Category Archives: Novels

Three Skeleton Key Review

I’m one of those weird people who has a few favorite stories/novels that they first read in school and loved. While I’ve gone on and on about The Giver and its sequels, let me introduce to a short story that my fourth-grade class read and I still read it to this day: Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze.

The story is about three lighthouse workers on an island called Three Skeleton Key who one day get attacked by a boat filled with water rats. Now they have to figure out a way off the island or stop the rats.

This story interests me because it’s such a simple story with a real terror. These men aren’t superheroes or anything like that. They’re just normal lighthouse workers with families and normal lives. The horror is unique because it’s something anyone can experience. Imagine being a situation where you’re surrounded by large rats with nowhere to escape. You’re pretty much dead.

Rats are a great element in horror because they work in packs, carry diseases, carry vermin on their backs and their teeth can gnaw through most objects. Rats are also real. Ghosts, zombies, vampires, demons and aliens may be horror staples, but they’re not real. Rats on the other hand are and there have been real-life stories of rats completely wrecking entire towns. In fact, they’re one of the major reasons one-third of Europe died in the 1300s in what we today called the Black Death.

Toudouze’s writing also helps with the story. His writing brings out the gravity of the situation and doesn’t hold any punches. Plus it reads like how a lighthouse worker would talk. Plain, everyday language of a blue-collar worker. This is ironic seeing how the best version of this story is from the radio drama Suspense performed by Vincent Price, a man that’s been known to love high everything.

Still, Vincent Price did an amazing job of performing this story. Actually, anything performed by Vincent Price is amazing. Have a listen to him in anything, but especially Three Skeleton Key. Once you’ve done that, read this story for yourself. It’s only ten pages long and worth reading over and over again, especially to that one relative/friend who’s scared to death of rats.

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Let’s Talk About The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Ever Since Washington Irving published The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 his iconic monster The Headless Horseman has been a major part of American folklore. In fact, the town of Sleepy Hollow New York (which used to be called North Tarrytown but changed it to Sleepy Hollow in 1996) makes a ton of money every Halloween from that legend. They’re very proud of it.

There are a few things about that story though.

Firstly, people only talk about the Headless Horseman man talking about the story. The horseman only appears in the last few pages of the story. The majority of the story is about Ichabod Crane trying to get married to Katrina Van Tassel and making sure Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt doesn’t. We don’t get to see anything relating to hosts until Crane goes to a party where people are telling ghost stories and the big one was about The Headless Horseman.

If that’s the case why has it endured for almost two centuries? When you look at it, this is a tale of a guy from New York City heading north to a small town that’s completely different than NYC to be a schoolmaster and then falls for a local girl because daddy’s rich and is willing to fight the local boy for her hand. Think about that: Crane wanted to marry Katrina for money.

Ichabod Crane is a dick.

He does get his just deserts when The Headless Horseman kills him/spirits him away/makes him run back to NYC in the middle of the night on the bridge. So in essence, this can be taken as an American morality story saying that creed will lead you nowhere. Or, to put it another way, what goes around comes around.

As far as reading the story, it’s that late 18th/early19th Century super dry/formal writing that many 21st Century writers can’t get into. While that may be the case, the story is also pretty short. It’s only about 20-25 pages depending on what edition you’re reading. However, there is substance to the story. It creates a picture of how life was like in small New York State villages in the early 19th Century. In fact, the only thing that’s different today is technology and clothes. You go anywhere north of New York City today and you’ll be confused. New York State is so diverse (and gorgeous, especially in the fall) that NYC just feels like a red-headed stepchild.

And that is what Irving tried to do with this story. Not write a ghost story, but write a tale that shows the big city mixing with small-town life can be a negative but the soul of small-town life wins out. Take that how you may.

With that, read Washington Irving’s tale or even watch the many adaptations that were made about it. If you can, and love Halloween, head on over to Sleepy Hollow itself and see the town for yourself. Just don’t expect the town to be creepy looking. It’s just a normal 21st Century town with spooky legend. NYC has a LOT more ghosts and don’t get me started with Savanah Georgia or New Orleans.

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Demonata Series Review

Back in 2014, I reviewed the book series, movie and manga of Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan. Five years later, and I can’t believe I haven’t touched upon his followup series Demonata. So for my little Halloween marathon, I’m reviewing the series.

Grubbs Grady is just a normal teenager who day his parents drop him off to his aunt unceremoniously. Sneaking out to go back home, he finds his parents and sister were doing some kind of weird ritual that resulted in them being brutally killed. There’s also a demon named Lord Loss who apparently brutally killed. This results in a Grubbs being thrown into an ancient war between the Grady family and demons.

You thought Cirque Du Freak was messed up, you ain’t seen anything yet. This series piles on the gore and the body by the THOUSANDS! Besides that, this storyline is actually better than Cirque Du Freak. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Cirque Du Freak, but this series feels a lot better written.

The characters, the stakes, the lore, the enemies and even the ending work better here. Remember how I hated the ending to Cirque Du Freak? Well, this one for me is much better. Yes, some people will see it as a cop, but if you remember all the details and who Grubbs and the other two main characters are (not going to spoil the other two because they arrive later) you’ll see that it’s an appropriate ending.

I have to talk about the original hardcover covers of this series. While some are ok, some are amazing. The best ones are Bec (now THAT is a creepy cave) Death’s Shadow and especially Hell’s Heroes. It’s a skull that has the three main leads making up the skull. Now that is some great artwork. The paperback covers, on the other hand, are generic. They went from amazing and creepy to basic YA covers. Why? I understand needing new covers for new editions but they couldn’t do similar ideas like the hardcovers?

Darren Shan followed up Cirque Du Freak with a  series that is the better of the two big series from him. While Cirque Du Freak was great, Demonata shows that Shan has improved with his writing especially with the ending.

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Legally Correct Fairy Tales Review

Have you ever wanted to read classic fairy tales in legalese? No? Too bad, David Fisher did just that.

Legally Correct Comics takes classic fairy tales and writes them in either a legal document, a lawyer’s closing argument or as defendant testimony. This has to be the most original take on fairy tales I have ever seen. Jack and Jill suing the company that made the bucket they were using, Hansel and Gretel getting sued by the kingdom for murder and, now here’s the best part. the Big Bad Wolf is portrayed as a mob boss.

Hell, the absolute best story is the one about the Big Bad Wolf portrayed as a crime boss being questioned by a prosecutor. It is one of the funniest things you’ll ever read. They even have 911 recordings of when he blows the house down.

In fact, one of the weirdest stories in here is of an oak tree wanting custody of Pinocchio. Yes, the tree that Geppetto cut the wood to make Pinocchio is in a custody battle with Geppetto.

Of course, you need to remember that these stories are written in legalese, thus you will see plenty of legal jargon and dry courtroom speeches. It seems that Fisher knows a lot about how trials work because these do seem like actual court records. That’s part of the charm of these stories. Get used to reading lawyers giving closing arguments and showing evidence (yes.)
That seems to be the only real reason some people may not like this book. It gets knee deep in the legal jargon and if you’ve ever read legal documents they are boring. You just need to go into this with a certain mindset that says “this is just absurd court cases that are meant to be funny.” Once you go over that hurdle, this will be a quick read.

If there are any lawyers reading this, I just have to say David Fisher proved to me that lawyers actually do have a sense of humor. I’m not sorry for telling the joke, “what do you call three lawyers dying in a car accident? A good start” because you guys do sometimes come off as heartless vampires.

And I just lost my lawyer audience. Anyway, check this book out to see a different take of telling fairy tales.

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Ubu Roi Review

Have you ever wanted to read/watch something because of the controversy it caused? That’s the only reason I decided to read the 19th Century French play Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry. For those who don’t know, what happened on opening night was the very first line of the play is “SHIT!” which caused the French gentry to lose it immediately. Top that off with tons of violence and satirizing modern French politics and the play needed to be stalled because people were rioting. Yes, 19th Century French gentry were rioting. The was never a production of the play for decades after that.

Right, so the story is about Pere Ubu, a fat, stupid, uncouth dragoon captain who decides to kill the King of Poland and take the throne. The Queen and Prince of Poland are still alive and want to get their kingdom back.

I’m not sure if this is the stupidest play I’ve ever read or it’s one of the most brilliant. On one hand, it’s surreal and ridiculous to the point that it is funny. On the other, the comedy does get stale pretty quickly and Pere Ubu saying “shitr” (yes, that’s how they spell it) gets old as well as lines like “by my green candle.” Not to mention the overly melodramatic lines and Pere Ubu being a huge douche bag that deserves to die.

He also gets stabbed and shot a ton of times and doesn’t die.

I have seen some performances of this play on Youtube and yeah, the acting and lines get dull after a while as the joke dies.

Brilliance, underrated or complete trash, you have to hand it to Jarry that he made a play that small troupes are willing to experiment with. That, I guess is one positive about this play: it allows people to experiment how hey put it on. There are puppet theater versions and versions with insane costumes that are just bedsheets with some designs or signs on them.

I’m, in a way, glad I read this play because I do like to see experimental stuff but sometimes experimental does get boring after a while and this play does get boring after a while. Either it’s the translation I read or the play gives it everything in the first three acts and then loses all steam in the last two.

Eh, shitr happens.

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Chu Ju’s House Review

Many kids throughout mankind’s history have thought about running away from home for one reason or another. Sometimes that reason can be that kid is being abused, their family has major financial trouble or even as petty as not getting that one toy. Gloria Whelan has a story like that called Chu Ju’s house.

Chu Ju is just a normal girl living in a tiny village somewhere in China. Her mom is about to give birth and it had better be a boy since not only does China have a law that says people in the country are only allowed two kids (city one,) but boys are more highly valued than girls. It’s a girl and her parents are thinking about selling her off. Chu Ju figures the best thing to do is to run away, have her family try to have a boy again and Chu Ju tries to live her own life.

This was a rather enjoyable story. The main reason is wanting to know how Chu Ju was going to survive in a country where girls with no family are SOLD to sweatshops, prostitution or as wives for foreigners. Sadly, she did kind of have a pretty easy time alone. Granted, she had to work hard, but everyone she meets except for two treated her like family. Call me a realist, but I expect at least one person to get suspicious.

On the other hand, Chu Ju does show that she is a lot smarter than she lets on. She does lie about her skills but learns fast enough to stay with that family. That’s why Chu Ju is an endearing character, she adapts to her situation which is a great lesson to teach kids. Even the ending is a nice lesson and comes across as a realistic scenario.

Of course, some people have accused Whelan of not understanding Chinese laws. Yes, laws are complicated, but this is a book for young readers and you do need to simplify some things so as to not get in the way of the story.

Chu Ju’s House may be simple, but it is heartwarming. Chu Ju is an interesting character as are her adventures and the ending is great. This is well worth reading if you can get past whatever inconsistencies in China’s laws and culture.

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The Boxcar Children (book) Review

You know the story about me: I find out about a movie that’s based off a book that I may find interesting, read it and post a review here. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude C. Warner is yet another one of those.

Four children become orphans after both of their parents and they refuse to live with their uncle who they view as a cruel man. They find an abandoned boxcar where they make a permanent resident and we see into their daily lives.

It starts off interesting, but the overall story is pretty bland. These kids not only do everyday stuff that’s not that interesting, but they show ZERO signs of mourning for their parents and have to live in a boxcar. They all come off as way too happy and saccharine. Really, there’s NO tension or sadness in their dialogue. It all comes off as if this whole thing is just one big picnic. What makes it worse is that none of these children act like, well, children. They are WAY too nice to each other and other people and they speak way too formally.

One thing that stands out is that this is supposed to be a mystery. There is one that does come close to being one, who made noise outside the boxcar one night? We do find out, but it’s a huge letdown, is settled too quickly and the kids don’t really talk about until the end when it’s “solved.”

Yes, I understand that this book came out in the 1920s so things were different at the time, but do you know what else came out decades before that? Alice in Wonderland, a children’s book about a girl who goes to a world where nothing makes sense. I guess I’m not a child from the 20s so it wasn’t for me.

Sorry if this review isn’t all that positive, but you guys know I have a soft spot for YA and children’s fiction, but this is one I couldn’t get behind. There’s no conflict, the kids don’t act like real kids and the mystery is lame.

 

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The Breadwinner (Novel) Review

Full disclosure: yes, I did see the movie and then the book because it was nominated for Best Animated Feature (alongside Boss Baby of all things.) Call me a filthy casual shill, but this is one of many ways I discover new books and will discover them in the future.

Anyway, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis is about Parvana, a young Afghan girl whose father was taken by the Taliban one day. With the only male in the family being a toddler, Parvana decides to cut her hair to pass as a boy and make money so her family can survive.

There really isn’t much that can be said. It’s a decent enough book with some fine scenes. The problem is that we’ve seen a ton of these books that this won’t really stand out that much. There are some memorable scenes but they’re few and far between. The one that does stand out is when Parvana and her friend Shauzia try selling cigarettes in what they think is a soccer game but turns out to be a public execution.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book. Parvana is strongly written and is interesting. In fact, she’s probably the only interesting character in the book.

As far as how similar the book and movie are, there’s a LOT of differences. These include Parvana and her mom actually do get to the prison her dad is and get beaten instead of getting stopped halfway through. The Talib that Parvana and her dad meet in the market who’s a major character is not in the book, the story about the young man going on a quest to save his village is missing and the climax is different and a LOT lower key.

Now, I can see why both versions are held in high regard. The movie has wonderful animation and the book shows what life is like inside Afghanistan from a young girl’s perspective. Some people do really enjoy the book and movie, but for me, both were OK at best and only worth watching once to say I saw it. If you want to read/watch the movie, that’s fine. If you enjoyed both, that’s fine. Hell, read the sequels if you really want.

I may sound like some heartless person, but I’m also saying it’s not a bad book or movie, it’s just something that has a great concept, but in reality, it never goes above decent.

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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Novel) Review

Anyone remember an anime called The Girl Who Leapt Through Time? Yeah, it’s one of those that you either loved it or hated it. I was one of those people who was underwhelmed by it. Of course, once I find out there’s a book based on an anime I have to read it. This one was written by Yasutaka Tsutsui in 1967. Yup, it’s one of those anime where the original story takes place in a different decade.

While cleaning the school science lab with her friends, Kazuko gets a strong scent of lavender which causes her to faint. The next day when she gets run over by a truck she finds out that she can leap through time. Now she and her friends are trying to find the cause of this new power.

Do you remember all the times that Kazuko leaped through time in the anime? Yeah, here she only does it a handful of times just to go back to the science lab incident. In fact, the anime has a lot more happen in it than the book. For those wondering, the book is only 100 pages long.

Is it any good? In a way, it’s fine. The writing is strong, the story is interesting and the ending is OK. It’s a perfectly harmless story where if you want to read it, go ahead. Just remember that it’s the kind of story where the conflict is introduced, the find out what to do and fix it in short time. There’s nothing wrong with short stories, in fact, some of the best stories ever are short stories. Just remember that the anime has the same basic plot, but a lot more happens in it because if they did make a direct adaptation the movie would only be about 30 minutes.

Of course, I prefer the movie of Kazuko over the book version. The book version she really doesn’t have much of a personality except generic Japanese school girl. In the movie, she is breaking rules, going back in time to do things a teenage girl would want to do and she even shows a lot more emotion than her book counterpart.

In all, watch the movie or read the book. It’s your decision because both versions don’t go above OK.

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Monsters Unleashed Review

I made it no secret that I love young adult literature. It’s a genre that has been put down as easy reading for dumb kids, but many YA books have a lot of literary merits.  With that said, Monsters Unleashed by John Kloepfer isn’t one of them.

Freddie is a huge kid but would never harm a fly. That’s one of the main reasons why he is constantly bullied by three of his classmates. To help him out, he draws his bullies as monsters that he and his friend, Manny, plan on using in their movie. One day they find a weird 3D printer in their teacher’s office and decide to use it to create their monsters. Instead, these monsters come to life a wreak havoc on the town. Now it’s up to Freddie to try to stop these monsters even if it means making friends with his bullies.

It’s a nice idea that a kid makes peace with his bullies by making them help him solve a problem. This is something that’s rarely done anywhere and it is a welcome addition. Another welcome addition is that for once the main lead isn’t some shrimp but a huge kid.

Sady,  that’s where the positives end. This book reads like a Goosebumps book that forgot what makes Goosebumps books interesting. While, yes,  the way the characters trap the monsters is ingenious, the characters themselves aren’t all that interesting. Yes, they do have personalities, the problem is they just aren’t three-dimensional personalities. Hell, Freddie is practically invisible because of how little presence he has despite being a big dude. You forget that he is a big dude.

Now, I’m not saying that this is a horrible book. It does have some neat ideas and it is something young adults would love to read. I’m also not saying to skip it entirely, give a chance and you may like it or think it’s OK like I did. Again, it’s Goosebumps without everything that made Goosebumps what it is. In fact, Goosebumps isn’t even a literary success. It has its problems but it is insanely fun to read. That goes for this book, too.

So if you’re just looking for a YA book to read, this one is fine but its target audience will like it much better than an adult. They will love something like this despite it being mediocre.

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