebie-jeebies
Legit nightmare fuel. I’ve got the heebie-jeebies
Why do I feel like this can only end badly?
Why do I feel like this can only end badly?

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This is the kind of thing that you’ll never forget. It’s like one of those urban legends one of your friends shared back in the ’90s that sounds plausible enough to the point where you don’t want to test it out… in fears that it just might come true.

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What did she see? I can’t spoil that for ya… you’ll have to read it to find out. One of my favorite things about Summer Spirit is how surprisingly spooky it all is. I almost wish they went even further and made this a graphic novel with an adult audience in mind.

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I absolutely adore the artwork in this graphic novel. It’s very striking. Louise and her cousins are heading out to town for a nice little girls’ night out.

DON'T EVEN THINK OF TURNING AROUND!
DON’T EVEN THINK OF TRYING IT!
Gawd damn it girl. Listen, PLEASE
Gawd damn it girl. Listen, PLEASE. Don’t turn around!
GAHH! The Korean friend wasn't messing around
GAHHH!  The Korean friend wasn’t messing around
You and me both, girl
You and me both, girl
But can she be trusted... ?
But can she be trusted… ?
More acid trip visuals abound
More acid trip visuals abound

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Ah, how I love the summer time. Those peaceful idyllic summer nights are simply unbeatable. Crickets chirpings, stars out in full force, the calm serenity of a summer evening. No school, no homework and just all the time in the world to play video games and watch horror movies galore with your best pal. But I digress…

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Fair warning by the way… Summer Spirit shockingly has a few risqué scenes. Definitely not for kids! The picture above is one of the tamer ones, actually. The more explicit scenes totally caught me off guard as I thought this would be a coming-of-age “bubbly” story with supernatural happenings. It’s actually quite dark and dour. I mean, it’s not hardcore horror by any means, but it’s not suitable for kids under 13, either.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I read Summer Spirit in one sitting. It took me around an hour to zip through the book’s 262 pages. There are a lot of pages with very little text or none at all, so it makes for an extremely fast read. Sometimes I wished the author had fleshed out some details a bit more. Other times I loved the minimalism. The artwork catches the eye and I love the pastel-y look. The story moves in some interesting directions. A few moments where it does feel a bit disjointed knock it down a peg or two. But overall, I quite enjoyed it. It was a fun summer read with more than a hint of uneasiness permeating throughout.

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Best of all, Summer Spirit does what a good book should: it tickled my imagination and transported me to a fantastical world different from my own. I’ll read many more graphic novels to come, but I’ll never forget this one for all its weirdness and a foreboding sense of impending dread. It’s got its share of flaws but I could easily see myself revisiting this book several times down the road during those glorious summer seasons. A lot more unfolds after Lisa and Louise meet. Find out for yourself! As for me, I’ll enjoy the last bittersweet remnants of summer while I still can. Farewell once again, summer. Until we meet again…

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Night of the Crabs (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | July 2, 1976 | 144 pages
Guy N. Smith | July 2, 1976 | 144 pages

45 years ago, during that very hot summer of 1976, Night of the Crabs was published and Guy N. Smith’s life would never be the same. Although he had a few horror novels published prior, it was Night of the Crabs that truly put Mr. Smith on the map. As one can surmise from the title, classic literature this ain’t. Oh no, it’s pulpier than hand squeezed orange juice and cheesier than grated Parmesan. And therein lies the beauty for those who are not opposed — or, better yet, inclined — to reading some B-Movie level pulp horror fiction.

Just mindless turn your brain off fun
Damn, 45 years!

In a 2017 reprint, Guy N. Smith reflected on that scorching summer of ’76.

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Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away on December 24, 2020. He was 81. I’m sure he’s looking down, smoking his pipe and grinning at the fact that his little book is now celebrating 45 years!

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Guy’s hilarious dedication. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!

RIDING THE WAVE

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Peter Benchley’s Jaws was published on February 1, 1974. The movie was released on June 20, 1975. Both the book and film were huge successes. The Rats was published in November of 1974 and was a massive hit for James Herbert. These books no doubt inspired Guy N. Smith to write about giant mutated murderous crustaceans. Heck, the front cover of Night of the Crabs proudly declares, “In the tradition of THE RATS.” Just in case anyone thought otherwise.

Spotted at a Rite Aid on July 14, 2021. The impact and legacy of JAWS lives on to this day!
Spotted at a Rite Aid magazine stand on 7/14/21.
The impact and legacy of JAWS lives on to this day!

IT ALL BEGAN WITH AN INNOCENT SWIM

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As so often was the formula for many horror books, the first page introduces 2 characters whose eventual and unfortunate demise becomes the start of a nasty chain reaction. The 2 unlucky victims here are Ian Wright and Julie Coles, a pair of hormonal teenage lovers. On a side note, I can’t help but love the British lexicon — “holiday-maker” gets me every single time. Good ol’ Guy.

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Buddy, you wish it was just a cramp! The crabs are craving some soft tender human flesh…

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Compared to some of Guy’s later works, Night of the Crabs is fairly tame by comparison. Although, Ian Wright might say otherwise — if he could, that is.

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We soon meet marine biologist Cliff Davenport, Ian’s uncle. Ian and Julie work for Uncle Cliffy, who becomes increasingly concerned when they fail to show up for work. He begins to fear something more than just “sexual procrastinations.” Perhaps they were involved in some sort of road accident. Before his mind can race to another scenario even worse, there’s a rapping at his door. A pair of officers. Oh bloody hell…

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This part is such a heartbreaker. The stark contrast between the relief of the officers and Cliff’s real emotions behind closed doors is so jarring. The air of finality that closes this chapter is crushing. And thus begins our protagonist’s journey at uncovering the truth…

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It isn’t long before Cliff meets Pat Benson. Not surprisingly, the two become more than acquaintances with a shared mission. They discover the giant crabs and know that no one will believe them without any proof. It’s time to concoct a plan to secure said proof. I love that this was written in 1976 and not 2021. Had it been the latter, acquiring proof would have been as simple as whipping out your phone. Imagine, mutated killer crabs on TikTok! But back then, with far less technology, things were a lot harder! There’s a palpable sense of struggle and danger that exists because it was written in the age of long ago.

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Guy’s writing… it’s not Hemingway but I do find there’s a certain charm to it. His sex-related scenes are perhaps a bit clumsy, admittedly. But he redeems himself with paragraphs like the last one above. I’ve read a lot of crappy to below average horror writers — Guy N. Smith is easily better than the dreck that tried to capitalize on the horror boom of the ’80s.

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King Crab, being even bigger than the other crabs (who are said to be the size of cows), is the leader of the cast. Smith portrays King Crab in particular as being a crafty, sentient creature. As if a pissed off giant crab in command of an endless army isn’t bad news enough, now you add brains to the equation and things quickly become catastrophic. And as you can see from the picture above, King Crab is absolutely vicious. Yikes!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Will Cliff Davenport and Pat be able to save the day? What fate will befall King Crab and his minions? Read the book to find out! Guy N. Smith went on to write EIGHT sequels, with the last being The Charnel Caves released in 2019. It’s his most popular series and this first entry is arguably his most (in)famous book. I had a good time with it and zipped through it in just a few days. It’s nothing spectacular, just decent mindless fun. If you’ve never read Guy N. Smith before, know that he’s very direct and to the point. He wrote in a day and age when horror books were not yet stuffed with background detail nor did they have to be 300+ pages. Guy gets you in and out. It makes for a super fast read that you don’t have to commit a lot of time to, or clear out your calendar for. Night of the Crabs is far from his best work but being the book that really launched his career and put him on the map, it’s a must read for any Guy N. Smith enthusiast. Night of the Crabs is the equivalent of a popcorn B-Movie. Or, in the literary world, a “beach read.” How fitting. Now, only eight more Crabs books to read…

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

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Remembering Guy N. Smith

Bats, snakes and alligators -- OH MY!
Bats, snakes and crabs — OH MY!

2 summers ago on eBay I stumbled upon — quite by happenstance — a trashy horror novel by the name of CANNIBALS. The cover art was so wildly compelling, graphic and politically incorrect that resistance proved futile. Luckily, I was the winning bidder and devoured Cannibals (no pun intended) as soon as it arrived. It was my first foray into the twisted and macabre mind of Guy N. Smith, who upon further research I discovered was a rather prolific writer of pulpy horror fiction. Mr. Smith thrived in the ’70s and ’80s when paperbacks from hell were at the peak of their powers, and Cannibals became the first in a long line of Guy N. Smith books that I soon started collecting. Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away at the age of 81 on December 24, 2020. Similar to Richard Laymon, Guy N. Smith was one of the biggest driving forces in my horror fiction fandom. It’s only fitting then to highlight some of his work and commemorate the man who had one hell of a career. Whether he wrote about killer animals or doomsday plague-infested nightmare scenarios, Guy N. Smith was a true master of the macabre.

CRABS R US

Guys first horror book was a real howl sorry)
Guy’s first horror book was a real howl (sorry)

Born on November 21, 1939, Guy Newman Smith has published approximately 4,000 articles and wrote over 120 books during his prolific career. His first horror novel, Werewolf By Moonlight, was published in 1974. However, it was Night of the Crabs, released in 1976, that gave Guy N. Smith his first big hit. Based off James Herbert’s The Rats (the cover admits as much), Night of the Crabs would go on to spawn no less than SEVEN sequels. The last of which was published on June 22, 2019 as The Charnel Caves. Talk about milking a series based on killer mutated crabs!

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Night of the Crabs was re-released in 2017 with a new introduction penned by the legend himself.

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John Steinbeck this aint. Just good ol campy fun!
John Steinbeck this ain’t. Just good ol’ campy fun!

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Guy’s hilarious dedication in Night of the Crabs. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!

You wont find ANYTHING like this any more...
You won’t find ANYTHING like this these days…
Here are just some of the Crabs books that I own
Here’s most of my Crabs collection
I love this variant cover of KILLER CRABS
An awesome variant cover of KILLER CRABS. Stylish!
You just dont see cool shit like this any more
Totally cheesy yet totally irresistible :P

MORE THAN JUST CRABS

Gruesome!
Gruesome!

Although perhaps best known for his Crabs series, Guy N. Smith wrote about more than just murderous crustaceans. Take, for example, his brutal take on cannibalism with the aptly (and creatively) named Cannibals. Do not read it before eating! Trust me on that one.

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If rain-soaked creepy carnivals and possessed evil wooden dolls float your boat, you might want to check out Guy’s Manitou Doll. Personally, I found it slightly disappointing but your mileage may vary. Undeniably striking and amazing artwork, though!

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According to the summary on Goodreads, Bloodshow is about “a ruined castle in the Highlands that serves as a blatant tourist trap. Its dungeons are stuffed with fake horrors. The Werewolf, the Cannibal, the Torturer, the Executioner, the Vampire… all are worked by electricity for cheap thrills. At first. But real evil has lurked for centuries beneath the vaults. Now the Laird of Benahee, Satan’s undead henchman, rises to take his revenge, using tricks to inflict ultimate horror in all its forms. And in this domain of the damned even death is not the end…” Sounds absolutely vicious and bonkers. In other words, sounds like Guy N. Smith.

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I just bought this book the other day! Can’t wait to read it. The Festering sounds like a classic B-Movie in the best way possible. One of those trashy VHS horror movie boxes you couldn’t help but gawk at while perusing the horror section at your local rental store back in the late ’80s. “For Mike and Holly Mannion, the tumbledown cottage in a quiet country village seemed the ideal retreat from the rat race. But when a team of contractors is hired to drill a water-well, a deadly plague is unleashed — a macabre, terrifying entity that had lurked in the bowels of the earth for centuries. The Festering Death had risen from its burial place.” Sounds like a fun lazy Sunday afternoon read!

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When it comes to “when animals attack” stories, Guy N. Smith was pretty damn reliable. From the ones I’ve read thus far, most of them hit the mark. Some of that stuff is legit nightmare fuel! I haven’t read Abomination yet, but I’ve heard this is one of his better works.

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Alligators is currently my second favorite Guy N. Smith book, trailing only Cannibals by a small margin. That book is relentless, sadistic and demented. That one scene with the family stuck in bed with the little leaping snapping baby alligator haunts me to this day. Snakes, on the other hand, was the first Guy N. Smith killer animal book that didn’t quite work for me. It’s not bad but it felt a little paint-by-numbers, especially when compared to Alligators. Still decent, but definitely more middle-of-the-road fare.

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The savagery continues in Throwback, where much of the population is somehow reverted to more primitive means, with a few “lucky” unaffected trying to survive the mayhem. Carnivore flips the script — the hunted now becomes the hunter. Wildlife gets its revenge on a cursed estate.

Another creepy and striking cover
Another creepy and striking cover

The Island is about a haunted island plagued with a sordid history. 200 years later, a lonely widower moves there and all manner of madness hits the fan when the past comes barging back.

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Thirst follows the exploits of chemist Ron Blythe, the man responsible for creating the world’s deadliest weed killer spray. While being transported in a huge lorry, it accidentally crashes into a local reservoir, poisoning the entire water supply of Birmingham. “Now with thousands of people suffering and dying, his conscience forces him to find an antidote. Unfortunately, he gets stranded inside Birmingham, now sealed off, and full of anarchists, escape criminals and weed killer-poisoned sufferers from the Thirst, all of which turn the city into a hell inside England.”

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I love the back covers for these old nasties! Thirst was originally published in 1980. You won’t find novels like this in book stores today.

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One of his earliest efforts and arguably his most (in)famous novel outside of the Crabs series, The Slime Beast is what sleazy pulpy horror fiction is all about. The summary is enough to evoke nostalgic memories of staying up late as a kid watching low budget monster horror movies. “Professor Lowson is searching the Wash for King John’s lost treasure. Instead he awakes a reptilian creature buried in the mud, which seems to have arrived on this planet in a meteorite. It starts wandering around, killing and eating anybody it comes across. Lowson wants to capture it alive but his companions want to kill it before it kills anyone else. Soon the locals are involved — there can only be a catastrophic finale.”

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The Sucking Pit sports a proud blurb in which Stephen King once deemed it “the all-time pulp horror classic title.” This is, admittedly, a bit of tricky advertising. Title can easily be interpreted as book, as in this is a classic book. But King literally meant title. The Sucking Pit. A great title, indeed. But a great book? Your mileage may vary.

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It’s as suitably ridiculous as the title would suggest. Good ol’ Guy. His seedy material would never fly in today’s politically correct world. These sadistic stories serve as mini time machines, transporting the reader back to a relic age when there were no restrictions and no holds barred. A fair warning though, and this goes for Richard Laymon as well: after reading any one of Guy’s works, I find I need a palate cleanser. Don’t read his stuff back to back because you may tumble down a rabbit hole and never resurface. His twisted tales can get pretty damn depraved. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya…

DISNEY?!

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In 2019, while rummaging at a local Goodwill, I came across a Guy N. Smith book. But it wasn’t a horror book… oh no… it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

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Yes, believe it or not, in addition to his horror novels, he also wrote various Disney adaptations. What a funny guy, that Guy!

How do you go from that to that? I have no words...
How do you go from that to THAT?!?  I have no words…

A PROPHET??

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On March 27, 2020, Guy N. Smith wrote an interesting post on his website. It related to the Corona Virus and his old 1978 book, Bats Out of Hell. Take a look…

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Wow. Please, may none of Guy’s other horror novels ever come to fruition. If I ever see a giant crab clicking its way to shore, I’m booking it. Screw that shit!

Love the font and colors used here
Love the font and colors used here

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This is the comment I left him on that same post. Sadly, a day before Christmas 2020 Guy N. Smith left the world due to a UTI and complications related to COVID-19. Mr. Smith was 81 years old. So sad at the irony that COVID-19 would take him out.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Man, The Myth, The Legend
The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Guy N. Smith’s legacy lives on. He was huge on crafting books about apocalyptic plagues and killer nasties. For better or worse, no one churned them out at the rate quite like he did in the ’70s and ’80s. It was a unique time in horror history, one in which we’ll probably never experience again. Thankfully, we can still experience them by going through the incredible backlog of books that he has afforded us horror hounds. I currently own 17 Guy N. Smith books, and have not read most of them yet. It will be a (guilty) pleasure to go through each of them in the years to come. His books do pop up on eBay frequently, so check some out if you’re into pulpy horror fiction. He isn’t the greatest horror writer who ever lived and probably not even close, but he sure was damn entertaining. Not a bad legacy to leave behind, really.

Farewell Guy. Thank you for all your crazy books
Farewell, Guy. Thank you for all your crazy books!

BEAST QUEST!

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Remember the simple days of childhood when books such as The Bailey School Kids, Magic Tree House and Goosebumps were a constant staple at your local libraries and book stores? I love longstanding series that stretch on longer than a summer’s day. There’s always another book to consume, another adventure to embark on and another chapter to be read. Earlier this year, by a random stroke of luck, I stumbled upon a UK kid series known as BEAST QUEST. Written by various authors under the pen name of Adam Blade, Beast Quest made its debut in 2007 with Ferno the Fire Dragon. Amazingly, Beast Quest rages on to this very day, with new entries scheduled for the summer of 2021 and beyond. As of this writing, the series spans over 150 books and has sold over 20 million copies! Off the top of my head, I don’t know if there’s a chapter book series more prolific than Beast Quest. It certainly warrants a closer look, so let’s delve right in.

Peering in for a deeper look...
Peering in for a deeper look…

WHAT IS BEAST QUEST?

Tom and Elenna are aided by Storm and Silver
Tom and Elenna are aided by Storm and Silver

Beast Quest follows the adventures of young Tom and his friend, Elenna. They live in the land of Avantia, which was once guarded by 6 beasts. But peace never lasts very long. For a jealous and evil wizard roams the land, seeking his chance to rule with an iron fist. Malvel’s black magic has corrupted the guardians, turning them against the denizens of Avantia. It’s up to Tom and Elenna to free the beasts and save Avantia.

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Each book in the main series is a little over 100 pages and can be read in an hour or less. The Special Editions hover around the 190 page mark. Admittedly, Beast Quest is rather unoriginal and full of tropes. But it does serve as a perfect gateway and introductory point to the world of sci-fi fantasy and quasi horror for younger readers.

DISCOVERING THE SERIES

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Earlier this February I was browsing Target.com for a book with the name “beast” in it. It led me to these badass Beast Quest covers. I’d never seen it before, so I did a quick Google search to find out more. I was sold and suddenly found myself on eBay. Out of wild curiosity, I did a completed items search. I almost wish I hadn’t…

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Earlier that SAME evening, someone bought this for just $45! It was a Buy It Now, and the seller listed it earlier that day. I missed it by mere hours! I even messaged her to let know I was interested in buying it if the buyer didn’t come through. She said she’d keep me in mind but I knew it was futile. The buyer paid for it and that was that. Man, if only I had discovered the series a little bit earlier that day!

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But life has a funny way of working out sometimes. A few days later I went back to the completed search and found an auction selling 80 (!) books that ended in December 2020 with 0 bids. I sent her a message, figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask. Turns out she took the auction down because shipping was too costly. I offered to buy 60 of the 80 books (#19-78 — I recently bought #1-18) and asked if she could fit them in 2 medium or large priority mail boxes. As luck would have it, they were a perfect fit in 2 medium boxes. Best of all, she gave it to me for only $50!

Oooh, ahhh
You can literally see lights reflecting off the box. Crazy!

Opening this felt like Christmas morning! I love what a snug fit they were and how the bright colors bounce off the box like a shimmering treasure chest full of shiny gold coins.

The second box was another snug perfect fit
“I SAID OOOOOH I’M BLINDED BY THE LIGHTS…”

She even threw in Special Editions #1 and #2 for free. Because what does a series with well over 100 books in the main lineup need? Spin-offs and side entries, of course. Even better, the books still had the collector cards tucked in at the back. Most tear the cards out, so imagine my shock and joy when the books arrived in very good condition AND still had their trading cards intact. I truly lucked out. So glad I missed the first auction by mere hours! I’ve had some crazy memorable eBay dealings in my day; this one definitely ranks up there.

GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL

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Each book comes with 4 trading cards (or a bookmark and 2 cards) tucked in at the back of the book. Like I said, if you’re buying used copies then odds are that the cards will be missing. So be aware of that. Also, some later entries stopped featuring cards (bummer).

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Cards highlight the big baddies, secondary foes, fellow allies, places of note and even weapons and items. The cards aren’t anything to go wild about (there is nothing on the back — a small missed opportunity), but they’re still a fun bonus that I’m sure as a kid I would have loved immensely.

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Also note that the US editions came with no cards. Only certain UK editions did.

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Just another reason why the UK imprint is far better than the North American one!

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This is exactly the kind of cool shit I would have loved peddling with my friends on the school playground before the morning bell rings.

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This is most likely what you’d find when buying these books second hand. Torn out cards at the back. It’s a damn near minor miracle when they’re not. To receive 60 books with their cards intact was a pleasant surprise!

THE ART AND SOUL OF BEAST QUEST

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But even better than the cards are all the amazing illustrations littered throughout each book. There’s cool artwork every couple pages or so. This makes it a super easy read and the pictures — especially those of the beasts and monsters — add a lot of charm and quality to the overall package.

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Most of the art is quite striking, containing a pseudo anime style. Although not credited anywhere within the books, the illustrations were drawn by Steve Sims. With pictures like this and the collector cards, it’s no wonder this series was/is such a smash hit in the UK. It’s almost everything a 7 year old could ever want from a book series.

Shout out to you, good sir!
Shout out to you, good sir!

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I’m 37 and the kid in me absolutely loves this. I can only imagine how much more if I were 7!

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An ancient scaly sea dragon raging war with a prehistoric killer mutant shark? TAKE MY DISPOSABLE INCOME!

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Of the 3 books I’ve read thus far, the prose is decent enough. The writing isn’t the best in the world but it’s not overly simplistic, either. The art, however, is what makes Beast Quest truly stand out.

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“What a shame there were no toys as well,” said no parent ever.

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Beast Quest does remind me a bit of Monster In My Pocket from the early ’90s.

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Shoot, with all the different monsters they created, they could easily have had their own Beast Quest action figures.

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Beast Quest also reminds me slightly of one of my all-time favorites, Battle Beasts. Hard to believe that was almost 35 years ago now!

How I adored thee...
How I adored thee…

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Come to think of it, a weekly animated series would have been a smash success as well.

This monster seems vaguely familiar... hmmm
This monster seems vaguely familiar…
From INHUMANOIDS
Ah yes! From INHUMANOIDS (1986)

THE VIDEO GAME

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Although they never capitalized on a toy lineup or a cartoon series, there is a Beast Quest video game. Released originally in 2016, the game is available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam. The Switch version goes for $29.99 but I’ve seen it on sale for $10 from time to time. Might pick it up down the road once it hits $5. Reviews aren’t too favorable but your mileage may vary.

Click on HERE to view the game trailer
Click HERE to view the game trailer

USA VS. UK

Superior UK imprints on the left, US on the right
Superior UK imprints on the left, US on the right

Scholastic published the first 24 books in North America from March 2007 to October 2012. If you want book #25 on, you have to buy the UK editions. But my recommendation is to skip the US editions altogether. The UK entries are far superior in every which way. Not only do they come with trading cards (if they weren’t already yanked out), but the illustrations are night and day…

US example
US
UK example
UK

See what I mean? It’s not even close! But the biggest offender of all…

Comes with no picture of the monster
The US ones are missing a lot of the cool illustrations
Comes with a badass monster drawing
No doubt, best to just stick with the UK set
Seriously cannot go wrong with the UK ones
Seriously cannot go wrong with the UK ones

SPECIAL EDITIONS AND MORE

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As previously mentioned, there are books in the series that deviate off the main path. You have Special Bumper editions, Battle of the Beasts (only 3 were written) and even a Choose Your Own Path spin-off.

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There are also books highlighting the beasts and a special Ultimate Story collection that features color pictures.

Pretty neat to focus just on the various monsters
Pretty neat to focus just on the various monsters
Great artwork, colors and the writing isnt bad!
Great artwork, vibrant colors and the writing ain’t shabby!
Super fun for monster fans
Colors really made the artwork all the more impressive

MY COLLECTION

They look so awesome on a book shelf!
They look so awesome on a book shelf!

I own the first 110 books (Series 1-21) but am missing some entries from Series 21-25. I never buy them new so it’s just a matter of waiting to fill in the gaps. I also own most of the 24 Special Editions. #25, Arkano the Stone Crawler, is set for release on July 27, 2021. This is, pardon the pun, a beast of a series with no end in sight.

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Another look, but with the box sets flipped around. I also own the spin-off series, Sea Quest. That series retired after “only” 39 books. It features entirely new characters and its own universe. But yeah, definitely just an excuse for “Adam Blade” to mass produce more easy to sell books to young children. I haven’t read Sea Quest yet, but one dad on Goodreads and his son said that they actually like it a lot better than Beast Quest because of “better world building and some nifty gadgets.”

I love those numbers! It boggles the mind :P
I love those numbers! It boggles the mind :D

It’s insane how many books are in this series. It’s almost like The Simpsons of the chapter book world in that there is simply no end in sight. It’s very possible that the quality dips and fluctuates over the course of time (inevitable with so many ghost writers in the series). I’m sure there’s bound to be a point of fatigue and saturation but this series scratches my OCD itch to collect ‘em all. My wife is probably shaking her head as she reads this :P

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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So far I’ve read the first 3 books (only 228 left to go!) and honestly, I had a blast with each one. Granted, it’s only the beginning so everything is still novel at this point. Although I can already see there’s a certain formula. It opens with the titular beast causing havoc, then shifts to our main protagonist, Tom, and his quest to conquer the beast — which he does each time, shocking, I know! And when Tom does defeat the beast, he gains a special item, skill or ability that comes into play in the following book. Like I said, classic literature this ain’t, my friend. But if you’re looking to introduce a fun book series that features sci-fi fantasy and scary monsters to a reluctant young reader, Beast Quest does well to scratch that itch. In fact, I bought the series with the hope to one day read it to my future kid(s). Boy or girl, they’re going to love hearing it read aloud to them around 5 or 6. And by 7 or 8 start devouring on their own before moving on to more advanced, complicated stories. Man, if only this series was around in 1990 when I was 7. Maybe I’ll be able to live vicariously through my future child while helping to cultivate their sense of wonder and imagination. One can only hope so.

Sepron has no legs. But this series does. Sorry, Ill see my way out
Sepron has no legs. But you know what does have legs?
Beast Quest. 150+ books and counting. Serious legs!
Sorry, I’ll see my way out…

Finding Orion (John David Anderson)

John David Anderson | April 7, 2020 | 352 pages
John David Anderson | April 7, 2020 | 352 pages

When I rediscovered my love for books and reading back in early 2019, I was originally on the hunt for vintage horror paperbacks and kids’ chapter books that I missed out on in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. I didn’t care for today’s middle grade chapter books. Somewhere along the line though, my mind was opened to them and I’m so thankful that happened. As much as I adore the classics from long ago, a lot of them are very dated and not all too relevant today. Nowadays you have books featuring characters from all walks of life learning all kinds of different lessons in ways that are very relatable to present day issues. It wasn’t long before I discovered John David Anderson, who wrote Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted, two highly touted middle grade books. I instantly fell in love with the cover of Finding Orion and did something I rarely do — I bought it brand new. Sometimes you see a cover, read a summary and you just know. You just know that the book will resonate with you and speak to you somehow. Now sometimes that doesn’t always happen and you end up being sorely disappointed, but I’m happy to say that was definitely not the case for Finding Orion. John David Anderson is a talented writer. This is a simple but beautiful story about family and the ties that bond us. It’s also about finding yourself as well as keeping an open mind. Because when you do, anything is possible. Such as forgiveness… and redemption.

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I was already sold by the hauntingly atmospheric cover and the classic coming of age premise, but a blurb praised it for evoking The Wonder Years and Willy Wonka had me ready to plop down the full $8 asking price. The Wonder Years is my all-time favorite show and I always loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so for me it was a no-brainer. Finding Orion is definitely more Wonder Years than Willy Wonka (80/20 I’d say), but the comparison is justifiable.

Can't go wrong with either!
Can’t go wrong with either!

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE CIRCUS

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Rion is your typical 12 year old boy, but his family is anything but. Their last name is conveniently Kwirk (and oh how quirky they are). Ri’s dad concocts fried chicken jelly beans for a living. His oldest sister, Cass, is a dramatic fencing thespian. His youngest sister, Lyra, is a walking dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia and atlas all rolled up into one. Yes, these are tropes. And in lesser hands, it could easily be an eye roller. But John David Anderson somehow makes it work.

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That line wasn’t meant to be creepy, but it’s way creepier than “There’s a family in our driveway.”

Yeah, a clown on the porch is way scarier
Yeah, a clown on the porch is way scarier

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Turns out the clown is a friend, not a fiend. His name is Chuckles McLaughsalot. And he’s here to deliver a good old fashioned singing telegram from beyond the grave…

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Papa Kwirk was definitely the quirkiest of Kwirks.

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The story is told from Rion’s point of view; it’s in these poignant moments Finding Orion feels a LOT like The Wonder Years. It touches on some pretty deep topics, as many modern middle grade books tend to do. It’s one of the many reasons why I love middle grade fiction so much. They’re easy to read but can delve surprisingly deep.

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Loss is a natural part of life, and everyone copes and grieves in their own unique way. Rion is very honest about his conflicted feelings. Life, as well as death, can often times be messy.

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Dad’s relationship with Papa Kwirk was… strained… to say the very least. Finding Orion is as much about Rion’s dad and his relationship with Papa Kwirk as it is about Rion and his dad. I love the multigenerational aspect of this story.

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It quickly became apparent that Papa Kwirk was huge in his community and touched many lives in different ways that the Kwirks were not fully aware of. It seemed as though everyone knew who Frank Kwirk was… except for his very own family.

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But before the Kwirks can head home, Aunt Gertie drops a bombshell: per Papa Kwirk’s final wishes, his ashes have been hidden in various places and must be collected before he can be properly (and wholly) sent off. This leads to an outrageous scavenger hunt!

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Rion’s reflections are the best part of the book. You can almost hear Daniel Stern’s voiceover.

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Ri and his sisters are far from best friends, but they have their bonding moments throughout that just makes one go, “awww.” And may very well conjure a few childhood memories of hanging out with your siblings on a nice quiet summer evening…

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Manny, Rion’s best friend and stand-in for Paul Pfeiffer, appears throughout the story in the form of phone call conversations.

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I love how some of the chapter titles are far out there, but make perfect sense after reading them.

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Lyra’s vast vocabulary leads to moments like such.

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The unrealistically uber intelligent little kid trope is way overdone but as I said earlier, John David Anderson manages to pull it off with some charm. Besides, you do learn some cool random facts along the way!

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There are some nostalgic ’80s callbacks sprinkled throughout the book. Dad is sometimes known as Optimus Prime, for example. One of the Kwirks’ pit stops on their quest to find Papa Kwirk’s remains leads them to an old timey ice cream parlor. And suddenly, the name of this chapter makes perfect sense.

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I appreciated the various Garbage Pail Kids references in the book. Talk about nostalgic!

Now that's fucking art
Now that’s fucking art

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That’s one mighty tough challenge. Are the Kwirks up to it? Hopefully none of them are diabetic.

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Humor can fall flat sometimes in a book. Like the author was trying too hard. Or the jokes simply miss. Finding Orion is humorous in all the right ways when it needs to be, and is more introspective when the occasion calls for it. It’s a solid balance that keeps the book light-hearted enough while tackling some pretty heavy topics with the sort of gravity that such issues deserve. I can picture a lot of the scenes, like the one above, as if it were a family movie trending on NetFlix.

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It gets a bit silly at times, but that’s exactly how kids behave. And even though a lot of these moments have an air of “I’ve read or seen something like this 100 times before,” it still remains charming and somehow feels fresh, if that makes any sense. It speaks to John David Anderson’s ability to make the reader feel invested and above all else, entertained.

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I won’t spoil the rest of the book, but I have to share this last one. I could just picture this in my head like a movie scene. It actually made me chuckle a bit, rather than just garner a smile. Good stuff.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Finding Orion starts out a little slow at first, but quickly kicks into gear. And from there, you have a quirky fun-filled family adventure. It’s got a bit of a road trip vibe to it, loads of scavenger hunt shenanigans and a ton of heart. Whether it was making me chuckle or ponder about my own relationship with my pops over the years, Finding Orion was a joy to read. It felt like a modern day Wonder Years episode in many ways. Family is a huge theme, as well as forgiveness and teamwork. As it is in real life, forgiveness often leads to redemption. If reading any of this made you feel like this book would be right up your alley, then I suggest strapping in with the Kwirks. And remember, when in doubt, follow the stars. They will always lead you back home.

4HalfStars

Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)

John Steinbeck | September 1993 | 107 pages
John Steinbeck | September 1993 | 107 pages

Often considered one of the greatest American writers of classic literature, John Steinbeck is an author I made a point to finally read in 2021. He’s most well known for writing The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. I might have read the latter in high school, but I can’t remember if I truly did or not. Weighing in at a scant 107 pages, it’s more of a novella (a short novel or a long short story) and was the perfect candidate following my reading of Stephen King’s 1,000+ page tome, 11/22/63. Not to mention Of Mice and Men was referenced in 11/22/63. Combined with my desire to start going through Steinbeck’s catalog, the decision was easy. The cover you see above was published in the fall of 1993, but Steinbeck wrote it in 1937. It’s a classic for a reason, and because of how brief and to the point it is, it’s one of those timeless books I can see myself rereading every couple years or so.

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Taking place in California’s dusty vegetable fields during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men follows the journey of George Milton and Lennie Small as they travel from place to place looking for work. Steinbeck does a fantastic job exploring the themes of loneliness, isolation and pie-in-the-sky dreams that may or may not ever come to fruition. It’s a harrowing look at how fast things can snowball and how the line between hope and delusion can quickly blur before you know it.

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The story sets the mood right off the bat by painting a picture in the reader’s mind of rolling hillsides, green pastures, sparkling brooks and woodland creatures milling lazily about. The land is beautiful, holding much potential to cultivate and harvest, but you also get this niggling sense that the land is so vast that man can easily become lost in its grandeur.

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We quickly learn that George runs the show while Lennie is a dim-witted giant who doesn’t know his own strength. George knows he’d be better off without Lennie dragging him down — Lennie’s constant lapses in judgment has gotten the two of them in plenty of hot water before. At the same time, George cares for the big lug and Lennie’s reliable companionship perhaps overrides whatever better lifestyle George could muster if he were on his own. George accepts this burden, for better or worse. He sure as hell isn’t shy to let Lennie have it, as seen above!

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Lennie is well aware of the fact that he is a burden on George, even threatening multiple times to leave George once and for all so that George can be free and live the kind of life he deserves. But deep down, no matter how much trash talking and tongue lashing George does, he has a soft spot for the big guy and doesn’t want to go on without him.

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Their chemistry and back and forth bickering leaps off the pages. They’re like an old married couple! The dialogue somehow feels real and relevant, even 80+ years later. A truly remarkable feat that speaks to Steinbeck’s talent. And I love the little description at the end there. Really paints a beautiful picture of the landscape in the cool of the evening. You can almost feel that little night breeze on the back of your neck.

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George is constantly sticking up for Lennie and fighting his battles. He’s every bit Lennie’s guardian as he is his companion — if not more. When the boss wants to hear Lennie speak for himself, rather than George being his mouthpiece at every turn, George lies and tells the boss they’re cousins. Later in that same chapter, Lennie says to George, “You said I was your cousin.” To which George hilariously replies, “Well, that was a lie. An’ I’m damn glad it was. If I was a relative of yours I’d shoot myself.”

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Curley’s wife is soon introduced, a floozy willing to put out for anyone with two legs. Lennie is a bit smitten by her, George quickly recognizes this and some entertaining dialogue ensues.

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The theme of loneliness and isolation is well explored here, as George admits he ain’t got no one. How he sees so many guys up and down the road, just traveling by themselves, that they get so lonely and mean and want to throw fists all the time. He also admits that while Lennie is a nuisance more times than not, he wouldn’t know what to do without him. “But you get used to goin’ around with a guy an’ you can’t get rid of him.” With the underlying implication that he wouldn’t want to get rid of Lennie, even if he could. Some deep, powerful stuff there.

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Slim asks George what happened in Weed, and George lets his guard down to tell. Yep, Lennie is no stranger to fucking up.

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This is one of my favorite scenes from the book. The part where Crooks starts talking. It’s incredibly introspective and self-aware. And once again, the theme of isolation and loneliness pops up.

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Crooks and Lennie share a poignant moment while George and the rest of the boys go to town. Lennie shares his dream of living off the fat of the land with George, and Crooks gives him a piece of his mind. Saying that he’s seen far too many guys walk this well beaten path before. Big delusional dreams that always amount to nothing. Melancholy is an understatement! Damn, Crooks, don’t hold back none now…

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Eventually Curley’s wife pops by. Of course, she’s nothing but trouble with a capital T. Lennie tells her that George promises to let him tend the rabbits. The Jezebel has the audacity to say, “Well, if that’s all you want, I might get a couple rabbits myself.” OH! Zinger! I jumped in my seat and cried out, “GEORGIE BOY, WHERE ARE YOU WHEN WE NEED YA!?” Now that’s a sign a book has got you hook, line and sinker.

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Crooks does his best to step in, but Curley’s wife quickly puts him in his place. Still, you can’t help but admire his effort. You also can’t help but feel bad for Crooks when he sits down, closes up and a deep resignation sinks in. There’s nothing more that he or anyone else can do to help Lennie. They all become prisoners of the moment, and the one in charge is a five year old toting a fully loaded gun. What happens next? If you haven’t read this book yet, I’ll leave it to you to find out on your own :)

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I read Of Mice and Men in one sitting , completely entertained and enthralled from beginning to end. The relationship dynamic between George and Lennie had me hooked from the beginning. The dialogue is a blast to read. Although a very simple and straightforward story, it is also quite deep and profound in many ways. Steinbeck wrote this masterpiece over 80 years ago yet it still resonates with countless readers to this very day, in spite of the changes that have occurred over the past 8+ decades. Some things, like loneliness and isolation, still affect (and plague) us in 2021 as much now as it did back then. It’s no wonder Of Mice and Men has this timeless feel to it. What is the fine line between hope and delusion? Does hope keep us going, even if it’s false hope? What happens when we chase something we know deep down will likely never come to fruition? Are we all just hamsters spinning endlessly in a wheel? The book is open for interpretation and discussion. I’ll leave it to you to form your own. I can’t wait to read Steinbeck’s other works, but I have a sneaky suspicion Of Mice and Men will be difficult to top. An all-time classic that begs to be read, and somehow remains relevant almost 85 years after it was written.

5Stars