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.
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 / 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.
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 / 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.
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…
Beyond the Witching Hour: a review of J. Pagaduan’s Tales from 3 AM
J. Pagaduan’s Tales from 3 AM is a collection of wonderfully witchy wisdom and wit that touches on eerie energies, fairy fickleness, and supernatural spirits. Building on very human concerns about life, love, and death, the subjects of these twenty-two haunting tales find themselves in a myriad of mayhems, beffudled by unseen and inscrutible magics all around them. Lured by fae, ghosts, mermaids, and other mysterious presences, we journey with the protagonists as they wade through doubt, grief, and uncertainty. Recurring themes of death and drowning take special roles in this collection, speaking to the overwhelm of longing and love, internal, external, and even otherworldly.
For a book prominently featuring supernatural sentimentality, Tales from 3 AM expresses worldly triumphs and tribulations in very human ways. The mystical meanderings serve to provide a more intimate glimpse into our own nature. The focus is actually on us, not the unknown, which comes and goes to offer glimpses of our true being. The supernatural makes manifest our yearning, to be with our loved ones who have passed, to find peace, to belong… It casts both light and darkness on our utmost desires, good and bad.
The Flip Side
Many of these Tales from 3 AM drift into and out of being, without clear beginning or ending points, as if you’ve only stepped into the scene long enough for a brief glimpse into a larger situation. The spirit realm can only provide so much insight before releasing you to the world once again. I personally like the fluidity of this writing style, because it doesn’t feel so contrived as when a story just falls out in a neat bundled package, but if you are a reader who wants more clearly defined circumstances then you may feel unfulfilled, as many of these musings end rather abruptly.
I give this book 3.75 Cthulhus.(3.8 / 5)
My biggest takeaway from Tales from 3 AM is that it reflects on life in all of its misshapen muddled messes. Though at times awkward and forthright, the concepts and explorations are genuine and heartfelt. More surreal and magically mysterious than terrifying, the mirror to our human vulnerability is nonetheless haunting, laying bare our fears, hopes, and hurts.
Tales from 3 AM has similar appeal to the Obsolete Oddity, with its nostalgic sentimentalty for days of yore and haunting tales of woe and wonderment. I find this book to be more inclusive as it features less melancholic misanthropy (which can seem misogynous, with so much attention paid to the wanton murders of women). And I think it is a bit more accessible than the YouTube channel which comes across as overly melodramatic at times. Regardless both would be right at home in death-obsessed Victorian life. So if you’re into that sort of reminiscent rumination, it’s well worth a read.
Published in September of this year, Holly is the latest novel from the undisputed king of horror, Stephen King.
I was excited when I heard that Holly was getting her own book. If you’re not familiar with the larger body of King’s work, she was a secondary character in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. She was also a secondary character in The Outsider, though that was called Holly Gibney #1. Holly Gibney #2 was If It Bleeds, part of a short story collection by the same name.
While you don’t have to read any of this before you read Holly, it will help you get some of the references.
When our story begins, Holly is mourning the death of her mother. Her partner Pete is in the hospital with Covid, and she is not supposed to be working.
But when a woman named Penny Dahl calls, asking for Holly’s help finding her missing daughter, she can’t ignore the plea.
As Holly searches the last place Bonnie Dahl was seen, she starts to learn of other missing persons cases. The cases don’t have anything in common, and neither do the victims. Except that they all had an interaction, however small, with a married couple named Rodney and Emily Harris.
Retired, Rodney and Emily are suffering from the usual but heartbreaking ailments that come along with age. Arthritis, sciatica, failing memories. But they believe they just might have found a miracle cure. One that most people would refuse. At least, we hope they would.
While Holly digs deeper, her friend Barbara Robinson is seeking a poetry mentor. This search brings her dangerously close to the two killer professors.
The reason I was excited about this book was to spend more time with Holly. She was easily the best part of The Outsider and inspired me to read the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.
And she was just as wonderful in this book. She was clever, insightful, and kind. Holly manages to be innocent and very aware of how the world works at the same time. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends and has a strong grasp of right from wrong. I sincerely hope that there’s a Holly #4 in the works.
I also loved the way this story was told. Through the course of the book, we see the story from different points of view. We see flashbacks to each victim and their terrible ends. We see Holly hunting a poor lost woman. And we see Barbara circling dangerously close to the true killers. The tension this built was incredible. It was hard not to shriek, watching all the pieces come so close to being together, only to be blown away and come together again.
What didn’t work
That being said, this was not a perfect novel. For one thing, there was an inordinate amount of attention to Covid 19.
Honestly, there were three killers in this book.
And I get it. Covid continues to be a terrible thing. It’s just one of many horrific world events we’ve suffered through, and yet another that is going to leave a scar on everyone who experienced it.
I don’t need to tell you about the fear, and supply chain issues. The deaths and medical professionals stretched to their limits. The mass graves. The horrific reality that there were people who just did not care to take it seriously, even as people were dying.
I don’t need to tell you, and neither did King on almost every page. And it was on almost every page.
Yes, Covid took over every part of our lives. It didn’t need to take over every part of this story.
My other irritation with this book is one more difficult to explain without giving away the ending. Forgive me if I ruin anything for you, it’s not my intention.
I wanted something terrible to happen to the antagonists. I wanted them to suffer. And they didn’t suffer nearly enough.
Finally, I wish we’d gotten some sort of closure for Holly over her mother stealing all of her inheritance from her. I understand that sometimes in life people die and we don’t get answers that we’d like from them. But this is fiction. We, and the characters, are supposed to get some sort of closure.
Is Holly my new favorite Stephen King novel? No, not really. It isn’t as good as The Stand, or From a Buick 8. But it was a good story. It was suspenseful, exciting, and a little sad. It was everything you’d want from a thriller.
Holly appears to be King’s new Castle Rock. He keeps coming back to her, over and over. And I couldn’t be happier about that.
(3.5 / 5)
Monastery Series 3: a Book Review
The time has come for another installment of our resident mystery novel Monastery. We continue to follow our set of characters trying to uncover the secrets of their grandfather’s murder. Too bad members of their family are going to great lengths to stomp their efforts. Anyway, enough rambling, let’s begin!
We start this part of Monastery with our crew coming to a simple conclusion – they must seek answers wherever possible. What better place to find them than visiting Albert’s sister? It’s a shame they’re not going to the Old Farm, there would definitely be some answers there. Francis’s character development is quite intriguing to me. He’s clearly uninvolved in the cover-up and yet there seems to be a lot of understated trauma. One can only wonder if it will all boil to the surface.
While I know some people don’t enjoy flashback sequences, Albert’s trip down memory lane provided some nice characterization for me. It’s his story after all, and even though his and Cassandra’s relationship is far from #goals, it’s complex and interesting. I also enjoyed his commentary on selective memory, I feel like that applies a lot to our daily lives.
David and Nicole’s dynamic is also explored more. The pairing bond over their taste in music and share a kiss after he helps her recover from a werewolf attack (yes, you heard that right, and I want to know more immediately). Tensions between them rise further to the point where she actually considers breaking up with Fred. That is, until he pulls a grand gesture (something David was advised to do). While I don’t condone cheating or flirting with someone to make your partner jealous, those are all love triangle tropes and this one is in full swing.
Things escalate further at the town’s raffle draw party when Aunt Doris shows up and gets paid off by Cassandra. While I’m not certain how I feel about her character, she does provide the group with valuable information – Albert’s cause of death was faked. Of course.
We end this installment of Monastery on a bit of a harrowing note. Cassandra abuses her own son in front of Henry, who is left completely traumatized. This stuck out to me as a change in tone and I wonder how much darker it will get. We’ll find out soon…
This part of Monastery focuses a lot on Albert’s youth and the love triangle between David, Nicole, and Fred. While some people would say it’s unnecessary, I think the additions, especially the romance, both keep the pacing so we don’t fly through the mystery too quickly and lighten the mood a bit. Not to mention there is some interesting characterisation brought to light because of this. The questions are still piling up and I can just feel we’re on the cusp of things hitting the fan. I can’t wait for more.
(5 / 5)
Read further for some insight from the author himself:
- 1. Last time I asked you how you integrate comedy into your writing. How about romance? How do you pick the moment that feels right to sprinkle some spice into the story without turning it into a full-blown chick flick? Do you have a personal preference of who you would like Nicole to end up with (if you can share)?
Funny you should ask about picking the right moment because David originally kissed Nicole in episode 1, but it felt rushed then, so I ultimately moved it to this third episode. I always knew there would be a romantic triangle, trite though it may seem, because at its heart this story is very soapy. As for when the right moment is, the story itself always tells me that, but have no fear, the murder mystery will always be at the center of everything.
Also, who do I think Nicole should end up with? I think she needs to work on loving herself a bit more. It may seem she loves herself a bit too much, at surface level, but do read on.
2. There is no doubt Cassandra is a bitch and a murder accomplice (if not the murderer). However, you are showing the readers layers of her character (such as her being abused as a young woman). Is this something that will be relevant in the story later on or just a device to provide her character with some humanity?
Relevant. So, so relevant. There are many glimpses of Albert’s past throughout the series, but the events surrounding St. John’s Party in 1976 compose the main flashback thread. I want to believe there is great re-read value to my story, as there are so many clues and little elements spread throughout, things you might only catch on to when you have the full picture. I mean, the werewolf’s identity is revealed in every episode they feature in – it’s just a matter of knowing where to look for it! As for Cassandra, in my opinion, she is the best character, and I am so excited for people to dive into her story.