RRRs: The Fables Spin-offs Edition

Rapid response reviews are shorter entries for books that I want to comment on, but don’t have enough time or material to finish a normal post. Given the sheer length of the Fables series, the only way I’ll ever be able to tackle most of its volumes is if I keep my comments short and sweet! My reviews for the actual Fables series are simple: go read them all! To get the whole story, readers need to finish all of the books, and even though there are 19 volumes (as of now), all of them are worth the read. Today’s RRR, therefore, is dedicated to the Fables spin-offs since they are almost as voluminous, but differ widely in their importance to the main series and their overall quality.

Title: Jack of Fables (Volumes 1-9, including The Literals mini-series)

Author: Bill Willingham

Rating: *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Jack of Fables Series

I’m cheating a bit with Jack of Fables as I am lumping all of the books into one write-up (though I did write mini-reviews for volumes one and two here). Simply put, I hated this series. Jack of Fables is extraordinarily different from its predecessor, and very little of what I loved about Fables was present in Jack. Admittedly, the story premise is quite intriguing as these books deal with the existence of the Literals, beings that are the anthropomorphic representations of writing tools, but the titular character makes the story all but unbearable. I read the full series because there is a cross-over between it and Fables, but after trudging through these books, I am pretty sure I could have just skipped Fables 13 and saved myself the trouble. While the Literals are an interesting concept, most of the series is dedicated to showing how Jack is a terrible human being. The humour is sexist (for example, Jack sleeps with his half-sisters and this fact keeps coming up throughout the entire series as something that is supposed to be funny or admirable), the art is inconsistent, and I could not care less about any of the characters. Unless you are a diehard Fables fan, these books should be a skip. Continue reading

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Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Night of the Living Dummy, The Girl Who Cried Monster, and Camp Nightmare)

Title: Goosebumps #7: Night of the Living Dummy

Rating: * *

GB 7 - Night of the Living Dummy

Like Monster Blood, Night of the Living Dummy is one of the central, re-occurring Goosebumps stories, but I am not a very big fan of this initial installment (though I am quite fond of the sequels). So what made this one so different? Character development is not a strong point for the Goosebumps series, but I found the main characters in this story were particularly irritating and flat. Night of the Living Dummy stars twins Lindy and Kris who find a dummy in the trash. Lindy decides to keep the dummy, naming him Slappy, and Kris becomes jealous of her ventriloquism skills and the attention that it brings her twin. To stop the two from fighting, the twins’ father buys Kris a second dummy that she names Mr. Wood. However, Mr. Wood isn’t a normal dummy, and he acts out violently, taking control of Kris’ acts. No one will believe her when she claims that the dummy is alive, so the sisters have to team up to defeat this evil marionette.

The idea of a living dummy is nerve-racking, and the Slappy and Mr. Wood characters are scary because they seem to be sociopathic, unkillable monsters. The part of the story involving the dummies doing evil things worked well because it is pretty chilling to think about strange, living dolls wandering around your house at night, destroying things and trying to mess up your life. However, I could have done without Kris. I generally do not have a problem with well-written, unlikeable characters, or young characters that act their age. Kris, on the other hand, just gives me a headache. She’s so intensely jealous of her sister, and I felt that there wasn’t enough pushback against her bad behaviour in the narrative telling her that she should just chill out and figure out her own way to shine. I know that the relationship between twins is unique, but one would think that she wouldn’t want to strive to do the exact same things as her sister. I also felt that her parents should definitely not have encouraged Kris to try and steal the stoplight from Lindy so obviously. However, if they had done that, we wouldn’t have had this story, so the awkward characterisation can be forgiven as it led to a particularly memorable villain.


Title: Goosebumps #8: The Girl Who Cried Monster

Rating: * * ½

GB 8 - The Girl Who Cried Monster

Lucy is obsessed with monsters. She’s always looking to learn more about them, and her favourite activity is scaring her little brother with monster stories. However, she talks about monsters so often that no one believes her when she sees a real one! When she stays late in the library one night, she sees the local librarian turn into a disgusting creature that eats flies! Though she tries all sorts of things to prove to her parents that the librarian is a monster, all her efforts fail, and he discovers that she knows what he is. Lucy is convinced that she’s going to get eaten when her parents invite him over for dinner, but the tables are turned rather quickly when Lucy’s parents devour the librarian before the rest of the community is alerted to the presence of monsters among them. As it turns out, Lucy is obsessed with horror story creatures because she is one!

The Girl Who Cried Monster is a solid horror book for kids. Lucy is a bit obnoxious, but within reason for a precocious twelve year old. The plot is a fairly typical one, with Lucy getting herself into all sorts of suspenseful situations trying to get proof that the librarian is a monster. However, it is the ending that really makes this particular addition to the series stand out. I did not guess that Lucy’s family were monsters, and it was a delightful creepy ending to a creepy story.


Title: Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Rating: * * *

GB 9 - Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Camp Nightmare is a strange story, but it certainly delivers in terms of scariness. This Goosebumps stars Mike, a normal 12 year old heading off to an overnight camp for the first time. However, his trip seems cursed from the start as the bus that was supposed to take all the kids to camp drops them off in the middle of nowhere, leaving them to be attacked by strange, dog-like creatures. They are saved by the camp director, but it seems that the troubles with this camp are just beginning. One of Mike’s campmates is bitten by a snake, but the camp has no nurse to treat him, and he disappears overnight. Slowly, members of his cabin fall victim to mysterious accidents, but the camp staff don’t seem to care. Mike finally decides he has to stand up to this callousness when the camp director orders the campers to hunt through the forest with tranquilizer guns for two run-aways. With this choice, he finds out he passed the test that his parents were putting him through in order to take him along on a scientific expedition to an alien world: Earth!

The idea that a camp could exist that is so careless towards the children that it is responsible for seems pretty unlikely, and as a reader, I was trying to figure out what the catch was from the very first few pages. However, with the twist reveal at the end, suddenly the callousness and neglect makes sense, even if the plot was a bit silly. Despite the ridiculous plot, Camp Nightmare is great for scaring younger readers. Camp can be a frightening experience at the best of times, and this story plays on those fears of abandonment and danger. Camp myths turn deadly, and Mike has no adults to turn to. He must survive on his own, and stand up against those who are supposed to be protecting him. All in all, this is one of my favourite books in the Goosebumps series.

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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