Ten Wonderful Books That Deal with Loss

When confronted with grief or loss in my life, I often find comfort in books. Below is a list of books I’ve read that have helped me confront difficult times.

Image result for a monster calls book A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Thirteen-year old Conor awakens one night to find a monster at his window, but not the monster he’s been expecting. Since his mother began treatment for cancer, he’s been having nightmares of a monster nearly every night. But what he finds is something ancient and wild, who promises Conor a secret in exchange for the truth.

Patrick Ness has a special talent for tapping into the fears and wishes of childhood. A Monster Calls is by turns frightening, funny, and heart-wrenching.

Image result for the pact jodi picoultThe Pact by Jodi Picoult

The phone rings at midnight. Seventeen year old Emily is dead from a gunshot to the head. Her boyfriend, Chris, tells the police that the single other bullet in the gun was meant for him, as part of a suicide pact between the couple. In the coming days, their families begin to wonder if they ever really knew their children at all.

Jodi Picoult’s novels are generally guaranteed to make you ugly-cry, and The Pact is no exception.

 

Image result for the art of racing in the rain bookThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This novel is told from the perspective of Enzo, a golden retriever who carefully watches his master in order to understand the humans around him.

This book was sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but ultimately cathartic and refreshing as it deals with family, love, and loyalty.

Image result for lovely bones bookThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

After a predator lures her into a trap Susie Salmon finds herself in heaven, watching as her family struggles to cope with the devastating loss of their young daughter.

I had heard a lot of great things about this book before I finally picked it up. I was initally worried that it was going to wallow in melodrama but author Alice Sebold paints a calm and refreshing portrait of the afterlife in which everyone can enjoy themselves and be at peace.

Image result for this is where i leave you bookThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Until the death of Judd’s father, the Foxman family hasn’t come together in years. Still reeling from the collapse of his marriage, Judd joins his family to fulfill his father’s dying wish, to spend a week together in their home, together. As a family.

This novel made me laugh out loud while it was making me cry. It’s a wonderful story of the bonds of family, marriage, and all the other ties that bind people together whether they like it or not.

Image result for revised fundamentals of caregiving The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

Ben Benjamin is broken, unemployed and aimless following the death of his child. He ends up becoming a caregiver to an angry young man named Trevor who suffers from advanced muscular dystrophy. Together the two embark on a road trip and learn what it really means to care for another person.

Another book that made me laugh, this novel by Jonathan Evison uses a very deft hand at mixing comedy and sadness. This is a book that left me feeling uplifted and hopeful.

Image result for everything i never told you Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Teenage daughter Lydia is the pride and joy of her Chinese-American family, her parents are determined to see her fulfill the hopes and dreams that they worked towards their entire lives. Until her body is pulled out of the local lake. Now Lydia’s parents find themselves spinning into chaos as Lydia’s secrets begin to surface.

Celeste Ng does an excellent job of unraveling the complicated connections that exist between parents and their children. This novel was powerful and left me with a heavy heart.

Image result for song of achilles The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Narrated by Achilles’ childhood friend Patroclus, this novel deals with the ancient legend of Troy through the eyes of someone who sees the great hero as a friend and lover rather than a warrior.

Madeline Miller is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I loved this interesting spin on the Battle of Troy. She does a great job of portraying the human cost of a legendary war.

Image result for the giving tree The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This short children’s book kept popping into my mind as I was putting this list together. While it is not necessarily a story that deals with death, it does deal with loss in a very interesting way. Seeing how the giving tree gives everything it has to the boy, only to find itself alone and unwanted, has always hit me hard. It’s a powerful allegory of the bond between parents and their children.

Image result for harry potter booksThe Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

In my opinion, there are few situations that are not covered perfectly by the Harry Potter novels. J. K. Rowling delves carefully but masterfully into the anger, fear, and loss that can accompany the death of a loved one. I felt as though I was experiencing that grief along with the characters, and there are some losses that resonate with me even now.

If you’re reading this, hopefully one of these novels can help you find the solace you’re looking for. If there are any other books that you would recommend to those dealing with a loss, let us know in the comments section!

Happy reading everyone.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Donna St. Julian, who inspired a lifetime love of reading and who will be in my thoughts every time I open a new book.

Ten Amazing Books to Take on a Camping Trip

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I absolutely love camping. Every year I await the chance to get away from all the noise and crowds of the city and just drive into the middle of nowhere for a week. My husband and I are avid campers who are both from “indoor” families. Growing up, my mother’s idea of camping would have been a night at the Motel 8. I think part of that may have been because we already lived in the country, where open space, fresh air, and solitude were readily available. As much as I adore living in the Toronto area, I feel more at home in the country.

My husband and I generally go camping rather early in the season, around the end of June. This means that the temperatures average in the low twenties (70*F). For comparison, today it was 33* (93*F) in my Midwestern hometown.  There are numerous benefits to camping at the start of summer in Canada. First of all, schools are still in session so we don’t have to deal with hoards of families crowding the area. We’re both teachers, so our vacations generally mean trying to avoid small children as much as possible. Also, the insects haven’t had the chance to truly come out in force. And my remarkably Day-Glo pale skin has a better chance of avoiding a blistering sunburn. There are a myriad of benefits to camping in cool weather.

Nevertheless, it does have its drawbacks, mainly in that it isn’t exactly bathing suit season yet. This year we are headed to the Bruce Peninsula, near Lake Huron. If you’ve ever wondered how Jack Dawson felt when he went into the waters with the Titanic, take a quick dip in Lake Huron in June. Due to the cooler temperatures, recreational swimming isn’t really an option. Instead, we spend our time kayaking, naming the squirrels that invade our campsite, drinking beer, and reading.

The reading is what has most likely brought you to this post. As I would hate to become one of those horrid cooking blogs which feel the need to bore you with two thousand words of personal nonsense before giving you what you came for, let’s get to the books!

I’ve put together a list of ten books that would be perfect for reading around a campfire or while relaxing in a tent on a rainy day. The first five are all horror novels, because being scared in the woods is fun for everyone. The next five are more family-friendly, in case you don’t want your children waking up at three in the morning because a stick cracked in the darkness and they’re certain it was a beast from the depths of hell.

1) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

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Nine year old Trisha is separated from her family while hiking in the woods of northern New England. Lost for days, dehydrated and scared, Trisha relies on her small radio for solace, tuning into the Boston Red Sox and her hero, pitcher Tom Gordon. But hunger and insects aren’t Trisha’s only problems. Something is stalking the small girl as she wanders through the forest. Something hungry and unnatural.

No list of horror novels is complete without at least one addition from Stephen King . This book is short (for King), atmospheric, and draws on the readers’ fear of the small noises that seem huge when you’re alone in the dark woods.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: Keep on the path!

2) The Ritual by Adam Nevill

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A group of four middle-aged men reunite for a hiking trip in the wilds of northern Sweden. When they attempt to take a shortcut through a patch of untouched forest, they find more than they bargained for.

This novel was on my list of favorite books that I read last year. It is a masterpiece of suspense and dread as the four men realize that their formerly fit bodies are beginning to betray them, and they are unable to outrun that which is hunting them.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: If you see a creepy cabin in the middle of the woods, keep walking!

3) The Ruins by Scott Smith

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Hoping to find a lost friend in the jungles of Mexico, four friends stumble upon an ancient ruin and a creeping horror instead. As they become increasingly hungry and panicked, paranoia and hysteria begin to set in.

This novel is also a really great horror film by the same name. It is a creepy combination of psychological and physical horror. What is more dangerous, the jungle or each other?

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: Don’t touch unidentified plants! 

4) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

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Five short stories centered around the woods and the horrors within, combined with truly disturbing illustrations.

I wrote a review for this graphic novel just a few weeks ago, and I still can’t get it out of my head. The haunting prose and unsettling drawings come together to create a really creepy reading experience.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: Curiosity killed the camper!

5) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

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A collection of short folktakes from around the world. This is still a favorite with older and braver children, and continues to send shivers up the spine of many an adult. Make sure you get an edition with the original artwork by Stephen Gammell, as they are an integral part of this reading experience!

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: Close your eyes and hope for the best.

 

6) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

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The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine, and is a bucket-list item for any avid hiker. Bill Bryson is not an avid hiker, yet he and an equally unfit companion set off to complete the AT in the course of one summer. Bryson details the ecology and history of the area as well as his encounters with the local people and wildlife.

Not so long ago, the Appalachian Trail was a relatively unknown area of the United States, favored only by experienced backpackers and campers. From what I hear, it is now overridden by idiot hipsters who think a hiking GPS makes them an expert. This book is a fun expedition through the woods from someone who knows the does not belong there.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: A sense of humor is essential.

7) Hatchet by Gary Paulson

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This ever-popular children’s novella centers on a boy named Brian who finds himself stranded in the wilderness of Northern Canada after his bush-plane crashes. Armed with only a small hatchet, Brian must find a way to survive until he can be rescued.

Hatchet has been a hit with people of all ages for more than thirty years because we as readers identify so strongly with Brian. His early cluelessness and mistakes are the results of a boy growing up away from nature, as so many of us do. This would be a fun novel to read with children.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: Never give up.

8) The Call of the Wild by Jack London

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Buck the dog is kidnapped from his easygoing life in Santa Clara and forced into work as a sled dog in the unforgiving winter of the Yukon. Faced with constant danger from the climate, the wildlife, and the cruelty of both his fellow dogs and man, Buck must struggle to survive and reclaim his position as master.

Another book that is very popular with young readers, The Call of the Wild is an enduring story of survival and spirit. Because the main character is a dog, he is easy to root for and we celebrate Buck’s victories as much as we weep for his setbacks.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: Be kind to animals.

9) Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Laura Ingalls and her family live in a small wood cabin in the forests of Wisconsin in the mid 18th century. This book describes the struggle and successes of the Ingalls family as they work hard to make a life for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving environment.

Eternally beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder as captured the imaginations of generations of children with her Little House books. They are a good reminder of how much the world has changed, and yet how many things remain the same.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: Your family is there to love and protect you.

10) The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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In the dense forests of medieval Russia, a small village is buried in snow for eight months out of the year. Vasilisa Petrovna grows up wild in the woods, giving offerings to the various sprites and spirits that inhabit the wilderness. When a Catholic priest begins to interfere with village life, Vasilisa must make a choice that will affect her entire future.

I reviewed this novel earlier in the year and I absolutely adored it. A dark fairy tale with religious undertones, The Bear and the Nightingale features a wonderful protagonist who never behaves quite as expected.

How To Stay Alive in the Woods: When in doubt, trust your instincts.

Well there you have it, folks! I hope that you enjoy some of these books on your next venture into the forests. Whether you are looking for a scare or for more tame entertainment, you can’t go wrong with a good book! I’ll be on hiatus next week while I am on a camping trip. I hope to return with more recommendations for our readers who love the woods.

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

Ready Player One: Book vs Film

 Image result for ready player one cover                                                           Image result for ready player one

 

Last week I sat down in my living room to watch Ready Player One. Twenty minutes in I was ready to throw in the towel, but decided to stick out the entire two hour running time in the hopes that things might improve. Things did not improve.

 

As soon as the credits rolled, I picked up my copy of Ernest Cline’s novel and began to read it for the third time in the hopes of scrubbing the events of the evening out of my mind. I began taking notes as I read, trying to pinpoint the exact reasons why I found myself so enraged by Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the book. In no specific order, here are my thoughts on Ready Player One the film vs the novel. Spoilers abound.

  1. Prior to watching, I had been told by several people that the movie was relatively enjoyable as long as you didn’t expect it to follow the book too closely. I took that to mean that there would be minor plot points that varied from the books in order to make the film flow a bit smoother. For example, in the Harry Potter films, I understood why they chose to omit the character of Peeves and most of the Quidditch games; if they didn’t every movie would be a long rambling mess. However, Spielberg seems to have taken the original source material for Cline’s novel, ripped out approximately thirty pages of it and used that to build his narrative. The heart of Ready Player One was completely lost in translation.
  2. Instead of a series of puzzles that require the characters to rely on their intelligence and problem-solving skills, we are instead treated to a MarioKart style opening wherein the “gunters” have to dodge giant dinosaurs and King Kong in order to make it through the first gate. The search for the Copper Key is where things began to go horribly wrong. It leaves out the equal playing field that James Halliday set up for all the users of OASIS. He placed the Copper Key on a planet where a) everyone had free and unlimited access to travel and b) there was no violence allowed. This essentially meant that no matter how strong and high-ranking your avatar was, the only thing that would allow you to reach the first key was your wit and your obsessive knowledge of obscure pop culture. In the film, it’s just another mindless car chase.
  3. Speaking of obscure pop culture, let’s talk about that. Ernest Cline’s novel delved so deeply into the realm of 1980’s music, television, film, and video games that one would need a submersible to follow after him. While reading the book, I found myself having to Google Japanese anime from the 1970’s. I had to familiarize myself with the fundamentals of text-based video games. When Wade or one of his fellow gunters finally solved one of the riddles, it was  genuinely impressive, because who the has the energy to devote their time and energy so completely to learning about this stuff? How many people can read a limerick and understand that it is referencing the limited edition cover of a thirty year old video game? In the novel, the difficulties that Parzival, Art3mis, and Aech face are actually difficult. When watching the film, all I saw was the growing trend of referencing things in a nostalgic way so that viewers will feel smart when they understand the references. Literally everyone watching this films knows the Tyrannosaurus from Jurassic Park. Or the Iron Giant. Or a DeLorean. There’s no challenge there. Spielberg dumbed down the pop culture references to the point where my six year old nephew could have found Halliday’s egg. It seems like he was so afraid of alienating any part of his audience, perhaps specifically the overseas audience, that he was unwilling to take even the smallest risk. Instead he chose to pander to the lowest common denominator.
  4. Let’s keep talking about pop culture. As I mentioned earlier, it takes a certain kind of individual to commit themselves so entirely towards one goal. In the novel, Parzival notes that he has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail something like 178 times. He’s beaten every classic video game. He’s watched every episode of every season of every series that was even remotely popular in the 1980’s. Multiple times. Who does that? Answer – a person who has become mentally unhinged. What Ready Player One fails to truly depict is that the people searching for Halliday’s Egg are deeply unhealthy individuals. Outside of the OASIS, where your avatar can be as handsome, fit, and powerful as the you wish, the actual people are described as overweight, sallow, and anti-social. Ernest Cline’s novel can be seen as a cautionary tale against people living their entire lives in a virtual reality. The film does attempt to address this by having the main characters interact in the real world far sooner than in the book, but at the end of the day this is still Hollywood. Wade isn’t exactly a fashion model, but he’s reasonably healthy and good-looking, and does not seem to be crippled by the type of shyness that exists when you never interact with a person in a real environment. Same goes for the other characters. For a group of people who live their entire lives in isolation, they’re remarkably well-rounded.
  5. My biggest problem with Spielberg’s interpretation of Ready Player One is that the stakes just don’t seem that high. Parzival and his fellow gunters are searching for the egg so they can get rich. There’s also the situation with the “Sixers” who are trying to find the egg so that they can use the OASIS to make a lot of money by selling advertising space and charging fees for users. This is all very sad and capitalistic and greedy. But also, so what? It would be like if everyone who was currently online went to digital war over net neutrality. If we won, awesome. But if we lost, it’s shitty but it’s not the end of the world. The film fails to convey the novel’s premise that the global society we now know and enjoy has fallen apart. Global warming is causing widespread famine. The rural parts of America are lawless Mad Max style wastelands. People are being sold into indentured servitude for failing to pay their bills. And in the midst of all this poverty, hunger, and destitution is an escape from reality in the land of the OASIS. Not only that, but it offers free school for the entire nation. Let me repeat that. It offers free school for the entire nation. So in Cline’s novel when Parzival and the others explain that if the Sixers get the egg it will have a drastic and negative impact on society as a whole, we as readers understand the stakes. In the film it comes across more like a millennial wet dream of sticking it to the man. To be fair, Spielberg includes the scene where Sorrento and his cronies blow up Wade’s housing unit and kill hundreds of people. But the scene has absolutely zero emotional weight because not five minutes later we are introduced to Samantha and the resistance and no one stops for even a moment to grieve for the lives lost. The romantic subplot of the novel becomes the driving force of the film. Other significant deaths from the book are omitted entirely, which only underlines the fact that Spielberg was willing to take absolutely no risks with his nice, safe, family-friendly motion picture. The final battle has all the urgency and intensity of a boss-fight in a video game. It’s frustrating if you lose, but it’s not the end of the world.
  6. I’ve ragged a lot on the film, so I need to take just a second to talk about the few aspects that didn’t piss me off. The scene that took place in The Shining was visually amazing. Implausible, since Aech would most definitely have been aware of the the film’s plot-line, but it looked really cool. Crap, turns out I can’t even give a compliment without unintentionally back-handing it. The movie looked very…pretty? Okay I give up.

 

A friend recommended Ready Player One to me a few years ago, and I became an overnight fan. The book is fun, inventive, smart, and exciting. When I heard that the film was going to be directed by Steven Spielberg, I immediately felt uneasy. To be honest, I haven’t trusted Spielberg or his artistic vision since he Crystal Skull-fucked the Indiana Jones series. So there was definitely an element of bias when I sat down to watch Ready Player One last week. At the same time, I did try to give it a fair shot. In the end, I was remarkably disappointed. I do not think I will be re-watching that film any time soon. And to anyone who hasn’t read it yet, I cannot recommend the novel highly enough.

Halfway There! A Look Back at the First Fifty Books of 2018

Earlier this week I posted the fiftieth book review to this blog. I am proud to say that I am officially halfway towards my goal of reading one hundred new books this year! I celebrated by taking a break and re-reading Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but now I’m back on schedule and will be posting more book reviews later this week! Before I do that, I wanted to take a moment and reflect back on the past five months and share some of the things I’ve learned and noticed while writing reviews for this website.

For the first time since university, I find myself in a position where I’m actually expected to say something relevant about what I am reading. This has had the unexpected consequence of taking something that I generally use as a relaxation tool and turning it into a more mindful exercise. I had to start keeping notes on the books that I read, so that I had something to use as an outline when writing reviews. I’ve had to set myself daily page minimums to ensure that I reach certain goals on time. Since I am currently only working part time (Hey Canada, where’s my working visa!) this has not been especially difficult, and I’ve been able to hit the halfway point of fifty books well ahead of schedule. I am interested to learn how my current reading pace will be effected when (if?) I am ever able to go back to work full time. One positive that I’ve noticed is that I feel as if I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day when I’ve hit my page minimum, or finished a book, or completed and published a review. This website has helped to give me a small amount of motivation during the endless immigration process. Plus, the added bonus is that now my endless reading feels less like a waste of time.

I’ve also begun to note and keep track of my own reading patterns. I’ve always been drawn to the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres, but I recently did a quick tally and realized that nearly half of all the books reviewed for this site fall into one of those three genres. The next largest category was historical fiction, with nine reviews written. Since part of my goal this year has been to expand my reading boundaries, I’m going to try to branch out a little more into contemporary fiction and nonfiction. However, I expect that fantasy and horror will continue to dominate. A reader’s choice of book can tell a lot about their state of mind. I’ve been increasingly isolated and lonely this past year, so it comes as no surprise that I would gravitate towards novels that function largely as escapism.

Because of the fact that most of the books I read are in the same genre, I’m finding it difficult to write reviews without coming across as repetitive. I’m trying to improve my writing skills by use of this website, and this is where I am running into difficulties. I also noticed I’ve given the vast majority of books a ranking of 3/5 or higher. There are two reasons for this. First, I typically only read books if they have a Goodreads rating of 3.5 or higher. So in a way I guess I’m skewing the odds a bit there. Also, it takes a lot for me to truly dislike a book, and the only reason I will rate it very low is if it is either horribly racist, utterly nonsensical, or just plain boring. In the coming days, I am hoping to learn how to review and rank the novels that I review with a more discerning eye. As it is, I read for pure enjoyment and I derive enjoyment from nearly everything I read.

In order to achieve that goal, I’m thinking of taking requests for book reviews. I would open a new link on the homepage by which people could then leave a comment leaving the title and author of a book they would like to see reviewed by oneyearonehundredbooks. It’s just a thought, and I would have to figure out how to set that up, as one more thing that I have learned is that I am stunningly bad at website design.

I’m really looking forward to the next fifty books, and seeing what new adventures the rest of the year will bring. To those reading this, thank you for your continued support.

Happy reading everyone!

Ashley

 

I Re-read a Bunch of Goosebumps Books and You Should Too!

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When I was young, I didn’t have many friends. My family moved around a lot, and I lived in four states before I was ten years old. I was always the new kid at school, and it didn’t help that I was awkward as hell. So I spent a lot of time in my childhood reading. My favorite place in any town was either the library or Barnes and Noble. To this day, I find the smell of old books to be incredibly comforting. Around eight years old, one of my absolute favorite books was R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. I was a horror fanatic from a very early age, and I gobbled up these short little books like candy. I had a huge collection of them which I prized greatly.

Fast-forward a few years, and I am heading off to university. I left all of my things, including my well-stocked bookcase, at my parent’s house. However, a few months later they decided to move again. They boxed up all my things and put them in the basement of their new house.

The basement flooded that year. Most of my childhood toys, clothes, and other mementos were ruined. Including all my books. It was devastating.

I open with this story not to depress you but to explain why now, as an adult, I am working to collect the entire Goosebumps series. It’s become a bit of a passion project, because as a lonely, socially awkward child, my books were my refuge.

Last week I took a trip to the local thrift shop and stumbled across a gold mine. Nearly twenty-five of the original Goosebumps books were sitting on the shelves, waiting for me. I bought them all and walked home with them shoved into a backpack. My husband, whose feelings towards my book hoarding can best be described as amused confusion, asked if I actually planned on reading any of them.

goosebumps2

So I did. I sat down and read twenty-five Goosebumps books over the course of five days. None of them will count towards my goal of reading one hundred books this year, but I’m ahead of schedule and wanted a break.

While I was reading, a made a few notes as to why I think these books were so popular for children in the ’90s. And why they can still be a good entry into chapter books for kids today.

  1. They’re scary but not too scary. I have always been obsessed with the horror genre. Books, movies, comics, anything. Goosebumps was probably my first foray into books that could be considered “scary”. And to a second or third grader, they are pretty creepy. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, basically any classic monster has its place in Stine’s universe. He has an innate sense of how to chill his young readers without scarring them for life. His characters aren’t always brave, either. Sometimes they turn tail and run, just like we would. But at the end of the day, no one in the Goosebumps novels is ever in mortal danger. In Stine’s Fear Street series, which was written for an older audience, the characters often die. But the Goosebumps books are wonderfully innocent in that regard.
  2. For a child, the characters are someone to look up to. One thing that I never noticed as a kid was that every single main character in the Goosebumps books is twelve years old. Every single one. This was not an attempt to appeal to twelve year olds. By the time I was twelve I had long since moved on to Stephen King. No, R. L. Stine understood that children around seven to nine years old look up to and admire the “big” kids. Twelve is the perfect age for adventures. They’re not quite teenagers, but have more freedom than younger kids. They have the problem-solving skills that would generally allow them to behave properly in a scary environment. But they aren’t so old that they are preoccupied by the trials and tribulations of puberty.
  3. Their problems were our problems. Not the ghosts and werewolves. But a major running theme of the Goosebumps books deals with bullies. And annoying siblings. Unfair teachers and parents who don’t believe their children. Getting grounded. Being embarrassed in front of your classmates. All of the things that seemed to fill up the whole world when you were a kid. Everyone remembers the desperate unfairness of being a kid and having little power to change your circumstances. I was surprised by how strongly I responded to these children being bullied by their peers or older siblings. I think it would resonate just as much with today’s kids. Especially since the bullies or mean siblings always seem to get their comeuppance.
  4. The books are very predictable. This is important when you’re trying to encourage young children to read. Especially if you are also trying to scare them, but not too much. There are a few things that happen in every single book. At some point, one of the characters will say, “What could go wrong?” There will be a very scary sequence that turns out to be a nightmare. There will always be a heavy use of foreshadowing. And nearly every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger. As an adult, the cliff-hanger chapter comes across as terribly lazy. But for a child, it’s key. It keeps them reading. Keeps them engaged and turning the pages.

In the end, I had a blast reveling in childhood nostalgia with the Goosebumps books this week. I’m going to continue trolling my local Salvation Army with the hopes of eventually completing my collection. I’m looking forward to reading them one day to my own children. Hopefully we can all be scared together.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Kimberling Lake Chapter Two by Ashley Schlueter

If you haven’t read the first installment, you can find it here. Again, I welcome any constructive criticism and comments! Happy reading everyone!

Kimberling Lake

by Ashley Schlueter

Chapter Two

How long she lay prone on the deck, Nellie didn’t know. It could have been two minutes or two hours. She finally opened her eyes to an angry black sky above Kimberling Lake, and she shivered violently as rain lashed around her. She coughed hoarsely and tried to sit up, but her head spun and she sank back onto the wooden boards. Turning her head to the right, she could see the metal ladder where Jeanie had last stood. She managed to lift her head slightly to look for the bloodstain that had marked where her cousin fell, but the rain had washed it away. It was as if Jeanie had never been there.

Nellie was alone.

Bile rose in her throat. She rolled onto her side and vomited weakly onto the dock, shaking as her stomach heaved the contents of her breakfast onto the wooden slats. Her head pounded fiercely, and she was unbearably thirsty. Opening her mouth, she allowed rain to drip into her mouth and coat her swollen tongue. This helped clear her head, and Nellie slowly managed to rise, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the dock as far away from the lake as possible. She looked out across the choppy water to the beach. The picnic basket still sat on the rocks, next to Jeanie’s discarded clothes and shoes.

At the sight of her cousin’s shorts and T-shirt, Nellie was seized by a sudden rage. “Give her back!” Rising unsteadily to her feet, she screamed her frustration and helplessness over the water. Tears streamed alongside rain on her cheeks as she cursed the thing in the water. “Give her back! Give her back!” she howled over the lake. The lake, however; merely continued lapping at the buoys of the floating dock, deaf to the pain of one small girl child.

Nellie shouted wildly, “I’m going to kill you! You killed Jeanie and now I’m going to kill you!” Her voice hitched and her chest was tight with grief and pain. “I’m going to kill you!” she cried again. Looking around for something to throw and finding nothing, she resorted to stamping her small foot ineffectually.

Without warning the dock rose into the air, tilting violently to one side. Nellie was thrown off her feet. Scrambling for purchase, she grabbed for a gap between two of the wooden boards and dug her fingers in. Jagged splinters pierced her hands but Nellie gripped harder as the dock rose at a sharper angle out of the water. She screamed again, this time from terror.

Then, just as suddenly as it has begun, the tilting stopped and the dock settled back onto the surface of the lake. Water washed over the sides in waves. Nellie’s heart was hammering in her chest. She drew her knees up to her chest and rested her head against them, breathing raggedly.

It heard me. It’s under the dock right now, waiting and listening to the frightened girl alone on the lake. Nellie pictured the two malevolent red eyes watching her from the water, its slimy black claws curled for the chance to drag her into the drowning deep.

It’s there, and it wants to make sure I know it’s there. Wants to keep me scared. Maybe scared kids taste better. Or it’s just playing with me until it gets bored.

As if the monster could read her very thoughts a series of bubbles broke the surface of the lake, as if something under the water had released air very quickly. It’s laughing at me. Nellie’s head sank back onto her knees, and she struggled to calm her hammering heart, to ease her breathing.

Think. She commanded herself. Stop panicking and think.

How long had she been stuck out here on this rusty old dock? It felt like years ago that she and Jeanie had arrived at the lake. The girl in the yellow sundress who had flown to the edge of the lake with such joy felt like another person entirely. A completely different Nellie had dived down to the lakebed to grab some mud. That other Nellie’s biggest problem had been trying to earn the respect of her older cousin. Somewhere over the course of the morning, that girl had been replaced by a new Nellie. One who had seen her cousin dragged off the edge of a dock by a dripping black claw. A Nellie who was now trapped like a rabbit in a snare. Her chest began hitching and she squeezed her eyes tightly to stop the tears.

Breathe. Think.

She and Jeanie had left the house early that morning, around 9:30. The events of the ill-fated lakebed dive had occurred perhaps thirty minutes later. It was difficult to judge the position of the sun due to the dark clouds blanketing the sky, but Nellie would guessed it was somewhere around noon. Lunchtime. On cue her stomach gave a faint grumble. She and Jeanie were usually expected back at Aunt Cynthia’s for lunch. Perhaps when they didn’t show up, Aunt Cynthia would come looking for them.

The picnic basket.

Nellie groaned into the space between her knees. Of course. She and Jeanie had packed a lunch to take down to the beach. Her parents had left this morning with Uncle Frank and Aunt Cynthia for a boat show in Branson. They were going to eat dinner in the city before driving back, and probably wouldn’t be home until past eleven. Why would they hurry? Jeanie was there to babysit. Even if they tried calling and Jeanie didn’t answer her phone, they would just blame the notoriously bad service of the Ozark hills. 

What about the neighbors?

In the middle of a lightning storm, it seemed highly unlikely that she would encounter any fellow beachgoers. Besides, if her screams hadn’t attracted anyone’s attention by now it was doubtful that they were. Kimberling Lake was an isolated place, away from the raucous crowds of university students and families with speedboats that swarmed like sand flies over the larger lakes in the area. That was precisely the reason that her uncle had chosen to buy his particular property.

Shit! Nellie swore loudly in her head, and then rose her head, “Shit-damn-ass-sonofabitch!” she screamed at the top of her voice. For some reason, the taboo act of swearing lifted her spirits a little, and a fleeting grin crossed her face. “Damn-bastard-shithead-asshole-FUCK”. A tiny giggle escaped her lips. She had never dared to say the forbidden f-word before. But if any situation truly deserved the f-word, it was being trapped on a rusty dock by a lake monster. This new thought sobered her and she dropped her head back onto her knees, but her heart now pounded with defiance as well as fear.

Options. What are my options?

It was unlikely that she would last until her parents got home. The thing in the water would be picking her out of its teeth by then. It was equally unlikely that a neighbor would chance to come upon her. Nellie was on her own.

Breathe.

She needed to make a plan. She took a deep breath, held it as long as she could, and slowly exhaled. She had seen people do that on T.V. when they needed to come up with a good idea. No flashes of brilliance came into her mind. She breathed again.

Options. What are my options?

She couldn’t stay on the dock. Eventually the creature would tire of scaring her and come to finish her off. So that meant she had to get back to shore. Safety was beckoning from the rocky beach a mere fifty feet away. From where she sat it might as well have been fifty miles. The second she put a toe into the water, the thing would be there with its slashing claws and sharp teeth. It would drag her under the water down to where the sun couldn’t penetrate and it would sink its teeth—

Stop it, Nellie. Breathe. Think. What do you have? 

What did she have? Nellie took inventory of the objects at her disposal.

One pink-and-white swimsuit. One blue elastic hair-tie. One woven friendship bracelet that she’d been wearing since Christmas. Two silver earrings in the shape of crescent moons. One skinny blonde girl who was woefully unprepared for monster-slaying. None of this inspired her with great confidence.

What else?

Nellie looked around. One floating dock with weathered wooden boards. The boards were warped by time and exposure, leaving large gaps in some places. Could she perhaps pull up one of the boards and use it to bash the monster over the head? Crouching down, she inspected the wooden slats that ran across the dock. After forty years the wood had swollen to almost completely cover the rusty old nails holding it together. She wiggled her fingers between two boards and tried peeling it up. The board creaked slightly but didn’t budge. Leverage, she needed some kind of leverage. Face wrinkled with concentration, Nellie looked once more around the dock. Her eyes settled on the rusty metal ladder descending into the water.

What do you have?

Nellie tilted her head to one side. The rain was beginning to ease and a faint ray of sunshine peaked out from behind a cloud. For the first time since she had seen the scarlett eyes on the bottom of Kimberling Lake, a smile crept over Nellie’s face. A plan was beginning to form carefully in her mind.

To be continued….

I Left a Church for Harry Potter

Image result for harry potter cover

 

Disclaimer: For the sake of the sanity of various family members I need to state outright that I did not leave THE church for Harry Potter. As in it did not drive me from Christianity.

Now we can proceed.

While I was brainstorming exactly how this site should run over the course of next year , I decided that I shouldn’t include any re-reads. I have a small collection of well-loved books that I like to think of as “comfort novels”. You know the ones. The old favorites that you’ve read and re-read to the point where you can quote them line for line. The ones that are like curling up with an old friend. My personal collection of comfort novels includes Gone With the Wind, The Clan of the Cave Bear, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Pride and Prejudice. And of course, Harry Potter. Once I realized that I was effectively banning myself from reading Harry Potter for an entire year, I was of course overwhelmed with a burning desire to read Harry Potter. So before the new year rolls around, I’ve decided to take a nice relaxing stroll back into Hogwarts and spend the holiday season unwinding with a series that has had a significant impact on my life and the life of millions of others. So grab a cup of hot chocolate, snuggle down in the warm glow of your tablets, and I’ll spin you the tale of how Harry Potter became a book I would have to fight for.

When I was about eleven years old, my language arts teacher decided to spend the first five minutes of every lesson reading aloud to us from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My parents, who had recently watched a Fox News broadcast which suggested that Harry Potter was leading schoolchildren to form Satanic cults or something, talked about having me pulled out of class. However, they were already too late. Harry had just unleashed a boa constrictor on his cousin and I was hooked. I threatened to purposely fail my classes if they had me removed. Thankfully, once they saw how much the books meant to me they relented. Perhaps they noticed that I had made my way through three of the novels and had yet to sacrifice the family cat to Mephistopheles. In the summer of 2000 my Dad even ended up driving me to Walmart at midnight so I could buy The Goblet of Fire. This was the first time I went to battle over Harry Potter but it was not to be the last.

The summer after my wonderful teacher introduced me to the world of Hogwarts, I went away for a week to a sleep-away Christian Bible Camp. At the time, joining one of the local churches had seemed like a great way to make new friends, as I was still relatively new to a small town. I’d actually lived there for nearly three years at that point, but it was a small enough town that we were still the “new” family. Anyway, I was really excited to spend a week hiking and swimming with the girls from my youth group.

Turns out, the emphasis at this particular summer institution was on “Bible” far more than it was on “camp”. If memory serves, there was a two hour sermon in the morning, another two hour sermon in the afternoon and a group bible discussion every evening. Now this was your proper Southern Baptist sermon. Lots of singing and dancing and praising of the Lord. It’s actually a pretty rousing good time. But that’s still a lot of church for a twelve-year old.

Towards the end of the week, we had a guest pastor. He arrived with a Powerpoint presentation and proceeded to spend the next two hours detailing all the myriad temptations that would befall us and lead us down the dark road to hell. His list included, but was not limited to:

  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Madonna
  • Looney Tunes
  • Yoga
  • Video Games
  • The Backstreet Boys

and of course, Harry Potter. Now, I think he had written this sermon back in the 1980’s (none of had ever played D&D and Madonna was something my mom danced to after a few glasses of wine) but he had updated it to include a few of the more modern evils. He latched on to Harry Potter with particular vengeance. It was foul and wicked and tempted children away from God. It taught witchcraft to impressionable youth and as we all know from Exodus we “must not suffer a witch to live”.

As I sat there, becoming more and more confused and angry,  a voice piped up from the congregation, asking the pastor if he had ever actually read any of the Harry Potter novels. He, of course, had not. Another girl chimed in, saying that she had read them and that the books embodied such themes as friendship, heroism, maternal strength, and the power of love to triumph over evil. None of which, in her opinion, pointed one down the road to hellfire. Their voices gave me courage, and I found myself on my feet, agreeing and adding my voice to theirs. Honestly I cannot remember for the life of me what exactly I said to this pastor. I was scared out of my mind. This was probably the first time I had ever actively disagreed with an adult that wasn’t a family member.

Now as some of you may know, it is difficult if not impossible to coherently argue with a self-righteous evangelical. The discussion lasted for only a few minutes before he abruptly switched topics. Perhaps to point out that glitter nail polish was an affront to God. Everyone sat back down and the sermon carried on more or less normally from there. But the damage was done. A thin crack appeared in my worldview that day. I had raised doubt with a member of my church. I had dared to object to his teachings. It made absolutely no sense at all at the time. But in hindsight I have always looked back on this week at bible camp as the first time I began standing up for what I believed in. To question and demand real answers to those questions. All thanks to one fictional boy with a lightning shaped scar.

After I got back home, I stopped going to that particular church. It bothered me in a way that I could not express at the time that none of my friends at camp had stood to support me. Instead, I think they were embarrassed that I hadn’t quietly agreed with the pastor. It also bothered me that the man was so eager to judge that which he knew nothing about. So I quietly began seeking out a more tolerant congregation.

Looking back, I realize this story doesn’t seem particularly exciting. I didn’t shout down the guest pastor and storm out in a fury. I didn’t demand that my parents come and rescue me. All I did was stand with others to show my opposition to his teachings.

But isn’t that one of the most important lessons that a child can learn?

So I’m going to snuggle up in my blanket and continue reading Harry Potter while it snows outside. And I’ll give a silent thank-you to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and J. K. Rowlings for helping me to learn some valuable lessons.

Happy Holidays!

Ashley