The Pike Cast & Die Softly

Chatting about the new podcast and a vintage YA book review

3.5/5 Star Review

Christopher Pike and L.J. Smith were my two absolute favorite YA horror writers in the mid-90’s. I couldn’t get enough of them and I waited impatiently for each new book to come out. They are the two authors whose work I have held on to since my middle school days. While I have reread a few of L.J. Smith’s series, I have been wanting to revisit my Pike collection for a long time and kept putting it on the back-burner – until now. Enter The Pike Cast!

The Pike Cast is a brand-new podcast put together by Cooper S. Beckett author of the Prudence Osgood series, Cassie Daley artist and reviewer for Dead Head Reviews and Ladies of Horror Fiction, and Becca reviewer for As Told by Bex and Dead Head Reviews. The Pike Cast premiered on October 1, 2020 with a discussion of Die Softly. Every two weeks the gang will be back to discuss another Pike title! What better time to start rereading my Pike books?! The second episode will feature Whisper of Death.

Bear with me for one more bit of nostalgia before I get into the actual review of Die Softly… Once upon a time, in the early days of dial-up internet, there used to be an online Pike community called The Midnight Club. There was a website, but most of the communication was on ICQ and a listserv. It was so exciting to communicate with Pike fans from all over! Long before Facebook and Pike himself posting occasional updates there, he communicated with Scott and Shannon from The Midnight Club and we were able to get exclusive bits of news! (Fun fact – Pike’s long-awaited Execution of Innocence was dedicated to them!) You may be asking why I am bringing this up, aside from a trip down Pike memory lane. Simple – The Pike Cast has a Patreon and when you support the show for as little as $3/month, you get access to their private community on Discord. The community feels exactly like The Midnight Club used to feel – a warm, welcoming place for like-minded folks to discuss Christopher Pike. There are different channels for different chats and it is just a fun place to spend a little time every day. If you’re a fan, I highly recommend joining the group!

Ok! On to the review of the actual book – Die Softly by Christopher Pike. This will contain mild spoilers.

“Why did you two bake those cookies?” Herb asked.

“For money for drugs. I thought that was obvious?”

“I suppose. Did they have cocaine in them?”

“Just a tiny bit. Gave them a special flavor….”

The thing about Christopher Pike books was that they were always more mature than the other YA books out around that time. Reading them always felt like you were getting away with something. His teenagers drank, did drugs, had sex – they did things real teenagers did. That’s what I remember thinking at the time when I first started reading them.

I’m revisiting Die Softly about 25 years after reading it for the first time. Holy hell, friends! The amount of cocaine consumption in this book is insane! I’m sure that I understood it was an illegal drug when I first read this book, but reading it as an adult? Whoo boy! These cheerleaders have a serious habit! Fueled by the money from illicit school bake sales and a little B&E, Alexa and Lisa live a high-risk lifestyle. They bend boys to their will and make them into their personal slaves by addicting them to cocaine and sex. They are just trying to pass the time until they graduate high school and move out to L.A. where they dream of being famous. The All-American Dream, amiright?

Enter Herb, the self-proclaimed nerdy guy who will never get the girl. His passion is for photography and he just wants to get a few snapshots of the cheerleading squad naked in the showers after practice. After Lisa ends up dead and Herb develops the photos, he realizes he caught more on film than he ever bargained for!

The whole of Die Softy takes place over a couple of days and it is absolutely bonkers. It’s a whodunit fueled with cocaine, no sleep, drinking and driving, drinking and shooting, illegal weapons, and lots of teenagers getting murdered. Who even are these teenagers?! While Die Softly is certainly not one of Pike’s better books, it is so over-the-top that you can’t help but to appreciate it for what it is and chuckle at the absurdity of it.

There are some descriptions in here that are certainly signs of the times. Die Softy was first published in 1991 and it shows. We have an all white cast with the pretty popular girls holding all the power. Sammie, one of Herb’s best friends is an overweight girl who, “… didn’t have a body, her body had her. Somewhere inside, hidden beneath the rolls of fat, was the real Sammie.” Yikes. This description coming from the POV of her best friend – double yikes. Unfortunately though, that was typical in YA from this time period.

Overall, this is not one of Pike’s better books. It is notable, again, because it is so over-the-top, but it is also one of his few books with no supernatural element. It’s worth a read, but if you have never read Pike before I would not recommend this one as a jumping off point.

Next up – Whisper of Death! (A title that is a great jumping off point!)

Don’t Turn Out the Lights


A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

2.5/5 Star Review

I can’t tell you how much it kills me, absolutely kills me, to rate this book as just “ok.” Everything about it should have been 5 stars – A great author as editor? Check. Tribute to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Check. A fantastic stable of writers? Check. And yet… This anthology really missed the mark for me.

Admittedly, Schwartz’s trilogy of Scary Stories is my gold standard. I was one of those kids who always started a new hold for them at the library as soon as I returned them. They were my doorway in to horror and it’s hard to hold a candle to them. I have gone back and read them many times as an adult and they still hold up.

I read Don’t Turn Out the Lights with that in mind. I tried not to compare the two books too closely because it’s not a fair expectation. I read this anthology for what it is, a tribute and a new generation of writers telling their scary stories.

My issues mostly lay with the unevenness of the collection. The book is marketed as YA horror and some of the stories are, but some are written to a very young middle-grade market. Like its predecessor, the stories in Lights can be read to yourself or aloud to others, but so many are missing that – Boo! ending. You know the one I’m talk about – the one that makes you look behind you, over your shoulder to see what’s waiting in the darkness. Many of these tales just… end. They leave you feeling incomplete and wondering what the heck happened. I feel one of the greatest faults lies with adult horror authors not knowing how to write to a YA audience. It is my opinion that they feel they need to write down to teens and they don’t give them the credit they deserve as readers. One of the most glaring examples of this was in The Cries of the Cat by Josh Malerman. I adore Malerman and the premise he had was a creepy one, but it felt so watered down that it lost its way.

Having said all that, there are some standout stories in this collection:

The Neighbor by Amy Lukavics – Dennis makes a new, unwanted friend with the little boy he sees across the street.

Tag, You’re It by N.R. Lambert – Nick keeps getting tagged in photos by someone who seems to be physically getting closer and closer.

Lint Trap by Jonathan Auxier – Jasper’s family moves into a new house and he starts talking to the children who live in the dryer in the basement.

Brain Spiders by Luis Alberto Urrea & Rosario Urrea – What happens when the kids in class start bullying the new girl from another country?

Mud by Linda D. Addison – Maurice fights his mother about taking baths and she sends him off to his grandmother’s house for an unforgettable sleepover.

The Tall Ones by Madeleine Roux – Estrella tries to convince the new boy in town that the town’s customs and traditions must be honored or else something may happen to him and his family.

I think there are enough stories in here that make checking out this collection worthwhile. It would be a good pick for a library check-out for sure.

If you’re an adult trying to recapture a little bit of that Scary Stories magic, I actually recommend picking up Corpse Cold by John Brhel & Joe Sullivan and illustrated by Chad Wehrle. I reviewed it here last year. To date, it is the next best thing to them that I have read.

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for making this digital ARC available for me to review. Don’t Turn Out the Lights releases on September 1st 2020.

House of Salt and Sorrows

A Gothic Retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Erin A. Craig

5/5 Star Review

September has passed, but with this entry, I am wrapping up my reviews from the month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team celebrated their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! There was a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month of September and it featured five different reading challenges – check out this link for the details!

I read House of Salt and Sorrows for Challenge #4 – Read a Book by a YA or Middle Grade Author. This was my fifth and final “official” pick for the read-a-thon.

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee; —

Annabel Lee – Edgar Allan Poe

I realize that I began this review by stating House of Salt and Sorrows is a fairy tale retelling, and it most definitely is – but it is impossible to ignore the homages to Edgar Allan Poe scattered throughout as well.

As the novel opens, Annaleigh Thaumas, our protagonist and the seventh of twelve daughters, is mourning the loss of her sister – the fifth familial death in but a few short years. They began with her mother and four of her eldest sisters followed – each death more tragic than the last. The deeply superstitious village believes that the family is cursed and none of the daughters believe they will ever marry well, if at all. After a series of events, they discover a hidden door in the family crypt that carries them anywhere their hearts’ desire. This leads to the girls sneaking out every night to attend balls all over the kingdom. As inevitably happens in fairy tales, situations and people are not often as they appear and the girls find themselves in terrible danger.

House of Salt and Sorrows has all of the common Gothic tropes – death and decay, haunted estates, family curses, madness, powerful love/romance, and ghosts. Craig writes them beautifully and weaves them into the setting and atmosphere of this novel. The setting is its own character in House; It is a raging sea, high cliffs, salty air, and sprawling manor. It is palpable. It paints the novel in blues and greens and grays that you can see as you read.

I would also like to mention, briefly, the mythology that Craig has built into this world. She has created a pantheon of gods that are worshiped in this land and they are reminiscent of those from the Greek and Roman mythos, but they have their own unique quirks. They are embedded in the day-to-day life of the people who live in this land and are therefore quite important to the story. I truly hope the author decides to revisit this world with another story. Craig has a strong talent for world-building.

As a final note, I want to remind readers that this is a YA book. If you go in expecting anything too grotesque or dark, you’re going to be disappointed. If you know what you are walking into – I think you will really enjoy this spooky little sea gem.