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Here are all of the Bunicula books included in this review (two in the series are missing): Bunnicula, Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, Nighty-Nightmare, and Bunnicula Strikes Again
Here are all of the Bunnicula books included in this review (two in the series are missing)

SPOILER ALERT

This so-called review / trip down memory lane goes into some of my favorite scenes from the books, so treat it like garlic or sunlight to a vampire and stay away in your crypt if you do not wish to be barraged with such nostalgic plot-blowing reverie (both regarding the Bunnicula series and some other things thrown in for added flavor).

So to get on with it…

Anyone who spends a lot of time in this genre will nod and shake their heads in understanding when I say that it often comes up, “how or when did you first get into horror?”  I don’t know many in this who haven’t been posed that question at some point or another.  Hell, I’ve been on both sides of it myself – we all kind of want to know when any among us went through that initiation and what form it took for them…  In response, many will often cite R. L. Stine and Goosebumps, or Stephen King, or Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and so on.

For me, it evolved out of my love for language play and my taste for the odd or for things that appeal to the opposite of expectation.  I’ve always gravitated towards things that have a kind of off beat inside-joke humor to them.  Puns and wordplay are generally a great addition.  Surreal and other weirdness is also always good.

I grew up watching campy B-rated movies with my father.  The old Universal Studios Classics like Lon Chaney as The Wolf Man or Bela Lugosi as Dracula.  And some more obscure flicks too.  His collection numbered in the thousands.  My favorite was probably The Beginning of the End because of the final scene where the giant grasshoppers descend upon Chicago.  I find it endlessly amusing how this scene plays out, since in filming it, they literally just dumped a bunch of grasshoppers on a photograph of Chicago and of the buildings and then tried to pan away whenever the insects would start to walk across the sky or fly off.  This still humors me to this day.

I also loved The Addams Family.  The old cartoons, the black and white television series, the movies…  I especially loved how the movie directly translated scenes and imagery from the cartoons, with Morticia cutting off the roses to keep the thorns or Gomez asking her if she was unhappy and banishing the sunlight.  I kind of saw my dad and my stepmother as Gomez and Morticia, and my stepsister and myself as Pugsley and Wednesday.  I came to love it even more when it was revealed that their living room from black and white film was actually mostly pink, because that was even more me, especially as I aged into my love of pink things in decidedly un-girly contexts.  The living room fit right in.  I lived The Addams Family.  It was totally a thing.

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Like, seriously, get on with it already…

With that background, another big influence was the Bunnicula series by James Howe, which is the subject of this so-called review.  I read these books over and over again.  I loved the writing style, how the story was told from the standpoint of the dog Harold, and how Chester the cat was so mortified by the unusual happenings that began when the rabbit came into their lives and how obsessive he got about it all.  Harold is all-dog and is rather food motivated, as one might expect – you’d almost think he was a beagle, but no.  Still, he tells a compelling tale from the standpoint of a dog being a dog, and that’s pretty amusing in and of itself even without the horror twist.

Book 1: Bunnicula earns 4.0 Cthulus

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The original Bunnicula is the best book in this series by far.  The characters and the story are compelling and the book is very amusingly written.  It’s fun, especially if you enjoy wordplay, and offers some good lighthearted comedy that can appeal to readers of all ages. I also enjoyed how all of the animals’ personalities come into play and how Harold explains everything from a dog’s perspective. That point of view is truly rather delightful.

My favorite scene in Bunnicula is still the big standoff between Chester and Harold and the family, where Chester has misinterpreted his reading on vampires and is trying to stake little Bunnicula through the heart with an uncooked raw beef steak that had been left on the counter to thaw.  Unsurprisingly Harold, being all-dog, is more concerned with when he would get to eat the wondermous piece of raw meat that was totally going to waste in the endeavor.  It is just delightful how this scene plays out and still evokes a chuckle from me even this many years later.

Book 2: Howliday Inn

The second book Howliday Inn was not nearly as good as the first.  It’s essentially a murder mystery whodunit with your stereotypical cast of suspicious characters: the jock, the floozy, the heartbroken, the sidekick, the crazy, the weirdos, the clumsy, and the annoying. Everyone has their schtick and they all have a motive.  You know the scene – very 1980s.  Makes for some decent comedy but limited depth…  The end reveal of what happened isn’t implausible but at the same time it doesn’t really feel fulfilling, and the book just does not resonate with the same side-splitting humor as the first.

Book 3: The Celery Stalks at Midnight

The third book The Celery Stalks at Midnight revisits the same themes of the first with a lot of added puns thrown in.  It was much better than Howliday Inn, but still not as good as the first Bunnicula.  It’s funny to see Chester at it again, fretting over Bunnicula turning the town into vampires somehow, Harold still obsessed with food, and the new member of the family, dachshund puppy Howie, bringing his own unique energy to the mix.

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Book 4: Nighty-Nightmare

The fourth book Nighty-Nightmare is kind of a cross between the second and third books.  Rather than winding up at a pet hotel, the family goes camping as the basis for this spooky woodsy tale.  But the book really isn’t all that suspenseful despite the new creepy characters that have joined the cast. Too much gets lost in Chester’s telling of how Bunnicula came to America.  Mostly it just seems that Chester is overreacting and fabricating tales to get Harold and Howie (and their guide Dawg) worked up, and his tale is just not very compelling because the vampires seem like more bumbling idiots. But perhaps that’s just how animals see all humans in this world.  Also, the ending was really lackluster in my opinion.

Book 5: The Return to Howliday Inn

I don’t recall reading the fifth book, The Return to Howliday Inn.  Honestly, I didn’t like the second book set at Howliday Inn as well so I doubt I’ll seek this one out. Maybe it’s better. Maybe not. I don’t know. Pressing onward…

Book 6: Bunnicula Strikes Again

The sixth book, Bunnicula Strikes Again, was surprisingly good.  I liked how Howie the dachshund puppy had gotten into the FleshCrawlers series as a direct riff on GooseBumps, in a sort of weird homage and strange disdain all at once.  And this story built upon the first book well, coming full circle to the original plot, characters and setting.  In the end, the book pulls for the two characters locked in epic battle, Bunnicula the vampire rabbit and Chester the cat, to somehow overcome their differences after they almost perish together, but this comes across as trying too hard to create a happy ending.  I feel that the ending it had been careening toward would have been stronger, wherein both perished together, for all that it would likely be disheartening to the intended audience and would not have resulted in any further books in the series.

Book 7: Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow

There is a seventh book, Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow, but I have also not read this one.  Honestly, I really kind of wish the series had ended with Bunnicula Strikes Again with the epic battle reaching a different end.  But that is just my opinion and I’m not the writer, so here we are. Yeah, yeah, I know… what kind of series review is this that it doesn’t even go into all of the books in the series? But I honestly just missed those two and don’t feel like going back to them, besides which this review is too long already. So I’m leaving them out. If you are a die-hard fan, feel free to leave a comment to say how you felt about the books I skipped (or any of the others for that matter).

Apart from the original Bunnicula, I give the rest of the series 3.0 Cthulus.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The others really just don’t hold up to the original book in my opinion.  From a kid standpoint, they’re probably a more solid 3.5 but I suspect that depends on the kid.  In fairness The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Bunnicula Strikes Again are better, but still aren’t on par with the original tale. Still the series is a decent introduction to horror for a kid who loved language and puns and animals and they are rather fun to read. And, given that they were purportedly written by the dog Harold, with the wonderful introductions by the so-called editor, they definitely all have truly dog-based insight moments which can be very amusing at times.

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My child-self really enjoyed these books but in adulthood I’ve come to realize I really only remember the first, and for good reason.  The others come across as kind of flat.  The characters are all pretty caricatured to maximize humorous effect, and can all come across as a bunch of bumbling idiots at times.  The series just doesn’t have the same depth as some of the more modern stories.

In other history, the first book was written by both James Howe and his wife Deborah, who also partnered with him on one other book (not in this series), while the rest were written solely by James.  I have later learned that Deborah Howe died of cancer before either of the two books they collaborated on were published, and so she never realized just how popular the Bunnicula series became.  I can understand, given the popularity of the first book, why James Howe continued it, and they are fun thematically, but sadly the rest of the series just lacks some of the same spark that the first had.  If you only pick up some of the books in this series, definitely read the first Bunnicula, and then perhaps The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Bunnicula Strikes Again – those are by far the strongest and most heartfelt.

You can purchase Bunnicula and/or the box series on Amazon from the links provided above, just remember that, as always, if you do so we will get some $ back. The Dark Lord says shop away…

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Jennifer Weigel is a multi-disciplinary mixed media conceptual artist residing in Kansas USA. Weigel utilizes a wide range of media to convey her ideas, including assemblage, drawing, fibers, installation, jewelry, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video and writing. You can find more of her work at: https://www.jenniferweigelart.com/ https://www.jenniferweigelprojects.com/ https://jenniferweigelwords.wordpress.com/

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Nicole C. Luttrell

    August 17, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    Oh my goodness, I freaking love these books!

    • Jennifer Weigel

      August 21, 2022 at 4:16 am

      Yeah it had been a long time since I read them but they were really influential on my child self. 🙂
      Did you happen to read the ones I missed? If so, please offer some thoughts. How do they compare?

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Book Reviews

Maeve Fly: A Horror Novel Review

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The evils lurking Los Angeles are unveiled in CJ Leede’s 2023 debut novel, Maeve Fly. The novel is a gruesome love letter and ode to Los Angeles and horror icons, centering on the titular character, Maeve Fly. She is, in short, a Disney Princess and serial killer.

Below the Depths of Anaheim

By day, Maeve Fly works as a princess in “the park.” It is is never named, but obviously Disneyland as depicted by Maeve’s vibrant descriptions of the princesses, furry costumed animals, and movie-themed rides. She plays a Scandinavian princess (Elsa) and genuinely loves the job and her coworker, Kate. In her personal life, Maeve tends to her sick, comatose grandmother, former starlet Tallulah, and her grandmother’s cat.

A stock photo of Los Angeles

Maeve has an ordinary personal life, including going out with Kate and takes biweekly, afternoon trips to a Tiki bar in which she, a man who may or may not be Johnny Depp, and the bartender are the only patrons. Her interests include the macabre and all things horror and Los Angeles history, her love for the city a central theme throughout the novel. When Maeve meets Kate’s brother, Gideon, Maeve’s sense of self unravels.

Mirroring Fiction

The problem with Maeve’s sense of self, however, is that she has no idea who she really is. She adopts the personalities of literary characters, from Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground narrator to those in James, Kant and Milton novels.

Maeve is selfish, antagonistic, and very selective of the people she lets in her life. She is an unreliable narrator with an unpredictable temper and ultraviolent tendencies.

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Leede’s prose and writing of Maeve invites a new narrative to the genre. Maeve is persistent in her disgust with how often villains need a tragic backstory as excuse for their monstrous behavior, especially when the villains are women. Leede dismantles that trope and provides Maeve with no reason for her treacherous behavior. It is simply who Maeve is.

An Ode to Horror

Maeve Fly is everything I love in a horror story. It is an unpredictable slasher with comedy and heart. Leede has displayed her talent for writing horror. She has created a story that pays its dues to the genre’s long iconic history — one example is the references to Pyscho or American Psycho — but is wholly unique in it’s own form. From captivating dialogue to visceral depictions of horror history and Los Angeles’ sites, like the La Brea Tar Pits, the novel sucks you in until the very last, bone chilling sentence.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Mister Magic

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Released in August of last year, Mister Magic is written by author Kiersten White. And I’m going to give you the warning that I wish I’d have had when I started reading it.

This book deals largely with the systemic issues prevalent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While there are no overt discussions or descriptions of child abuse, I would argue that it’s alluded to.

In the interest of full disclosure, White lets us know in the acknowledgments that she was raised Mormon and is not anymore. I was also raised Mormon and am not anymore. And this book wrecked me.

The story

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Our story begins with a young woman named Val. She’s been living with her father on an off-the-grid farm for most of her life.

When he dies, a mysterious stranger shows up at his funeral. This man, named Marcus, seems to know her right away. She knows him as well, though she doesn’t seem to remember why.

Eventually, he explains that she was on a children’s TV show called Mister Magic. A show that she has no memory of at all.

And this makes sense because there is little to no evidence online that the show exists. There are no clips, no scripts, no cast lists. It’s as if the show vanished entirely when the last episode aired.

Oh, and during that last episode, a kid probably died.

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Desperate to remember her childhood and maybe even reconnect with her mother, Val leaves with her former cast mates for a reunion and podcast taping.

As the Circle of Friends reforms, fans of the show online rejoice. If the cast is getting back together, it must mean Mister Magic is coming back.

And that’s exactly what the mysterious creators have in mind.

What worked

This book shows a world that is all but impossible to describe from the outside. Long before I realized this book was an allegory for Mormonism, I was catching signs. It felt familiar.

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Everyone was a little too nice. Everyone seemed to be holding back a little. Everyone seemed eager to do things for other people, almost like they felt like they had to justify their presence.

I also appreciated that we talked about child abuse without talking about child abuse. Through the book, we learn that one member of the cast, Kitty, is missing. Her disappearance heralded the end of the show, but no one wanted to talk about what happened to her.

This, I thought, was a subtle and brilliant way to talk about abuse without having to go into upsetting details. And in not adding these details, White leaves us to invent them ourselves. Which is always worse.

Sometimes it’s the notes you don’t play that make the biggest impression.

To that same end, there is no real gore in this book. No charred bodies, no blood. No gruesome scenes at all. But I feel like that was intentional. I’ll also point out that in reading other reviews for the book, I noticed that others criticized the character for being rather bland and one-dimensional. Both of those things are likely on purpose, and part of proving a point.

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In the book, each character remembers Mister Magic pulling them back. He taught them the habit of dulling themselves down. Don’t paint in such a wild manner. Don’t shout so loud. Don’t stray too far.

Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t be different.

In the end, Mister Magic managed to do exactly what the very best horror does. It took a real horror that most people do not experience and turned it into a metaphor that everyone can understand. And it doesn’t have to be just former Latter Day Saints members. All survivors of religious abuse will see themselves in this. But we’ll also see all the other lost children, trapped with Mister Magic, and realize we are not alone.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 7: a Book Review

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Hello again dear readers. Today we are looking at yet another instalment of Monastery. Once again, I’ll be eating my words. Every time I think the story can’t get any crazier, it does and you’ll understand why soon enough. Without further ado, let’s go!

Plot

We start with quite a tension point in the story (then again, it is always tense nowadays). Rocky’s been abducted and the gang is at a loss for words or motivation, all except Thomas, that is. At this point, all they want is to get Rocky back, even if it means abandoning the search for truth. I can appreciate how Thomas is now a foil not only to those hiding secrets but also to his cousins. Without him, there is no story as far as I’m concerned. However, there were some moments where even I thought he could’ve been a bit more tactful around others’ emotions.

We also see that at least for the time being, Rocky is safe. His POV is so well done I wanted to pull him out of the page and give him a big cuddle. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s yet another collateral damage of the family’s mess. 

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Speaking of mess, Cassandra and Francis reach a fascinating opposing point. She’s concerned Francis is showing no remorse over killing George Turner, or over killing an innocent dog. Could Albert please ask around if there is a special circle of hell for people like him? It’s interesting how Cassandra, no matter how messed up she is, still has some sense of right or wrong. As for Francis, someone needs to take that gun off him ASAP as he’s all too happy using it.

As we all predicted, the Nicole-David-Fred love triangle finally blew up, and boy, how did it. Erica goes full-on scorned woman and drugs Nicole. She then parades her in the middle of Monastery for everyone to see in a wedding dress. Threatening to pour acid on her face is just an added touch to the terror.

Although this turns out to be just a mind game on Erica’s part, we get some insightful character revelations. Nicole’s reasoning for toying with the two guys becomes more understandable, although I still cannot excuse it (and I’m speaking as someone who actually likes Elena Gilbert). I think she could use some therapy to sort out the trauma inflicted by her dad’s affair. At this stage of her life, she shouldn’t end up with either guy. David is also at fault and I think he should work on making it up to Fred. If he and Nicole sail off into the sunset now, it would leave a bad taste in a lot of reader’s mouths. Then again, if Fred does decide to take her back, it would be his choice. Something tells me this ordeal is far from over. 

We end series seven of Monastery with Thomas receiving yet another blow when his dad betrays him and destroys all the progress of their investigation. So much for trusting family, or authorities for that matter. What is going to happen now?

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Overall thoughts

I said a lot of my thoughts while discussing the plot of the episode. As usual, Monastery is full of of drama, mystery, and outright terrifying things to keep us on our toes. The one plot thread I am holding in my hand just waiting to see where it leads me is Madam Witch. Her very fairytale-like deal with Cassandra implies she owes her one of the grandkids. Not to mention the implication that Henry has some kind of special powers. I can’t wait to see how that ties into what happened to Albert. The next part can’t come out soon enough!  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

More thoughts from the author:

1. Something I talked about before in another article about Monastery a little but something that I picked up on in this episode. Cassandra, although definitely not perfect, still seems to uphold some kind of morality within her. Such as how horrified she is when Francis doesn’t feel bad that he killed George. Was this something you considered when writing these characters, someone who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty but still has some kind of empathy vs someone who doesn’t?

Absolutely – that is my favourite type of character! Who doesn’t love an anti-hero with a grey moral compass, but a moral compass nevertheless? Cassandra is capable of the most atrocious acts, but she always has her family’s best interest at heart – or what her idea of their “best interest” should be.

Interestingly enough, we’re slowly learning how Francis is the result of Cassandra being the way she is, and he himself certainly blames her for much. Francis only has his own interest at heart… yet he killed George because of what the old creep had said about Cassandra! Again, grey area.

2. The whole Erica scene is genius on many levels. I actually got a couple of questions in regards to it. One – were you always going to pull the whole ‘none of the torture devices were real’ trick on the readers to toy with their emotions or were you thinking of doing it for real but backed out? Two – I thought the way the town’s residents acted was very fitting of the story and of modern society. What was your intention with having seemingly everyone witness the ordeal?

Funny, I cannot remember whether that mini-twist was always part of the equation, but I concluded that I didn’t want Erica to be hated or irredeemable – I wanted to make it more about the lesson being learned than the payback.

As for the townspeople witnessing the whole thing, there were three reasons I did it: a) the satire, because, has mentioned in previous Q&As, Monastery is a satire of small-town life, and we all know small-town folks love a good scandal; b) the humour, as I went all out in making an over-the-top situation even more over-the-top; and c) plot convenience because, as that all goes down, Francis is shooting up the Keane house and I didn’t actually want any neighbours to know and call the cops as it wouldn’t serve his arc… at this point.

3. The one storyline that I’m still wondering as to how it will tie into everything is Madam Witch and the whole first-born son hints that are very fairytale-like. Are we meant to take it as an allusion to the paranormal in this story (such as the seances they had in the previous episode) and that more is coming? As it is not outright stated since the murder mystery is the forefront with the town not really caring there’s a werewolf roaming around.

There will be a paranormal twist to the murder mystery and how it’s covered up, I promise – after all, one mustn’t forget that Cassandra owes Madam Witch – but we don’t know what she owes her for.

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As for the werewolf, hmm… Been a while since he’s made an appearance, has it not? Wouldn’t it be a darn shame if one of our protagonists came face-to-face with him in the next episode?

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