Taking a Nostalgia Trip with The PikeCast

Full disclosure: I never got into podcasts. Although I have a weakness for old radio plays, talk radio never appealed to me. However, when information about The PikeCast came across my Twitter timeline a month or so ago, I was 13 again.

As best I can recall, I did most of my reading of Christopher Pike’s books in junior high school, and they really were the start of my passion for all things horror. Sometime in high school, I decided I had outgrown them, and sold them all to my local used bookstore, using the credits to buy more grown-up novels.

Then, sometime in my 20s, I had the urge to reread some of his work, but unfortunately, the heyday of Pike was already pretty much past. I was only able to track down one of my old favorites – See You Later – but I picked up a few that had come out after I had stopped reading, including The Midnight Club and his more adult-focused novel, Sati. I toyed with idea of rebuilding my collection, but I never really pursued it.

Now, I’m in my 40s, and I’m scrounging around in online used bookstores for thirty year old YA horror novels in the middle of a pandemic, and well, if that isn’t peak 2020, I don’t know what is.

Everything past this point is going to contain oodles of spoilers, both for the first two episodes of The PikeCast, and for the books discussed therein (Die Softly and Whisper of Death). If you’d like to avoid spoilers, stop reading here.

The PikeCast Episode 1: Die Softly

In a way, I’m kind of glad that The PikeCast didn’t start at the beginning with Slumber Party, because if they had, I might not have felt like I had to read the book before listening. I have at least vague memories of every book he published prior to 1990, but my recall gets really spotty from there. Die Softly was published in 1991, and I’m fairly certain it’s not a book I had read before.

I don’t remember Christopher Pike books being so blatant with the morals, but I also admit I read a whole lot differently now than I did at 13. Die Softly makes sure you know that cocaine is bad, and that it can turn you into a heartless, violent monster. Several minor characters suffer this fate, although the main antagonist was a complete psychopath before she got involved with drugs.

For the most part, I found myself nodding along as I listened to The PikeCast, but I also felt like there wasn’t a whole lot in this one that was overly open to interpretation. Although I wasn’t overly enthused about the book itself – the protagonist was pretty unlikable so I struggled to get too invested – I felt like this was a really great choice to introduce listeners to the structure of the podcast and the level of detailed analysis of character, plot, and writing each episode will feature.

The PikeCast Episode 2: Whisper of Death

And then there was Whisper of Death. Now, I thought Die Softly was a little heavy-handed on the message, but it was nothing compared to this one. On the one hand, I found it really interesting that a YA horror novel from the nineties would be so upfront in talking about abortion. On the other, this book was nearly incoherent outside of the framing device if you tried to take it at face value.

Which is why I was so surprised that the folks from The PikeCast were so sure that (a) this wasn’t meant to be a blatantly anti-abortion book and (b) the mid-section of the book actually happened, as opposed to being an anesthesia-fueled nightmare in which the protagonist’s feelings of guilt and shame were personified by a recently deceased student with horrifying powers (who, by the way, was never even mentioned before things got weird). Read that way, it does become a bit of a morality play, but for me, no other reading makes any sense at all.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of potent imagery in the maybe-supernatural, maybe-dreamworld portion of the book, and I suspect that is also what would have stuck with me had I read it for the first time in my early teens. But I was also very surprised that none of the folks taking a deep dive into the book in the podcast even seemed willing to entertain the interpretation that felt so obvious to me. I think, perhaps, if this had been the first episode, it might have turned me off from the podcast entirely.

That said, I totally understand how overwhleming nostalgia and memory can be, and I’m still really excited about this project. In fact, I signed up to their Patreon today. I may not have agreed with much of what they said regarding Whisper of Death, but that hasn’t dissuaded me from wanting to revisit these books, and then listen in on folks who are as passionate about them as I once was.

I’m looking forward to doing my first Christopher Pike re-read (The Midnight Club) and then listening to the deep dive by The PikeCast. I am still not sure I’m 100% get the allure of podcasts in general, but this one is so completely up my alley, I expect I’m in it for the long haul. I’m especially looking forward to the episodes that talk about the first dozen or so books, because that’s where my nostalgia lies.

October Reading – Haunted House Stories

In this house, we don’t just celebrate Halloween, we pretty much celebrate Hallotober. Usually, that mainly takes the form of watching a lot – and I do mean a lot – of horror movies. This year, I feel like it’s been slightly slimmer pickings to stream, and since we’ve also been dealing with a bit of a cold snap, I’ve been indulging in a bit of warm-in-bed reading.

Somewhere, in the boxes we have yet to unpack after moving several years ago, I have an old, beaten-to-hell copy of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story – a book I would absolutely list near the top of an all time favorites list. It’s usually the first book I think of when I’m craving a good old-fashioned haunted tale. But this year, instead of falling into the trap of forever re-reading, I decided to avail myself of some of Kindle Unlimited’s haunted house selections.

I am absolutely giddy at how much the face of publishing has changed, and I love that it’s easier than ever for an aspiring author to get their work into the hands of readers. However – as with all good things – there’s a cost, and that cost comes here in a crazy influx of poor editing and not-so-great stories. Craven Manor by Darcy Coates was neither of those things, and I devoured it in a single sitting.

While Craven Manor doesn’t tip the traditional haunted mansion trope on its head, it definitely makes it wobble a little bit. What it lacks in creepy, it makes up for in a protagonist you can’t help rooting for. I’ll definitely be reading more of Darcy Coates’s books in the future.

While browsing through some other available ghost stories, I came across a 14 book series by a handful of different authors. I figured I’d go through and read them in order, although it doesn’t seem to be necessary as their only connection is that they’re all about haunted houses.

The Haunting of Bechdel Mansion was a solid enough story, but would have greatly benefited from at least one more pass by an editor before publication. Because of this, it doesn’t make the best impression as a first in a series, but that didn’t deter me from moving on to the second book!

I totally get why some folks struggle to move on from authors that they are already familiar with, but – despite the fact that I can sometimes go months without picking up a book – I really believe that Kindle Unlimited is a great value just because it allows readers to try things outside of their comfort zones risk-free. Maybe that seems like a bit of a hot take from someone who struggled against the concept of giving up paper books for an e-reader several years ago, but I really am delighted by the current accessibility of books in general – both for readers and authors.

Happy Hallotober, y’all, and may all your reads be spooky!

Getting Lost in Urban Fantasy

I used to be an insatiable reader. According to my GoodReads profile, I read 183 books in 2007 (the first year I tracked my read books online). In the dozen years since then, I slowed way down, although I do occasionally still indulge in periods of binge-reading.

With the fantastic integration of GoodReads and my Kindle, I decided to set myself a moderate reading challenge of 30 books this year, and surprisingly, I’m a little over halfway through.

My to-be-read list is at least as long as my to-be-played list, and I don’t fuss overly much about either one; whatever appeals at the time is what I indulge in. For the past few months, I’ve mostly been drawn to urban fantasy.

Urban Fantasy, as defined on Bookriot.com

Fantasy (and all its many sub-genres) isn’t really my jam. I dragged myself through four and half books of the Game of Thrones series before deciding I’d really just rather watch the show. I am risking any nerd cred I might have by confessing that I find J.R.R. Tolkien fabulously dull.

A few years ago, my husband introduced me to Simon R. Green, and by extension, John Taylor, Suzie Shooter, and all the other denizens of the Nightside. I devoured all the main books in the series, and promptly went back to my murder mysteries, historical fiction, and thrillers.

Recently, however, I decided to spoil myself and get a Kindle Unlimited subscription. It’s an inexpensive little luxury that I can put on hold as financial constraints demand, but it also allows me to try out a bunch of new-to-me books and authors without risk – if I don’t love something, I just return it.

(Ok, for all of you saying “That’s what LIBRARIES are for!” – I agree with you in principle. I love the idea of libraries. I’m glad they’re still a thing that exists. They’re fantastic resources. I also know that I will rack up insane late fees and stubbornly NOT read my books because of the firm return deadline, so it doesn’t really work for me.)

Through Kindle Unlimited, I discovered E. A. Copen and her delightful Lazarus Codex. I’ll be frank; my expectations weren’t high, but the books were, at least for me, a perfect combination of horror and comedy. From the first book to the last, I found myself reading every time I had a spare moment (and sometimes when I didn’t).

As a former aspiring author, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about all the ways that tech and accessibility has changed the face of publishing, but I also realize how much I’m reaping the benefits of those changes. I love having so much fiction available to me at the touch of a “Download Now!” button.

Now I’m hunting for the next great little-known urban fantasy series – I have no intention of waiting years before finding another modern magical world to lose myself in.