Tag Archives: Labyrinth

The Re-Reading Project: The Forbidden Game

Jenny glanced back over her shoulder. They were still behind her, on the other side of the street but definitely following. They matched their pace to hers; when she slowed to pretend to look in a store window, they slowed, too.

There were two of them, one dressed in a black T-shirt and leather vest, with a black bandanna on his head, the other in a long flannel shirt, black-and-blue plaid, unbuttoned. Also unwashed. They both looked like trouble.

The game store was a few block ahead. Jenny quickened her pace a little. This wasn’t the best neighborhood in town, and she’d come here specifically because she didn’t want any of her friends to see her. She hadn’t realized, though, that Eastman Avenue had gotten quite so rough. After the last riots, the police had cleared things up, but many of the vandalized stores still had boarded windows, which gave Jenny a creeping feeling between her shoulder blades. They were like bandaged eyes turned toward her.

I’m fairly sure that The Forbidden Game trilogy were the first books of L.J. Smith‘s that I read, probably around the time they were published in 1994. By the time I started tracking my reading in 1996, I was already an earnest L.J. Smith fan and had read most of her books. Between 1994 and 2000, I re-read all of L.J. Smith’s book compulsively and if I remember correctly, The Forbidden Game was my favorite series during this time.

Emilie's original battered copies of The Forbidden Game trilogy

Emilie’s original battered copies of The Forbidden Game trilogy

Most of L.J.’s books feature teenagers dealing with extraordinary circumstances or creatures with minor adult supervision. Sometimes, as in The Forbidden Game, they are relatively normal teenagers. Later, L.J. would write about the psychically gifted, a coven of modern-day witches, vampires, and more in her other series. But The Forbidden Game is like Labyrinth meets Jumanji meets Norse mythology. Maybe it’s because I just re-watched Labyrinth (on a huge screen outdoors in a field by the river with food trucks nearby, perfect), but I totally suspect now, as an adult, that L.J. might have modeled Julian from The Forbidden Game on Jareth from Labyrinth.

In 1998, I was 16 and I moved from my hometown in Georgia to Mandeville, Louisiana (a suburb north of New Orleans, across Lake Ponchartrain). This is my cut-off for the books I’m reading during The Re-Reading Project and it was also a pivotal year for L.J., who stopped publishing for more than a decade. Stranded in unbearably humid Louisiana as a surly teenager, I re-read all my L.J. books and sought out other L.J. fans online. The Internet was relatively new to the casual home user and I explored webrings (remember those?) and e-mail during that first summer away from everything I knew. I also wrote my first book and I was heavily influenced by L.J.’s books when I wrote it, especially The Secret Circle. By the time I went off to college in 2000, L.J.’s fans still didn’t know what had happened to her and were still waiting for her to publish the last book of a 10-book series which was supposed to wrap up before the new millennium. All of this feels like ancient history to me now, but that last book, Strange Fate, still hasn’t been published, which I’ve written about here before.

At the end of my earlier post about L.J. Smith and Strange Fate, I’d noted that she’d been fired from writing The Vampire Diaries and that new books were being written by a ghostwriter. There’s a really good Wall Street Journal article I just found while researching for this post that talks about what happened and how L.J. is using fanfiction to write and publish her version of new Vampire Diaries books. It’s a very bizarre (and cautionary) story. It also explains why she stopped writing for a decade.

So while I’ve never read the two stand-alone books that L.J. first wrote, though she was only publishing actively for less than ten years (particularly 1994-1998), she managed to create several series that had an enormous impact on me as a person and a writer. But, in college, I mostly put the books away. While I’ve always had them on my bookshelves (till now, they’re in storage), I haven’t re-read them. Starting around 2008, all of her books were republished in shiny new omnibuses and both The Secret Circle and The Vampire Diaries were made into t.v. shows. New books were published for both series (which I haven’t read). Out of nostalgia mostly, I bought the reissues of all the books and even some of the new books, but I still didn’t re-read them. I was afraid that the experience of reading them could never be the same as it was when I was a 14-16 year old and that somehow the books would be diminished.

But when I started thinking about doing The Re-Reading Project, I knew that I would have to re-read something by L.J. Smith. I thought for a long time before I decided on The Forbidden Game, since it was my first series of hers and my favorite. So I dug both the original copies and my big omnibus edition out of storage. They were in a box that a friend helping me pack one day had labeled:Emilie's Formative Years

When the time came to read this month’s selection, I was once more in D.C. I’d read an engrossing thriller on my Kindle during the flight and started a Gillian Flynn book once I arrived (wait for the Quarterly Reading Report!) and I found myself dreading The Forbidden Game a bit. It was too big to fully ignore, but silently reproached me every time I passed it while carrying my slim, engrossing Gillian Flynn novel. Finally, I picked it up and began reading.

Forbidden Game 2010

At first, all my worse fears came true. I was bored. I thought Jenny and her boyfriend Tom were about as interesting as cardboard. Julian, the bad guy, was a little too reminiscent of Jareth. All of Jenny’s friends, the background characters, were marginally more interesting, but they also felt a little too purposefully cast (Audrey, the globe-trotting rich girl, Michael the schlubby funny guy who somehow won her, Zach the sullen anti-social computer nerd/artist, Summer the ditzy but sweet flower child and Dee the athletic black girl). But, as the story progressed, I was turning pages faster and faster, remembering why I’d liked the book and the characters and finding new nuances and details that the younger me wouldn’t have noticed, particularly in each of the character’s fears as they encounter them. I don’t remember being particularly interested in the second book when I first read the series, but that was the one that came alive to me now, especially the difficulties that the friends face now that they’ve returned to the real world without one of their own. The third book is interesting for all the ways that Jenny has changed, especially in her relationship with Dee and with Julian, and also because of the “road trip” aspect of the kids having to finish the game in a different state. The details of how they get from California to Pennsylvania are hilarious. In a pre-9/11 world, they fly across the country with, among other things, a crowbar in a duffel bag. Since I had just flown for the first time in a long while and was baffled how I was going to wash my long hair for 10 days with less than 3 ounces of shampoo, that was something I especially noticed.

Except for that and a few other small things here and there (the clothes! and the phone situation in book 2), the books aren’t as dated as I thought they’d be. While reading them now, at 32 years old, could never be the same as my experience reading them as a teenager, I was pleased about how enjoyable re-reading them was, both as an exercise in nostalgia and for their own sake. I prefer the original covers, which give you an idea of what the game world and Julian look like, over the rather static picture of an updated Jenny alone, which is why I included them above. Plus, a book as heavy as the omnibus can really kill your wrists (but it did lay open very satisfyingly).

I’m not sure when I’ll re-read any more L.J. Smith books, but I’m no longer afraid to. Perhaps I’ll go back and finally read The Night of the Solstice and Heart of Valor, her first too books. If you look at her website and her Wikipedia page, L.J. Smith has plans for new installments of this series too, in addition to Strange Fate. She plans a fourth book for both the Dark Visions series, as well as The Forbidden Game (called Rematch!). I suppose I could always re-read each series when and if each of these new books is published. Should be interesting to see if it comes to pass and how old I am when it does.

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Reading in Q2 – April

Last month, I started a new tradition here on my blog. Quarterly reporting of my reading. I enjoyed doing the post so much AND I “read” so many audio books in April that I decided to go ahead and report on April’s reading.

The interesting thing about this month’s reading and the very reason I was able to “read” so many audio books was I took a job as a film courier. If you follow my Tweets, you might’ve noticed me referring to the “Great Louisiana Tour,” and this job is what I was talking about. What it boiled down to is that I was driving between New Orleans and Shreveport and back every weekday, about 11-12 hours of driving. So I could listen to one or sometimes two audio books each day/trip.

This month’s edition of the reading quarterly report will essentially be a review of audio books. I only actually read two physical books this month, in fact, and all the rest were audio books I listened to while on this epic journey. Epic is the right word because I drove just over 11,000 miles in just over three weeks.

With no further ado, the reviews…

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz and read by John Bedford Lloyd – I’ve been reading Dean Koontz since I was 10, though I’ve missed out on some of his newer books. Since I’m so familiar with his writing voice, but hadn’t read this book, it seemed like the perfect audio book to start with. And it was. It was really charming, sometimes hokey, and thoroughly listenable.

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks and read by Holter Graham – I’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks before, but this book was recommended to me and I was so desperate for entertainment during my drives that it seemed like a good way to get introduced. I was intrigued that the book is told more from the male character’s perspective since the movie is mainly from the female character’s perspective. However, I really hated the character of Savannah and I don’t think it helped that Holter Graham made her sound like Peggy Hill.

How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot and read by Kate Reinders –  This was a cute young adult book and it was perfectly read. I feel like this was one of the best examples of the right reader really bringing a character and a story alive in this format. The premise was ridiculous, of course, but it was hard not to invest anyway.

50 Harbor Street by Debbie Macomber and read by Sandra Burr – I used to read Debbie Macomber books years ago, but haven’t for a long time. I picked this one up at random and quickly realized it’s in the middle of a series. There were so many characters, so I have to give the reader props for bringing them all to life, but it was hard to really care about what was going on. By the time I plugged into a story line (one among many) that interested me, the book was over. None of the rest of the series was available on audio at my library, so I moved on.

My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman and read by Mia Barron – This one is a great example of the perfect reader bringing a great book so completely to life. I was only sorry I couldn’t get more Elinor Lipman books on audio through my library because I would’ve listened to all of her books after finishing this one. I loved the story and characters so much I didn’t want to leave the world of the story.

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Juliana Baggott read by Kirby Heyborne and Renee Raudman – This is a “novel in confessions,” going back and forth between a male and a female character. I think the audio would have been done a great disservice if it hadn’t been read by both a man and a woman. And they were both good, as were the separate writing styles of Almond and Baggott. I was so entertained and moved by the “confessions,” yet was dying to know what would happen. While I’m not sure the end is quite as strong as I would’ve liked, this is an audio I’m glad I listened to and would read the old-fashioned way: myself and a book.

Big Boned by Meg Cabot and read by Justine Eyre – Pretty quickly, I realized I wasn’t listening to a standalone or the first book in a series. It’s actually the third in a series. But I decided to listen anyway because I was enjoying it so much and if the others were available on audio, I decided I’d listen to them backwards. This one was just great fun. Silly sometimes, but in the best possible way. Heather Wells as portrayed by Justine Eyre was good company on my drive.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and read by Jeff Woodman – This was one of my favorite audio book experiences during the whole road trip/audio book experiment. It was like an old-fashioned radio play with French flare mixed with the feel of classic fairy tales. There were sound effects and the reader was amazing. Plus, the story was brilliant. This one, too, is a story I want to read for myself – partly because I suspect there were illustrations I was missing out on. I almost cried at the end and immediately started making a list of the kids I know who are getting this audio for Christmas.

Julie + Julia  written and read by Julie Powell – This was a book I was curious about, especially after seeing the movie, but wasn’t sure I wanted to invest my time reading. So, the audio seemed perfect because I was desperate for entertainment. But the audio ended up being perfect because Julie Powell does an amazing job narrating her experience. It was so vivid! I went through everything with her. There was even a little interview segment at the end, which I enjoyed.

True Grit by Charles Portis – This was one of the two books I read this month the old-fashioned way. It’s a slim, fast read but I took my time with it since I didn’t have a ton of time to read and I was already inundated with story. The character of Mattie Ross is so compelling. Annoying and amusing, charming and heartbreaking. I loved her. I wanted to be her. I never wanted to be her, ever. I quoted her and talked about her. And this was a revelation after growing up with the John Wayne movie version and liking the more recent one when I saw it with my parents. But the book… oh, the book… In the midst of my phenomenal audio story experience, I’m glad this was the one I held in my hands and curled up around.

Eat, Pray, Love written and read by Elizabeth Gilbert – I could almost duplicate my review of Julie + Julia here, except I was really just as reluctant to read this one as I was intrigued. It seemed so shallow and self-absorbed from the hooplah around it and yes, from the movie, which I liked alright. But nothing can compare to Elizabeth Gilbert reading her own story, consciously investigating selfishness and self. I think I might’ve misunderstood her or disliked her if I’d read the book myself. But it was impossible for me not to identify with her when she was telling me her own story in her own voice. The depths and the heights. The colors and the foods. This book was much more of a spiritual study than I’d expected, or maybe that’s what I took from it. I think about it all the time since I’ve finished listening to the story.

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham and read by Richard Thomas – I loved Encyclopedia Brown and suspected this would be in the same vein. It was, a little bit. It was charming in it’s complete old-fashioned and unrealistic quality, but it was also a bit hopeless. I found a disturbing casual sexism – the family eats out a lot because the mother (who is also a lawyer, like the father) can’t be bothered to cook – and racial stereotypes. I think the cover look far darker and more exciting than the book was, especially read by wholesome John-Boy Walton. This is Perry Mason for the Hannah Montana set and could be far more interesting.

Coraline written and read by Neil Gaiman – I liked this audio better than the movie, which was good. But far and away the best thing was listening to Neil Gaiman read his own work. He sounded a bit like David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. A little. I think he’s the only fiction writer in my experiment who reads his own work.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and read by Cherry Jones – It is an ok story. I think the best thing about it is the voice of the character, India Opal and Cherry Jones really brought her to life. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Cherry Jones reads Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Size Fourteen is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot and read by Kristen Kairos – It was weird to read this after having read the third. I knew what would happen in the next book, yet I was still surprised by a thing or two. Only, I didn’t like Kristen Kairos’s version of Heather Wells as much as the woman who reads her for Big Boned.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames written and read by David Sedaris – I’ve read a lot of David Sedaris. Some parts of this were boring, some parts I’d heard before. And as always, there was a gorgeous nugget I hadn’t ever heard or read. But there were some parts scattered throughout, especially the audio from live performances, complete with audience reactions, that are just brilliant.

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz and read by David Aaron Baker – I didn’t consciously start or end the experiment with Dean Koontz, but he somehow bookended my experience. He was my favorite writer for a long time, but I got woefully behind on his books. I’ve listened to all the Odd Thomas books on audio and I think they’re all read by David Aaron Baker, so it’s nice to have a consistent voice for the character. It was reassuring, in a way, to come back around to the voices I know so well.

Besides the people I saw everyday, what I miss most now that I’ve switched to a new gig is the opportunity to listen to so many fabulous books. My numbers are probably going to be a lot lower this month! I hope you enjoy reading these mini reviews of the audio books that made my epic journey survivable.

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