‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’ by Grady Hendrix or a bad trip you want to turn around from?

Before I start writing this blog post, I just have to release the urge to burst into song.. ūüé§ ‘I wanna dance with someboooody’ūüé∂. Yes, I have been possessed by Grady Hendrixs’ writing. It is the only thing that can explain exactly why I would feel like busting out cheesy 80s songs, of the likes of Whitney Houston (sorry Whitney fans, but it makes me cringe). Nonetheless, my memory has been ignited and the sounds of my youth are now everywhere! And thank goodness it is, because something is needed to offset the abject terror that this natty new novel pulls off. How many times do you read a novel that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, whilst also scaring the bejeezus out of you?

This book has been on my radar for quite some time. The premise sounded like just my kind of read- spooky, quirky and a little bit unusual. Heathers crossed with The Exorcist (whatever, Heather). Needless to say, I have been waiting patiently for release date. Imagine my delight, then, when the lovely @cyn_murphy of Twitter and Point Horror appreciation fame pointed me in the direction of an ARC (advanced reader copy). Our shared love of teen horror could only lead to one logical conclusion, in this current nostalgic climate towards such things : a shared read-along! Like a mini-book club via the Internet we simultaneously tweeted our fear and joy as we worked through its glittering pages. What a delight it was to know that someone else was also feeling the same way I was about this brilliant book! Grady Hendrix even tagged along with a few choice comments (book God, that he has now become). I hope he realises what gold he has produced and continues to create, in the same vein. Can I get an ‘I ‚̧ԳŹ Grady Hendrix’ badge please..

While it is difficult to pin down exactly what it is that makes this book so magical, with its unusual blend of ingredients (without spoiling the plot), what is apparent is that Hendrix must be a very insightful writer to draw such unexpected elements together and to make them sing. By his own admission, he used his wife’s letters, in order to understand more closely the precise nature of teenage female friendship and perhaps this is what speaks the most to me when I read it. The intensity. The love. The fallings out. All the pent up angst. Heightened sensitivity and emotion. The struggle to find yourself and your place in the world. It all translates to the experience, bourne forth and lightly worn throughout the narrative. It feels genuine and this marks the skill of a great writer: he stands in someone else’s shoes and makes us believe what they see and experience. I take my lace- gloves off to him.

One thing I will say is this, Grady Hendrix has pulled off an endearingly ambiguous read, full of latent hormones and repressed emotions. He knows how to alternate abject fear with laugh out loud moments- enhancing both for the better. I wanted to hide under my duvet at pivotal moments, shake my fist with rage and rub my mascara- streaked face clean and crimp my hair, sneak out of my house for a nighttime adventure in my local woods (not really) and wonder what had happened in the morning. He has made the 80s cool again and banished all of the negative associations our youths hold, by showing us the great bits and the things we have built from these times (thinking of my own enduring friendships, with people that have grown with me). Perms are no longer the living embodiment of hell! However, you will never be able to listen ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tiffany again, may want to ditch your phone and here more will NEVER want to speak to anyone called Andy ever again.

By the power of Genesis!

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‘Spellbound’ by Christopher Pike or what we really need to do is go back, way back!

InstagramCapture_70a4f4cf-d0ee-4991-8263-7cc0ec4cbd3aNostalgia seems to be everywhere. Goosebumps has made a resurgence. Lego Dimensions has made franchises such as Back to the Future super-cool once more. Even Ghostbusters has a big re-boot out this summer. If all of this favour towards the best elements of our ‘retro’ pasts wasn’t enough- imagine my delight when I stumbled across a resurgence of ‘Point Horror’ on Twitter!!! ¬†Man, too much excitement. As if by magic, I discovered that other tweeters/bloggers such as @georgia_bowers and @Cyn_Murphy ¬†shared my love for Point Horror and even Christopher Pike (the next logical step if, like me, it is all about The Lost Boys, Critters and Stephen King). Cyn had even written the brilliant¬†Point Horror in 10 Steps¬†(click through to acquaint yourself with this lost art form). To top this off, if this¬†surge of nostalgia towards such teen- horror fodder weren’t enough, my clearly intuitive fellow book-blogger @chelletoy from Twitter and ¬†Tales Of Yesterday¬†ran a monthly ‘Point Horror’ book club!

Nostalgia had officially hit my awkward teenage self square-on. The angst. The rebellion. The awkwardness. I’m such a relic that we didn’t have iPhones or laptops or DVDs to occupy our time, or blind us with alternatives to the daily hells I am sure we were all living through. No Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. We had Smash Hits and a couple of cheesy TV shows on terrestrial TV (BBC, ITV and Channel 4). If you were lucky (or your parents didn’t keep that close an eye) you could sneak a watch of Twin Peaks- or pretend you were 18 and sneak into the cinema to watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Such pleasures were few and far between- and really there was one main way we could escape the real horrors of our daily lives: CHRISTOPHER PIKE.

To my teenaged-self, Christopher Pike was godlike. His stories offered central protagonists that were cool, but slightly set back from the off putting in-crowd. They were rocking their own beat and not occupied with whether they had the right amount of orange foundation on or whether they had applied enough Sun-In. Hallelulia! Beam me up Scotty. Was I the only one who didn’t want to cough myself into oblivion by smoking at the top of the school fields, just out of the view of the pouncing teachers? Not that I wished to conform- black tights were my stance, I mean who wants to wear navy blue ones? I had my own mind and wanted to do my own thing. Pike’s horrors all seemed to affirm this burgeoning view and bolster my confidence. Standing to the side was now validated. Standing to the side was now also reignited, thanks to current trends. But, where were these former badges of teendom lingering?

Appetite whetted, rabid search completed, prime Pike collection dusted. ‘Spellbound’ selected from amongst the familiar old covers (which still held the same mesmerising appeal-like anchors for the imagination). I vaguely recalled its position of favour along with ‘Scavenger Hunt’ and ‘Witch’. A new fear crept over me, than the ones I remember them holding (other than the ones that used to keep me reading deep into the forbidden night). Would they have changed over time, like films are wont to do- because we have changed? ¬†Would it be disappointing? Would it render their power obsolete like that of shredded bank statements? Honestly, these books are of an era. I am not an angsty teen girl anymore so some of its power is lost to adult me. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate its particular appeal, or that their appeal would be lost to generations anew being exposed to them as a direct result of this latest cultural resurgence. Far from it. Characters like the sceptical and questioning Cindy Jones have much to say to any teens- giving them the required space to realise it is ok to be different, to not blindly follow your peers: to have your own opinions and to make your own decisions. You can and should question if something seems suspect- just like Cindy does about Karen Holly’s impossible sounding death and the mysterious, alluring Joni with the flat eyes. You should also make your own mind up based on your own analysis of the information available to you- not judging or scorning others just because it is the ‘popular’ decision or will give you kudos amongst potentially shallow peers.

My rereading had truly reminded me of the real power of Pike, of his understanding of teens and their needs and feelings. He always had just the right amount of lusty leaning, so as not to become smutty- just enough to retain our interest and make the stories seem true to our experiences- or let’s be honest the experiences we dreamed of having! Who didn’t want to be a couple of years older with a hunky boyfriend to eat the face off. Even here Pike gives us examples that encourage us all to respect ourselves. Cindy’s message is to ditch any male that tries to force you into doing something you are not comfortable with or ready for. Pike you are a public service provider! Reaching teenagers in a way parents and sex education lessons don’t. All under the guise of some seriously unsettling stories, with just the right amount of supernatural menace to mirror the real life menace hinted at and denounced within these pages. As the cover promises, with its eagle-like, expansive power watching omnipotently over an unsuspecting couple, dangers are all around you. If you want to survive you need to explore suspicions and act on them, if necessary.

While I relished the supernatural element (key driver of any Pike work): here shamanism and animal totems, it was the setting that truly ensnared my imagination with its promise of freedom. The Rockies, with its cerulean blue skies and fresh mountain air. It’s aptly named Crystal Falls and Snake Tail River looming up above with its deceptive air of purity. Who wouldn’t want to be up there on a moonlight wander. Midnight feasts for adolescents! ¬†Couple this with an unexpected twist, that even a monster can have redeeming features and the exploration of gray spaces is complete. Yet another important lesson is assimilated: life is not black and white. In short, I hope this resurgence affords Christopher Pike a just share of this new attention- he moves beyond stereotypes with some very natty lessons embedded in his own interpretation of this genre, one that travels beyond the effective employment of the tropes we have come to expect. So get on eBay, browse second hand book shops- get some Christopher Pike. I am keeping mine forevermore!

‘Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children’ by Ransom Riggs or strange things happen when you step inside Mesolithic chambers…

‘Miss Peregrine’s’ has been on my radar for quite some time, but as anyone with an out of control to-read pile can testify, sometimes you just have to wait until the mood is right and the stars align. Said alignment seemed to come together for me as a result of two auspicious signs converging at once:

  1. Seeing the trailer for Burton and Goldman’s upcoming filming adaption (enough said).
  2. Another Quirk title, ‘My Best Friends Exorcism’ by Grady Hendrix, spectacularly grabbing my full attention with its promise of 80/90s nostalgia cum Heathers¬†cum horror-fest (recently been reminiscing about Christopher Pike and other cool YA retro memories).

You can see why, with this heady mix why I HAD to start reading (and pre-ordering Hendrix). Thanks Quirk Books, seems like you have your finger well and truly on the pulse.

Page one in to Peregrines, and I knew I was onto something special. Not only did it start with a real assured sense of confidence about the story it had to tell but it also littered its prose with the curious kind of bombs that you know are going to pepper your communications, in the form of phrases and words¬†that even you a certified dictionary reader haven’t yet encountered! Even if some of the subject matter, must necessarily take a dark turn, it does not mean you cannot have fun with the words you chose to convey meaning or inject humour into the proceedings. The piss/ priest hole mix up being a prime example or even ‘a purgatory of beige waiting rooms’. It also held¬†the sense of the unsual that ‘The Book Thief’ conjured as soon as you started reading- and that magic doesn’t happen often.

While the clue was already there to see, in the operative word of the title, and is one of the novels many great strengths, it was the loving relationship displayed between Jacob and his Grandfather that really suckered me in. If you have had an adoring Grandparent, that has devoted the most precious thing to you (Time), then you will be equally warmed to the novels central plot driver: how this relationship evolved and reaffirms itself in the host of changes that are flung their way. The novel celebrates this bond and it’s informative influences as Jacob turns from boy to man: even in the face of learning the truth about what his world looks like and the horrors it contains. There was something that deeply touched my soul, as the novel progressed and it became clear to Jacob that his Grandad was still always the man he thought he was and that he shared more than a familial bond, with Portman Snr.

While Portman and Portman carry most of the emotional load of this magical story, we must not ignore some of the many ways that it uses imagery to convey its meaning. Clearly, this is a visually driven and inspired book. It is fascinating to read as ¬†it allows us to more closely examine the usually hidden relationship between author and inspiration, through its inclusion of a series of black and white images that support many of the more intriguing elements of the story. You can see exactly how Miss Peregrine became a shape-shifting bird of prey- when you look at the image of a rifle with said birds shadow hanging over it. It really is fascinating to explore how Rigg’s imagination took such isolated, quirky images, drew them together and created a cohesive narrative full of vibrancy and interest. He really does have some skill because he could easily have over complicated things- but as with his narrative, keeping ideas simple and in a solid framework, he truly does succeed in telling a novel story. This then allows inspiration to flow from objects and experiences- such as Cairns and bog men, why people wear sunglasses. I could go on. How would you use such seemingly mundane starting points to weave a story, that captures a similar level of interest?

So if you like allegorical, coming of age stories that use magic and mystery to teach you universal truths: go to Narnia or Hogwarts. If you like yours to do something truly unusual, in a creative and quirky way: grab ‘Miss Peregrine’ with both hands and do not let go. Let it intrigue you, amuse you, scare you and warm you. Relish in all of its peculiar elements and embrace your own and love your Grandad that little but more, if he was a loving and supportive influence, he is always with you.

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special skills need not always be obvious