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The Lost Girl: A Fear Street Retrospective

The Lost Girl: A Fear Street Retrospective published on

Every month, Scholastic provided Cloverland Elementary School with a glossy magazine filled with promises of new books, like the latest Baby Sitter’s Club or Sweet Valley Twin title. The year I was betrayed by my fifth grade teacher (she told my mom I was hiding contraband Stephen King novels in my messy desk and reading the nastier parts to the other kids at recess), a new series started showing up on the pages of that glossy magazine: Goosebumps. It immediately appealed to me, twisted little kid that I was.

I did not read all of the Goosebumps books, but for a couple years, I read each installment. My interest waned when I stopped being interested in the mystery and/or surprised by the twist. Goosebumps was not twisted, violent, or gory enough to satisfy my dark heart. One night, my friend had a sleepover for her birthday. Because I was easily overwhelmed by being around so many people, I sneaked into her older sister’s room to take a look at her bookshelf. I was mostly interested in the Sweet Valley High books, but a familiar name caught my eye. This was the night that I discovered R. L. Stine had written another series: Fear Street.

I smuggled a couple out of the sister’s room and huddled on the couch the rest of the evening. I would not say that Fear Street changed my world. I already had a couple of Stephen King books under my belt, after all, and Fear Street is to Stephen King and Dean Koontz what Sweet Valley High is to Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Lisa Kleypas. But they were dark, savage, and Stine clearly relished writing about evil teenagers killing people as much as Lurlene McDaniel relished writing about teenagers dying of cancer.

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See? He even notes that his job is to scare kids.

The Best Friend stands out as one of the creepier installments. A young teen with an obvious mental disorder attaches herself to her new next door neighbor and tries to take over her life. Another favorite, The Stepsister, had a similar theme, though the stepsister was widely viewed as a goody two-shoes until the heroine revealed her as a cunning murderess. Some of them even had moral lessons. In What Holly Heard, I learned that listening to gossip could end with me being brutally murdered; I was cautious of going on a Double Date, aware that it could lead to a hostage situation. Wrong Number taught me that my happy-go-lucky love for prank-calling could summon a being of ancient evil. And, above all, I learned that Cheerleaders are vicious gangs of evil, second only to Satan.

After a number of the loosely connected books in the series were published, R. L. Stine decided to write the origin story. Fear Street Saga turned out to be the pinnacle of what the series as a whole has to offer: stark betrayal, teenagers in extreme peril, evil teenagers, an evil that is passed down from generation to generation, hauntings, lost loves, and suggestions of reincarnation. Of the series, it was the most maturely written.

Until now.

R.L. Stine took a long break from his young adult horror book franchise. Right around when I was in high school, the time between releases grew longer and longer. Finally, they petered out until Fear Street faded from my memory. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I discovered I had a chance to review the new book. I jumped at it.

The Lost Girl is the third book in the new six-book series set to take place in Shadyside. Like its predecessors, it is a standalone. The only connections it has to previous books – unless, of course, I am missing some deeply hidden Easter eggs – are the location and some of the magic tricks. The story and the characters are entirely new.

Michael Frost is a teenager at Shadyside High School. His father owns a snowmobile rental shop, and his mother is sweet and kind. His girlfriend, Pepper, has the temper to go with her bright red hair, and his several close friends make up a pack of fairly normal teens. Everything changes when he meets a beautiful girl who tells him she is lost, and asks him to help her. He is drawn to her immediately, despite his conscience telling him it was wrong, he had a girlfriend, and something about the lost girl was just a little off. Before he could extricate himself from the lost girl, a terrible accident occurred. I can’t say any more without giving away a couple of spoilers, but we all know how much R. L. Stine likes his twists.

The writing itself is mature, assured, and unhurried. For all that I enjoyed Fear Street (and I still do), I knew even then that the books were rushed, the chapters were abrupt, and the story sped along much too swiftly to really and truly care about the characters. This was part of the charm of the books: they read like slasher films. This one is a little more relaxed. R. L. Stine gave us time to care about the character, and to nurture our curiosity. This was partly achieved by the fact a third of the novel is set in the past. Stine was able to maintain the swift pace of a traditional slasher, while also adding layers to the story. In the past, this book would have been two different installments in the series, rather than knit together into a book that is actually a fine example of all the best things about a Fear Street novel.

Reading this book and writing this review has been a bit of a trip down memory lane. These books are not going to win any huge awards, but they were a pretty big part of my adolescence. That made it a joy to read, and this review a joy to write.

Fear Street by R.L. Stine will be published by St. Martin’s Griffin on September 29, 2015

 

Tourist in Comicbooklandia: My Origin Story

Tourist in Comicbooklandia: My Origin Story published on 2 Comments on Tourist in Comicbooklandia: My Origin Story

I suppose if I really thought about it, my first foray into comic books all started back when Tori Amos sung “Me and Neil will be hanging out with the Dream King” in her song “Tear in Your Hand” from Little Earthquakes.  Despite the lack of ready access to the Internet (Oh!  I miss the 90s!), I somehow learned that Neil was Neil Gaiman and the Dream King was The Sandman.  I must have read an article in Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone.  

Somehow I tracked down all ten volumes of The Sandman for reading.  I remember really enjoying the entire experience even though I was initially thrown by the changes in artists through all the issues.

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Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

And then I just stopped.Read more

Between the Covers, or…

Between the Covers, or… published on

How Kate Elliott Saved my Saturday Night from reruns of Sixteen and Pregnant (which is a fate worse than death)

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It’s rare that I have a hard time writing a review. Sometimes it happens because the book fails to catch me, or because I liked the plot but the characters never quite came to life for me.

That’s not the case for ‘Court of Fives’. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. I am so in love all I want to talk about is the thing. You know, the part I CAN’T TALK ABOUT. It’s rather maddening actually.

But that aside, let’s talk about the parts of the book I can talk about. Shall we start with the characters? Which are so alive they might swim up off the page at any moment and ask you why you can’t just read a little faster, because this next part is so good.

Or maybe it’s the plot? By turns both straightforward, and unexpected. You know WHERE the story is going, but like the five’s court of the title, it’s never a straightforward route, where unseen perils and wonders lie on even the most straightforward seeming path.

If you’re getting the idea that I loved this book, you’d be right. Kate is one of the most consistently excellent writers in the genre. She writes amazing characters (both men and women) that you can sympathize with, sometimes even when they do terrible things, because you understand WHY they’re like that. She never paints in black and white, when there are so many shades of gray available to her. Her plots are well thought out, and her world-building is complex and complete.

This is a great book if you like well written fantasy that isn’t set in a faux-European fantasy realm of dragons and knights (though she’s written both knights and dragons in the past, and blown my socks off!), go read it, and savor every aspect of the banquet of words she has provided.

Also read

 


Magic Below Stairs (Cecila and Kate #4) by Caroline Stevermer
A fun romp set in the world of ‘Sorcery and Cecelia’ which she cowrote with Patricia Wrede, it’s definitely a younger readers story, but still tons of fun for adults.

Delia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer
A sort of gothic romance meets murder mystery set in post Great Earthquake San Fransisco. It suffers slightly from the author wanting to overemphasize the character of her characters at the beginning, but that settles down quickly and becomes really fun to read.

Forgotten Gem

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Sometimes, dear readers, I know exactly what book I’m going to put here, because it’s come up in conversation, or I’ve just pulled it off my shelf to reread it. And sometimes I glance at a shelf as I’m writing and pick a book that is CRIMINALLY UNDER-READ. Today is one of the latter instances.

Sean Russell wrote several unforgettable books in the genre before he moved onto writing nautical adventure novels, but my favorite book by him is the fabulous World Without End which is really only the first half of the story, as ‘Sea Without Shore’ is the second half of a novel too big to print in one volume.

It’s a smart book, in the sense that many of the books biggest questions are left open to the reader to decide. Was the Last Mage right to end all evidence of his Art? Thinking about that will stick with you long after you know Tristam’s fate.
And on that note, I’m off to try and finish ‘Two Years Eight Months and 28 Nights’ which is how long I think it may take to finish it.

How SciFi and Fantasy Can Help Us Re-imagine the Lives of the Disabled

How SciFi and Fantasy Can Help Us Re-imagine the Lives of the Disabled published on 2 Comments on How SciFi and Fantasy Can Help Us Re-imagine the Lives of the Disabled

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An accident before birth leaves Miles Vorkosigan deformed and rejected by his society and culture, though he proves himself a military genius.

Raistlin Majere, the greatest sorcerer ever to live in Krynn, performs his magics from within a shattered body that suffers chronic pain and fatigue.

Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever fights half-handed for the health of the Land, but on Earth, he is reviled as a leper.

River Tam, aboard Serenity, is possibly one of the smartest (and also most lethal) people in the ‘verse, though her mind is torn by post-traumatic stress.

Some of these characters are heroes; others, anti-heroes or trickster figures. What they share in common is that they are not Conan. Scifi and fantasy have often glorified the supremely able, the man of great sinews and strength who can stand against a thousand with his axe one-handed, with his ray-gun or phaser, or with his donkey’s jawbone.

But almost as often, scifi and fantasy have opened doors to looking at the least able in our own society. SF imagines the technologies that improve the lives of the disabled, and fantastic fiction grows the mental and heart muscles we use to place ourselves in the shoes of others – even in the shoes of those we don’t consider to be much like us. These are stories that bring us into inevitable collision with difference, and that demand, implicitly, that we face the extent to which we “other” others and create lepers in our communities.

Most of all, speculative fiction celebrates the potential of the human imagination. If you can imagine a thing, Miles Vorkosigan insists, you can do a thing. He drives his more able comrades to great deeds with the gleeful words, “If I can do it, you can do it!” Our ability to imagine – an ability to the able and the less able share alike — is actually the greatest ability, these genres suggest. Imagination takes us to the stars, permits us to solve problems, and, most importantly, sparks our empathy with those who do not look like us or cannot do some of the things we do or who do them differently.

This is something very important to me personally, as the father of two daughters, River and Inara, both of them intelligent and fiercely imaginative, but one of them physically disabled. My little Inara was born with crippling seizures that took some considerable medical panache to bring under control; these have left her with cortical blindness and delays in speech, motor function, and physical growth. Often in supermarkets or bookstores we are stopped by well-meaning bystanders who tell us how sorry they are for us, Inara’s parents.

We are not sorry. We are, every day, impressed. We see Inara paint amazing canvasses with her toes and glorious oil colors, painting all the poems she cannot write. We see her solving obstacles with a degree of ingenuity the more physically able are never required to develop. We see her reach out to other adults and children with deep empathy and kindness, though she must do so without words.

When I wrote my one-armed character Koach in my fantasy epic No Lasting Burial, and wrote of his compassion and heroic defense of others who suffer, I found him speaking these words in that novel’s pages: “The only lasting impediments are those we shore up within our own hearts.”
To us – writers and readers alike – speculative fiction throws down the gauntlet of imagination, calling us into a duel with the least tolerant and accepting versions of ourselves, provoking us to questions like these:

  • Is ableism only a paucity of imagination? When our technology – a prosthetic, or a feat of genetic engineering – can serve as an equalizer, how significantly should we actually treat the line of division between the “able” and the “unable”? To a soldier in a full metal power-suit, everyone else – you and me included – are unable, less able.
  • How sensible is it to judge the people around us based on physical or mental ability when we might find ourselves tomorrow in the midst of a universe populated by sentient species with a stunning diversity of degrees and types of physical and mental ability? If the most breathtaking art in the galaxy is created by Lilliputians, then what does height mean as a standard of an individual’s merit? If we encounter an alien race with brains three times the size of our own, how do we then judge or measure our own intellect?

20100717223134!Frontispiece_to_Frankenstein_1831Often, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been labeled the first work of “science fiction,” and it is the memorable and horrific tale of a ‘monster,’ a physically strong yet physically disfigured individual who initially has little command of language and is outcast from society. In Mary Shelley’s deft storytelling, the Creature learns language and confronts his parent, who was the first to exile him. As readers, we are caught, mesmerized, listening to the voice of that other who has been driven out. We recognize and then admire—perhaps to our shock, at first—the magnificence of his intellect and the depth of his yearning for human companionship.

From Victor Frankenstein’s creation to Jaxom’s time-traveling white dragon Ruth to Miles Vorkosigan’s crooked-legged dance across the stars, speculative fiction is uniquely able to help us imagine, re-imagine, what it means to be able. We learn in the pages of these stories that everyone we meet, regardless of their most immediately apparent level of ability, may have strengths and characteristics that we don’t expect but that might enlarge our own lives and our own experience of our world, if we only allow our first response to be curiosity and interest rather than violence or shunning, if we only take the time to get to know them, listen to them, or love them.

About the Author

 

Enjoy this post? Follow this Link to Stant Litore’s Patreon page. Gain access to his books, interact with the author, and provide patronage. He is passionate about his writing, as well as about this topic in particular.

Also, if you’re interested, hear Stant talk about Patreon (and where your contribution goes) in the video below.

Book Gossip: Volume One

Book Gossip: Volume One published on 6 Comments on Book Gossip: Volume One

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The last book in Jacqueline Carey’s Agent of Hel trilogy, Poison Fruit, came out last fall. So what has she been working on? Two projects, it turns out. The first is a novella, “One Hundred Ablutions”, which will be published in Yanni Kuznia’s Fantasy Medley 3. It will tell the tale of Dala – a young woman chosen by her people’s overlords to be a slave among slaves, and will include themes of ritual and redemption. The anthology will also include novellas from Kevin Hearne, Laura Bickle, and Aliette de Bodard.

Carey’s next novel will be a dark retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and will chronicle the lives of the titular characters Miranda and Caliban. It will be published in July 2016. I am still hoping that this is a code, and what it really means is that she is writing a new trilogy set in Terre D’Ange, but that hope is dwindling fast.

Seth Skorkowsky will be publishing a new collection of Black Raven stories in October, and is also hard at work on the third book in his wonderful Valducan series: Ibenus. He gave us a brief teaser of the plot, and it looks fantastic. Don’t believe us? Read it for yourself.

After surviving a demon attack, disgraced police detective Victoria Martin tracks down the Valducans in search of answers. Recognizing her potential, and despite the warnings of the other knights, Allan Havlock, protector of Ibenus, takes her in as his apprentice. As the Valducans travel to Paris to destroy a demon nest infesting the catacombs, the knights find themselves hunted by an Internet group intent on exposing them. Victoria, who belongs this group, must desperately play both sides to not only protect herself, but Allan whom she has begun to love. Ibenus, however, has other plans.

Back in April, Guy Gavriel Kay announced his new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, which will be published in spring 2016. This will, of course, be one of his lyrical and thoughtful fantasies in which he reveals a culture that has its roots in our world, but is obscured by a fantastical lens.

In The Children of Earth and Sky Kay returns to the familiar territory established in several earlier works, a reimagining of the melting pot of the medieval Mediterranean. In his hands well-known places and events are transformed into the wonderful and strange through the lens of fantasy, and brought to life with brilliantly drawn characters and the most graceful of styles, which will seduce his many fans and new readers alike.

Isn't this a beautiful cover?

The interesting bit about this is that in February of last year, he sold not one, but two books. Could Children of Earth and Sky be the first in a duology like the Sarantine Mosaic or Under Heaven and River of Stars? It’s a wonderful notion – how many of us wish Tigana had been the first of two (or, maybe, seventeen) books?

Perhaps he could take a page from Robin Hobb? Her Realm of the Elderlings series is made up of sixteen novels.

robin hobb

Assassin’s Fate, the book every single one of her fans longs for, yet are terrified by, is the culminating novel. It is sure to be wonderful and bittersweet at the same time, especially since she allows her story to take her to dark places. I can’t say that she ever simply “kills off” characters for the fun of it (or to add some drama), but she is devoted to the story she wishes to tell. No one is safe. No one is safe from having to wait, either. Typically, Hobb has a publishing schedule that has a book by her out every year. To my deepest sorrow, it looks like we will have to wait until spring 2017. It will be worth it. The best things are worth waiting for.

Fortunately, sometimes patience wins the day! Our wait for Grim Oak Press’s Unbound is nearly over, however. Shawn Speakman, expert author wrangler and talented writer, has put together another anthology that is… bound… to be a fantastic read. A lot of anthologies celebrate a particular theme, or joke, or location. Unbound is a compilation of stories that the authors just wanted to write. The Table of Contents is impressive, with Kristen Britain, Tim Marquitz, Terry Brooks, Shawn Speakman, and Jim Butcher. (Yes, the Butcher story will involve our first glimpse of Harry Dresden post-Skin Game). Speakman prizes collectibles, and knows exactly what book lovers want. Follow the link to Grim Oak Press to purchase limited editions and ARCs.

In other news:
1. The first book in Tad Williams’s new Osten Ard trilogy has been delayed by one full year due to publishing shenanigans.
2. Christopher Moore is working on a book called Noire, set in 1947 San Francisco. Will the Author Guy never cease to surprise us?
3. Ernest Cline, author of Armada and Ready Player One, has signed another contract for a science fiction novel to be delivered at a later date.
4. Jeff Vandermeer spent the month of August away from social media, and came away 100,000 words richer. He is working on not one but two new novels for us.

That’s it until next time! Feel free to share in the comments any juicy book-related gossip.

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