Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Halloween!!!

     Happy Halloween everybody, well almost Halloween at least. I've been torn, since I began this blog, on whether or not having a Holiday blog post with related titles would be a bit to cliché and expected.

     The answer was a big resounding "clichés be darned" and here we are now. I did decide to go against the norm a bit, however, and instead of one title like I normally review I'm doing a total of four books for this review. Each story in this is geared up towards an age group, or category, all perfect for cuddling up either solo or as a family.

     I'm going to go in order from 'youngest' to 'oldest' in the reviews so that the family readers can avoid having to skim to the bottom.

     The stories I have for you this evening are:

  1. Where the Wild Things Are - By the late Maurice Sendak
  2. How I met my Monster - By R. L. Stine
  3. Dead Boys - By Michael Penkas
  4. Infected: Click your Poison - By James Schannep

     I know that most of you, if not all, have either read, been read to, or have read to Where the Wild Things Are at one time in your life. Perhaps it was, like me, 20+ years ago during one of my first trips to the library. I can remember cuddling up and being amazed at the world Sendak was able to create utilizing visuals and beautifully crafted words.

     The story follows Max; a young boy who is obsessed with being a 'Wild Thing'. He even goes to the extreme of putting on his wolf pajamas and terrorizing his house, much to the dismay of his mother who sends him to bed without his supper after he screams that he will "Eat YOU UP" when she calls for him.

     As Max grumbles and groans a forest grows in his room, and in moments he is sailing across the ocean in his own private boat. He sails and sails for years and years until he lands on an island, an island that is home to the real 'Wild Things".

     Max's adventures on the island grow and grow until he finally realizes just what it means to be wild, and even being king isn't enough to make him want to stay. Much to the dismay of the Wild Things he sets off on the long journey home, and finding a surprise for him awaiting him in his room.

     Sendak's tale of the Wild Things is a classic tale that really fits the season. Though it is about monsters, of one kind or another, its written in a light hearted safe way that kids of all ages can enjoy without worrying what could be hiding in the shadows when the lights go out.

     Being that this is such a popular tale, and more than anything I'm wanting to reintroduce it and suggest it as a great Halloween story, I'm not going to mention pros or even give it a rating as I will with the stories down the line.

      One thing I do need to note for those that may not know is that in addition to writing the story, Sendak also did the illustrations for it. There are few artists out there that can create ever memorable words, as well as illustrate masterfully.

     If you'd like to get a copy of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak click here.

     I couldn't be more excited to be reviewing this next story. This author was actually my first thought when I had decided to break this post up by age groups, though I had no idea I would get the privilege to get his permission to review one of his works. While this author falls outside of the realm of my typical indie reviews, as did Sendak, his continued success over the past 20 years of scaring the pants off of young readers makes it an impossibility to talk about scary stories without his name coming up.

     I remember opening up the first book in the ever eternal Goosebumps series when I was 8 years old. I had purchased it from our schools Scholastic book fair, and by the end of the week I was out of books from the library. I can even recall my first 'signed' letter from the R.L. Stine fan club after I became a member and began receiving books and a magazine monthly.

     What I remember more than anything else is the sheer joy of hiding underneath my makeshift fort I had made out of bed sheets and a bottom bunk while I reread every story after I finished the newest edition.

     I debated which story of his I wanted to do. I read the list of books and settled on The Haunted Mask. I read the back cover and prepared to dive back in to a story I had loved as a child, but hadn't read in 15 years. I stopped myself and rethought my plan.

     As much as I wanted this post to reintroduce a classic Goosebumps story to the younger crowd; I also thought it would be fun to introduce myself to a new story. Something I could do an honest review on, as well as see how Stine has adapted himself to the younger generation. The result was discovering the newest edition to the series Goosebumps Most Wanted.

     The concept is to take popular stories, characters and worlds from older stories and to give a new twist with a particular focus on classic villains. I was immediately drawn to the story How I met my Monster. It follows Noah Bienstock, or Bean to his friends, and his ever growing obsession with monsters. He sees them everywhere, not just in the nightmares he has every night.

     His obsession grows and grows until it reaches a whole new level when he begins to suspect the new kid in class, who just happens to be his new best friend that lives in his building, of being a monster. He begins spying on Monroe, following him everywhere looking at every 'suspicious' thing he does.

     The 'twist' at the end will seem familiar to anyone who has read The Girl who Cried Monster from the original series. If you haven't, I can say you will be pleasantly surprised.

     I think the thing that surprised me most about this story was Stine's ability to adapt his writing over the years. Besides technological advances that separates the current generation from past, there are also differences in attitudes and priorities that are addressed making it a perfect fit for any school age child.

      Due to the shear amount of pros for this story it was almost impossible for me to narrow down any pros at all, but I managed to pick three that I feel really stand out:
  •  Stine's evolution through the years really surprised me. I was expecting the stories to feel like they did when I read when I was young, but I was wrong. Instead it both feels familiar, but with a young feel that is a testament to the authors adaptability and connection with his audience, even when it changes generation to generation.
  • There is a lighthearted humor to most of the books in the Goosebumps series' and it isn't lost on this one. At 29 I found myself chuckling at the one liners littered throughout the creepy tale.
  • The story, while pulling from a classic Goosebumps world, is original. I expected it to feel very much like the original story from the original series, but instead it is a story that feels new and original.
     I had worried that being a fan of the original series would limit my ability to give this story a fair review, and similarly not be able to give a good referral for a Halloween read. Due to the changes in audience that Stine has adapted to, though,  the book became something brand new for me.

     Overall I'm going to give How I met your Monster by R. L. Stine a very solid 10/10 for both this Halloween or anytime.

     I can't begin to thank R.L. Stine enough for allowing me the pleasure of reviewing one of his books for this special Halloween post. Getting to review a story for an author that you've idolized is a feeling that truly is the pinnacle of my short time writing.

     If you would like to pick up a copy of How I met my Monster, or any other book, by R.L. Stine click here.

     If you're like me you've read your share of spooky Halloween tales at night. Some of my favorites were always books that were compilations of ghost stories pitting unsuspecting mortals against terrifying paranormal villains; particularly when the ghosts psychologically  torment their prey. Each time I would read a few of my favorites I can remember sitting awake staring at shadows in an almost comical display of true cowardice.

     As I've gotten older, and I'm assuming this goes for most of us, the scare factor is kind of lost. Instead of watching shadows you're drifting off to sleep, content with what you read but just not scared.

     The third story for my Halloween review is Dead Boys by Michael Penkas. Dead Boys is a compilation of 4 stories that attempts to bring back that hair-raised feeling you had when you were a kid. The stories inside aren't your typical ghost stories; each one has a twist that leaves you unnerved for different reasons.

     The first story is titled The Parable of the Lazy Rooster and follows a priest drinking alone at a bar. While there he overhears a forlorn woman asking about a drink with particular properties, a drink that allows whoever consumes it to see things that no living person is able to see.

     The priest discusses the drink with her, and her reasons for pursuing it. After informing her that he knows how to prepare the drink, he begins deliberating the consequences of making it for the young lady. What ensues leaves you with a chill that, while not innately scary, emanates through you. Particularly when the priest begins an inner monologue explaining the origins of the drink.

     The second story in this list is a little more explicit so if you pick this title up and wanted to read it to the kids I would reconsider, at least for this particular tale. Cold Comfort follows a young female 'escort' called by a member of a clergy for a special 'job'. (Obviously at first this seems like it could be a less than clever stab at the classic corrupt clergymen but you find out quickly this is not even remotely the case).

     The woman, while willing, is a little hesitant to be fully engaged in her duty. This hesitation, however, is quickly taken away by an almost too close encounter that those that are into extreme ghost stories such as American Horror Story will certainly flock to. I do have to caution again that there is an adult aspect to this so use discretion, but in the end this has become a favorite ghost story of mine and was my favorite so far, until I finished the next story that is.

     Up next is a story titled Wet Dog Perfume which follows a lone man spending his night mourning the loss of his dog at the local dog park. It had only been a week and he isn't sure what to do with himself now that the long walks at the park are over.

     As he sits and tries to cope, a young woman enters the park and takes a seat next to him. You immediately feel the quiet intensity she brings to the story as she begins to feed the pigeons in her own 'special' way. As the two silently watch the pigeons eat their unique meal the man starts to feel something about the girl, something that makes her even more unique than what she used to feed the pigeons.

     This story is a little more unnerving than the first. Whereas the first story gives you a bit of an uneasy feeling from the content, and more towards the end, Penkas uses an environment and emotion to set the scene. As is the trend in all these stories, the twist ending really gives you that pins and needles sensation that we all long for this time of year.

     Batting cleanup is Midnight Cappuccino. It's a story following Wendy Williams, a distraught mother who spends night after night in her comatose son's hotel room. It is a tale that is played over several times in which everyone around her tells her he is gone, yet something keeps her holding on hope that he will come back.

     This particular night there is a new visitor to the hotel room, yet one that Wendy knows all to well. It isn't known whether he is a kindly visitor, or one that is here for his chance to deny the woman something she yearns for. Once the visitor has completed his plea he is gone, and Wendy is left to again make the decision whether to let her son go, or hold on to hope that he will awaken and she can once again hold her baby boy.

     This compilation of tales is very well thought out and perfect for cozying up by the fire, and as such it was easy to find some pros for Dead Boys:
  • Each story brings about an uneasiness that feels perfect for this time of year.
  • Each story is very well written and is a page turner in itself. For me, in particular, I found myself going through the whole book in one sitting due to the ease in which it was written.
  • Penkas does a wonderful job setting up thrilling settings with his words. Each story touches its own emotion in a short time, literally making you feel sickened, angry, happy, and sorrowful.
     As I've done with the other stories I'm going to give an overall rating for the story, but I'm not going to go into the particulars like I've done in past reviews. This isn't a permanent thing, rather just something I'm doing for these four reviews.

     Overall I'm going to give Dead Boys by Michael Penkas a 9/10.

     I have to thank Michael for reaching out to me and giving me the opportunity to read and review his stories. It was a real pleasure to get that uneasy, nervous feeling from a story in the way that Dead Boys delivers.

     If you'd like to pick up a copy of Dead Boys for a Halloween read, click here.

     Lastly this evening I have something so unique I'm yet to read/see anything quite like it. It's entitles Infected: Click your Poison by James Schannep, and it is literally choose your own adventure type, or better yet a Give yourself Goosebumps for adults.

     One thing to note is that Schannep designed the story to be compatible with ereaders, and I can vouch that it works like a charm. He advertises that it takes away the chance you see something on the next page that could be an ending that you spoil for yourself, and that fact really proves true early on.

     If reading a story like this on an ereader doesn't strike your fancy, a print copy is available. After going through a storyline on my kindle, my wife jumped on Amazon and ordered herself a hard copy to have (she's like me and would rather read a physical book whenever possible).

     The story behind Infected is Schannep's take on a zombie apocalypse caused by a corporations drive to create an immortality drug, one that succeeds in its own way. Each decision forces you from one extreme situation into another; some of these decisions are obvious landmines, while others seem to be the only possible good idea...and then you find out otherwise.

     One of the, many, things that sets this apart is the lighthearted nature with which Schannep writes. Each page, and most of the decisions, are riddled with puns that should be dry and not funny, but yet the timing fits so well that I can guarantee you'll laugh at most of them.

     Humor aside the writing is another thing that I would kick myself if I didn't mention. Besides being a creative comedian, Schannep is a wonderful writer. Each page, paragraph and word has been edited and belongs and feels as though you're reading your own novel that is about you.

     Since there are so many options and so many outcomes its impossible for me to give a real synopsis of Infected. I can, however, give you my wife and my first attempt at going through the story together. We started out okay, and escaped certain doom a time or two making decisions together and for a moment it seemed as though we were going to survive...that is until our first real hiccup.

     We were faced with one of the many decisions that seem like you can't go wrong, but after deliberating we could not agree to disagree so she made the decision for us. Next thing we knew we were zombie food and things were over, or at least we thought. It turns out death is not always the end, though through the excitement it quickly became ours.

     I had trouble with this one, due to the uniqueness, in selecting some pros. I did narrow it down a bit, but there are so many more:
  • The overall story lines, I can't tell you how many combinations you could hope to achieve, all work well with a very strong central story.
  • I know I mentioned it already but the humor woven into the dire situation works on so many levels. While most of the jokes are puns, the timing is done like a true pro and they become a wonderful part.
  • Schannep really is an author at the end of the day. The writing is spot on and you will find the adrenaline coursing through your veins as you make your decisions and turn the pages with both anxiety and excitement.
     There is honestly a hundred more things I enjoyed about this story, or stories rather, then I could honestly put down. I feel the best thing to do is give it the overall rating it deserves a very solid 10/10.

     I mentioned above that my wife enjoyed this book on my Kindle so much she had me pick her up a hard copy, I asked her for a quote for my blog:

     "Infected does a wonderful job of  bringing back the Choose your own Adventure books you loved when you were a child. I laughed and cringed page after page and end after end."
                                                                                                                   - My wife, Ronda

     Thank you so much to James Schannep for contacting me with the trailer, and for allowing me the pleasure of reviewing Infected: Click your Poison. For anyone interested here is a link to the trailer.

     If you would like to pick up a copy for yourself click here.

*I didn't mention it above, and I wish I would have, but this book has been written as an adult adventure book and as such there is content that is a little more to the adult side. I suggest reading through before you let your teens try and survive the apocalypse.

     Thank you for taking the time to read the Halloween edition of I hope that I either opened your eyes to a great story that you may have never heard of, and more than that I hope I gave you a great idea for a Halloween read, we sometimes take for granted sitting down with the family and reading a story together.

     Have a very happy, and safe, Halloween.

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