Springtime Blogging Renewal (In other words, I finished winter semester!)

It feels like it’s been forever since I was able to update my blog. My graduate studies have been eating up my time, and while I have been reading, I’ve been writing so many papers that the idea of opening a word processing program to write anything else was nauseating. However, I have finished another semester, turned in a heap of papers, and am now back to normal workloads! Thus, it is time to return to reviewing, and attempt to catch up on my massive backlog!

Since I don’t have anything written to post just yet, I will share a photo of my rather frightening to-read pile. Having so many bookstores in my area is a terrible idea for someone like me!

Pile'o'Books May 2014

Not included in this pile are the additions that I have made to my Peter S. Beagle collection. Aside from Tamsin and The Last Unicorn copies, everything here was picked up and signed by Beagle himself at a screening of The Last Unicorn movie. I will be posting something about Beagle and my favourites of his pieces, but suffice to say, he is one of my favourite authors, and I highly recommend that everyone give his books a shot!

Pile of Peter S Beagle

Upcoming Reviews

–          Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps – I haven’t forgotten these!

–          Mini-Reviews – The Fables Spin-offs (helping you sort through this massive series)

–          Series Reviews – Killer Unicorns by Diana Peterfreund (everything you could want in a YA and more!) and InCryptid by Seanan McGuire (hilarious urban fantasy!)

–          Reviews – Dorothy Must Die (meh), The One (still pretty terrible), Extinction Point: Revelations (frustrating)

Review – Grim edited by Christine Johnson

Title: Grim

Editor: Christine Johnson

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Fairy Tale Retellings, Short Stories, Young Adult

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

 Cover - Grim

Synopsis

Grim is a collection of short stories based on classic fairy tales with new twists and reimaginings.

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Ten Things I Wish I Could Say to Fictional Characters

My life is all about writing papers until I die (or get to the end of April, whatever comes first), and I find myself missing my blog. So when Reading with a Vengeance posted the following list meme, I thought it would be a fun thing to try in a short break between methodologies and case samples.

MLP Twilight Annoyed Gif

1. So, have you ever heard of a concept called polyamory?

2. I know it’s hard, but could you try to get along at least reasonable well with others, particularly those of your gender?

3. Just because you think or say something does not mean that this is a fact.

4. I know your current society sucks and all, but could you please put some thought into what the goals of your revolution are before you throw yourself into a morass of rebellion and fighting?

5. Not all adults are completely thoughtless and incapable of understanding you.

6. Seriously, have you thought about just dating several people at once? I hear threesomes are fun!

7. Plans are good. Please don’t make huge life altering decisions on the basis of a whim. Again.

8. Just because someone is telling you that you are awesome and destined for greatness, does not actually mean that they are telling the truth. People lie! They manipulate others! This includes you!

9. Stop being so self-indulgent in your own pain. Yes, sometimes life sucks, but figure out a way to move forward and change the suck! Also, perspective. It’s important.

10. Okay, I promise I’ll stop bringing this up after this, but here’s a copy of “The Ethical Slut”. I can give you more resources, but please give this whole non-normative relationship format a chance because I can’t live through one more love triangle whine fest.

Review: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley

Title: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine

Author: Tim Hanley

Star Rating: * * * *

Genre: Pop culture analysis, Superhero

Thanks to NetGalley and Chicago Review Press who provided me with a free copy of this book in return for a fair review.

 Cover - Wonder Woman Unbound

Background and Synopsis

Wonder Woman is a very hot topic at the moment due to the immense popularity of superhero movies, and the unfortunate absence of female leads in any of these films. For Marvel, the conversation has been focused on Black Widow, a character that has at least gotten screen time. For DC, the heroine at the heart of these discussions is Wonder Woman, one of their “holy trinity” of main properties. However, despite the fact that she is supposedly one of the central DC characters, Wonder Woman is often ignored in terms of merchandise and non-comic appearance opportunities. This has led to a situation where most people could probably talk about the histories of Batman and Superman, but are largely ignorant of Wonder Woman’s origins and basic story premises.

Hanley published Wonder Woman Unbound to try and clear up some of the confusion regarding this iconic character. He painstakingly details her history, from the golden age to today, talking about how her stories have been affected by different authors and varying time periods. To those who think Wonder Woman is too confusing a character, Hanley proves them wrong by presenting Wonder Woman as a hero who has undergone extensive changes like all the other major superheroes of DC and Marvel, but she has multiple histories and origins that can be drawn upon to make a cohesive, interesting, and empowering whole.

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Nostalgic Re-Reads – Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Say Cheese and Die, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, Let’s Get Invisible)

Title: Goosebumps #4: Say Cheese and Die

Rating: * *

GB 4 - Say Cheese and Die

Say Cheese and Die is certainly creepy, but it suffers from some weak writing choices. In this story, Greg and his friends find a mysterious camera hidden in an abandoned home. Greg figures out pretty quickly that the camera takes photos of horrible future events, but the rest of his friends refuse to believe him and want to use the camera at a party. When one of their closest friends disappears after her photo is taken, Greg tries to take the camera back to its hiding place. There he is cornered by the man who has been guarding the camera for years. In a fight to escape, the camera accidentally goes off and takes a photo of the man, resulting in him dying in fear over what it would show. Greg stashes the camera back in its hiding place, but the book ends with two new kids finding the evil device.

The characters in this novel are dumb as empty film canisters, and the story itself is rather silly when you think about it. However, as a children’s horror book, as long as your suspension of disbelief is high, it can offer the reader a fair number of chills and gasps. The fact that terrible futures in the photos often did not happen instantaneously added to the suspense, though most of the time I was distracted by the desire to throttle the kids for all being so thoughtless.


Title: Goosebumps #5: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Rating: * *

GB 5 - The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

Gabe and Sari are the luckiest twelve year olds alive when their Uncle Ben decides to take them into an Egyptian pyramid dig. However, the archaeology project is plagued with problems that may be related to an ancient curse placed on the burial site. While Uncle Ben is trying to figure out exactly what is going on, Gabe gets separated from his uncle and Sari, and stumbles into a mummy making chamber that has been in use more recently than 4000 years ago. As it turns out, one of the men working the dig is actually a member of an ancient group of people who promised to protect this tomb, and this man tries to mummify Gabe and his family in punishment for disturbing the sanctity of the priestess’ chambers. However, Gabe just so happens to have a mummy hand that can summon mummies, and he calls upon its power so that he and his family can escape in the nick of time!

One thing I really have to commend this book for was the fact that it seems as if all the protagonists are racialised (Gabe and his family are originally from Egypt, and his uncle has a Middle Eastern name). Normally, I would have been incredibly uncomfortable to read about a bunch of white, American researchers getting threatened by traditionalist Arabic people, but in this case it was the slightly less problematic combination of “modern” Arabic people from the US being bothered by traditionalists from the old country. Still an issue, but not nearly as terrible as it could have been, and it is certainly pretty awesome to see that within the first five books of the series, R.L. Stine was diversifying his characters.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t actually make all that much sense. Gabe saves the day with a magical artefact that he bought at an American garage sale, and no one, including Uncle Ben the scientist, seems to have a problem with this. This was a text book deux ex machina ending, and readers didn’t even get a twist to end the story with!


Title: Goosebumps #6: Let’s Get Invisible

Rating: * *

GB 6 - Let's Get Invisible

In Let’s Get Invisible, Max and his friends discover a creepy, magic mirror that can turn you invisible. However, the longer you stay invisible, the colder you feel, and the farther away from reality you seem to get. When Max suggests they stop after realising that playing with the mirror might actually get them all hurt, his friends protest and refuse. After a couple of particularly long periods of invisibility, some of them come back different. Max can’t quite put his finger on it, but his friends are no longer really his friends. This becomes blatantly apparent when they force him to go invisible and make him stay that way for as long as possible. Soon he finds himself transported into the mirror where his mirror double attempts to switch places with him forever!

Like Say Cheese and Die, Let’s Get Invisible is scary in the sense that the mirror represents this strange, evil, malevolent force, but the characters themselves aren’t particularly bright. While kids often respond to risk differently from adults, it feels as if this particular group of kids have a risk threshold that could earn them a Darwin award. As cool as invisibility is, I don’t think I would risk the strange, chilling, sleepy effects of the mirror. On the other hand, I am an adult, and have always been pretty risk adverse, even as a child. So despite the fact that these kids were acting rather silly, the mirror is a very frightening antagonist.

Review – Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

Title: Unraveling

Author: Elizabeth Norris

Star Rating: *

Genre: Young Adult, Sci-fi, Romance

Cover - Unraveling

Synopsis

Janelle is a smart, precocious teenager who is responsible for saving the world. Her life was pretty normal until she was hit by a truck, died, and was brought back to life by a fellow student. Suddenly, her life doesn’t make sense, her FBI father is anxious to figure out what a mysterious bomb is that appeared out of nowhere, and strange individuals from another universe are telling Janelle that her universe is about to implode. With only 24 days to figure out what is going on, she has to convince all the adults in her life that even though she’s still just a teen, she has something to offer and she just might be the key to making sure the entire world doesn’t end.

 

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Nostalgic Re-Reads – Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Welcome to Dead House, Stay Out of the Basement, Monster Blood)

I was searching through books from my childhood on GoodReads when I had the whim to reread some of the old series that I used to enjoy. From things like Nancy Drew to Animorphs, there were a lot of stories that I read as a kid that were fun and short and might provide some entertainment even to me now. I was also curious to see how they stood up to the test of time and maturity. Since I had a particular love for horror novels and TV shows as a child, I decided to start with Goosebumps!

Goosebumps, the series by R.L. Stine, were introductory horror novels for children of my generation. There are 62 books in the series, and most feature 12 year old protagonists who are confronted with strange, paranormal events. While the children are often threatened, there is never much violence in these books, and the kids usually escape their enemies (though sometimes they are changed in odd and unnerving ways). There are usually at least two protagonists in each book, and at least one boy and one girl. The books often end with a silly, but creepy twist that makes the reader rethink the story, or entraps the characters in a bigger or more long-lasting problem than expected.

Rating these books is rather hard. They are not particularly well-written, but neither are they really meant to be pieces of great literature. Goosebumps is a series for entertaining and scaring kids, not necessarily expanding their horizons, or making them think about deep questions of life. However, this absence of a philosophical underpinning is perfectly fine. I have no problem with books that are really just about entertainment and silliness as long as there are also books for kids that do offer a more insightful reading experience. As a child, I loved challenging myself to see how many Goosebumps I could read in a day because even then I took them to be short tales whose sole purpose was to keep me amused for an afternoon. I also read books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth, so the presence of Goosebumps didn’t discourage or prevent me from reading novels with a bit more substance. Thus, Goosebumps are a perfectly legitimate part of a kid’s reading diet, but they don’t tend to warrant all that many stars. Make no mistake, they are entertaining, but this is often despite their poor construction and writing. I have given most of them low-star ratings, but I have been enjoying my re-read even though they have numerous literary problems. I can definitely understand why kids devoured stacks of these books as they are often ridiculous, but scary stories that capitalise on the worst fears of children.


Title: Goosebumps #1: Welcome to Dead House

Rating: * * ½

GB 1 - Welcome to Dead House

Welcome to Dead House is where the Goosebumps phenomenon started, and it is a very standard example of what one will get with this series. The Benson family finds out that they have inherited a house from a forgotten relative, so they move to the small town of Dark Falls to start over. Amanda and Josh are our protagonists, two siblings who are 11 and 12 years old (the standard age for all Goosebumps protagonists). Right away they start making friends with some of the kids in their new town, but they soon find that things seem a bit off in Dark Falls. The kids discover that all their new friends have gravestones in the town cemetery, and Dark Falls is actually a city of ghosts that needs to sacrifice the entire Benson family in order to survive!

This first book of the series is moderately suspenseful and creepy, but it’s also not all that memorable. There are a lot of spooky house scenes, but Welcome to Dead House is a fairly standard evil ghost story. It gives kids what they want – a few scares and frights, and that’s really all Goosebumps ever aims to do. It sets the tone of the series and the general parameters of how these stories work, and was a very safe opening to the series.

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