November 19, 2012

#15 You Can't Scare Me

Judging a book by its cover:

I remember thinking it at the time I first saw the book and I still think it now, the monsters in the cover
reminds me of swamp thing. Perhaps they're more mud based, whereas swamp thing was a little more plant based. Still, a mucky humanoid emerging from a foggy marsh... easy to make that connection. Also the border color really fits well with the illustration. I feel like that rarely happens. They are usually kind of arbitrary but this one almost feels like they picked it purposely. Impressive!

The taglines are a let down. On front we have the super generic, "They're coming for you..." On back we have the also generic "It's gonna be a scream!" Couldn't come up with a single mud monster related pun? For shame!

Some things specific to my copy of the book (which I didn't take a picture of because my camera is still broken) The cover is pretty torn in one corner and taped up. Also my name is written on the inside. This is evidence that I actually brought it to school. I am pretty sure this is one of the first Goosebumps I ever read. The books got beaten up more at school because you got like, 10 minutes of reading time then you had to jam it back in your desk. Then it gets all bent up when you are shoving math books and such in it. Eventually teachers frowned on you reading these, and encouraged you to read "real" books. But for awhile these were good to go and earned you cred with teachers. It's interesting to note that my signature looked way more legible back then. Let us go back to that time, and experience the horror I undoubtedly felt reading this in... SECOND GRAD OR THIRD GRADE!

Getting Goosebumps:

The sixth grade was on a class field trip in Green Forest to observe flora and fauna. "Main character" Eddie, and "sidekick" Hat (yes Hat because he wears a hat...) are joking around with friends Molly and Charlene. Courtney and Denise are the class suck ups, walking around being very serious about the field trip. They find, (or claim to find) a whole slew of animals. All Eddie manages to find is a little green snake that scares the living crap out of him. Courtney finds it hilarious and makes fun of him the rest of the trip.

At the end of the trip she actually manages to have bees calmly walk around her hands, as everyone watches. Then, in a total bitch move she throws the bees at Eddie and Hat. Needless to say, they immediately scheme with Molly and Charlene to get back her. Their plan of action is to hide a large rubber snake in her lunch bag. How could it fail? Well the teacher forgets his lunch and Courtney offers to share hers. Mr. Melvin was the one to open it and get startled by the snake. Courtney, however, valiantly stomped the fake snake in half. Molly's brother, the owner of the rubber snake, is gonna be pissed!

Next car on the humiliation train for Eddie was a woman desperately trying to get someone to rescue her cat from a tree. Eddie is scared of heights though. Not even Hat egging him on could get him to do it. So just as the woman was ready to call the fire department, Bitch Courtney showed up and rescued the cat all by herself. She also accused Eddie of planting the snake. They need a better plan.

Plan B is to take the science lab's tarantula and drop it on Courtney's head from the balcony in the gym. Easy plan. First Eddie and Hat sneak into the science lab at the end of school. The teacher's not there, so they get to kidnapping the tarantula. Unfortunately they forgot to bring something to put it in. Lucky for them there is a plastic container in the room, so they poke some holes in it and get to kidnapping. Then there here footsteps outside, the teacher is coming back! They decide to hide in the supply closet. It's dark and cramped. Luckily the teacher just comes in to flick off the lights and leave. Unluckily they can't find the latch to open up the closet from the inside. They fumble around and the tarantula gets out of its container. It starts crawling up Eddie's leg and he freaks. Finally they escape the cabinet and recapture the spider. Next morning comes time for the prank. Molly and Charlene are the ones to lure Courtney to the right spot. Hat is the one to drop the tarantula and it lands *plunk* right on Molly's head. Whoops! Wrong person! She doesn't take it so well, and after hysterically flailing she throws it at Charlene. Charlene also freaks, and it takes Courtney to calmly, smugly, deal with the tarantula. The gym teacher then deals with Eddie and Hat, but making sure they clean out the science lab for the next 2 weeks, and write an essay on why it's not ok to steal animals and drop them on people's heads.

Time to go back to the drawing board. Eddie consults his brother. His brother has been shooting a video with his high school friends about a local legend of mud monsters. It's a horror film and he made awesome scary mud monster costumes for it. He suggests Eddie think bigger. Perhaps a giant scary dog. Charlene's dog Buttercup fits the bill. He's a big lovable St. Bernard, but when you whistle he gets angry and growls. Eddie even gets shaving cream to put on its mouth so it looks rabid. Buttercup, however, gets distracted by a squirrel and runs off. Charlene's distraught and they break up to look for him. Eddie gets lost, and a giant black monster dog lunges at him. Its terrifying, but Hat comes and manages to scare it away. When they finally decide to head back home and see if Buttercup wound up there, they see Courtney standing with Buttercup and the giant monster dog trying to see if she could find their owners. That's when Eddie decides there is no scaring Courtney.

It turns out that Courtney is actually the one to give them their final idea to scare her. Apparently she believes in monsters, like the one in Loch Ness, and Bigfoot. If she believes in monsters, maybe she'll be scared by the mud monsters appearing at night. Eddie's brother gets convinced to help by getting a servant for the month. Molly is the one to call and get Courtney to show up by the woods. When they get there it turns out even Denise is there and they have a video camera! All they need to do is wait for Eddie's brother and crew to show up as the mud men. Finally they start groaning and emerging from the woods but Courtney is looking the wrong way. After waiting moments to see Courtney freak out, Eddie's brother REALLY shows up. And more and more mud monsters come out of the woods. Courtney finally notices, and then everyone freaks out and runs away.

Things didn't turn out as expected. Eddie and his friends are uneasy all the time now. They are nervous and don't really leave the house. On the other hand Courtney is bragging to everyone she knows about how she finally saw a real live monster, and can prove they exist. Eddie would like to finally frighten her, but he is just too scared.

What I thought:

This book was kind of unique. The actual scary element of the book didn't present itself until the very last chapter. All of it was centered around the main characters trying to scare Courtney. While that's interesting to read about, it isn't particularly scary to the reader. It had to rely on other scares. False scares that Stine seems to overuse like people coming from behind with cold hands. Also, things like the "monster dog" that was pretty unrelated to anything. The mud monsters were only talked about a little, the brother doing the movie on them. It wasn't until one of the final chapters that the legend is really discussed, and it isn't until the very final chapter that they actually appear.

That being said, I kind of liked it. It felt a little different than other Goosebumps. As the scary elements aren't particularly scary anyway, so it's fun to see this kids go to such lengths to try and startle smug ol' Courtney. I was really rooting for him. scaring friends certainly has been presented in Goosebumps before but making it the focal point was entertaining.

I feel like I should be taking a tally of things that appear over and over again in Goosebumps. Kid with a stupid nickname? Check! Silly 90's clothing details? Check! Trying to scream but no sound coming out? Checkeroony! The last one really is wearing thin. If I'm sick of it now, how will I feel at book 40, 50? We shall see I guess.

Rating: 3 out of 5 mud men

Up Next:

One Day at Horrorland! After Escape From the Carnival of Horrors I'm looking forward to this book. An amusement park presents a lot of possibilities. I believe the newest Goosebumps series is actually based in Horrorland, so in a way I guess this book spawned the most sequels? What happening at the beginning of it all? We'll see next time.

October 30, 2012

Give Yourself Goosebumps #1: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Goosebumps post to bring you a "special" Halloween one. Instead of doing the next book of the regular series I bring you Give Yourself Goosebumps #1: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors. The Give Yourself Goosebumps series were Choose Your Adventure style books.

If you don't know what those are, why are you reading this blog? You grew up in the wrong generation! To explain it simply, at the end of pages, it would give you a choice. If you want to enter the cellar turn to page 8, if you want to go to the attic, turn to page 27. Usually 90% of the endings were bad and involve you never being seen or heard from again. Then there is usually one ok ending where you make it out alive but barely. And usually there is about 1 "good" ending where things turn out just peachy.

This presents a moderate difficulty in writing synopsis and reviews. Do I read all 20-30 endings? No. I am far too lazy, and that doesn't present an interesting narrative. I have decided I am going to read through exactly 3 plots. Whatever happens I will report back to you... But first...

Judging a Book By Its Cover

The first thing you'd notice about this book if you actually held it in your hands is that it is SHINY! It's hard to tell from the photo of it, but it has that special stuff that makes it reflect like all cool... I forget what you call it, but it shows different colors at different angles. Nifty.

The second thing you'd notice of course would be the gnarly purple gator breaking out of its cage. Why purple? Is green not scary enough? Is Barney more terrifying than Godzilla? Well... kind of, but for entirely different reasons.

There is no tagline on the front, which is kind of a bummer. The back of the book isn't actually shiny. It is normal Goosebumps style dual color ooze. I suppose since it has the text blurb about the book it couldn't really be sparkly. It does have one tagline on back. "Take a ride if you dare...." Oh, I dare. Lets get to it. Reader Beware, I Choose The Scare!

Getting Goosebumps

Attempt 1:

It's in the first person, and I am the first person. My best friends Patty and Brad have been arguing since the start of summer vacation. We are all bored. Perhaps we should bike over to where they are setting up the carnival! Of course last year they had the Terror Track which wound up being a kid's train. Patty, however, being bossy makes the decision for us. We're going. When we get there it's all locked up. Do we break in or chicken out and Go Home.
GO HOME, PAGE 10: What's wrong with me. If I went home now the narrative that is my life would be over! That's lame. I get no more illusion of choice, I am climbing that damn fence and breaking in. (Yes seriously, this is what the page was like.)

COMMIT BREAKING AND ENTERING, PAGE 6: We hop the fence and though there is still the kiddy train, there is also pretty awesome stuff like a rocket coaster and arcade games. While gawking at a sign for a freak show a man comes up from behind us telling us we aren't supposed to be there. Uh oh! It's Big Al the owner, but instead of kicking us out he wants us to test out the stuff in the park. That doesn't seem suspicious at all! But do I wanna check out the rides or the midway?

STRAIGHT TO THE RIDES, YO!, PAGE 34: On the one hand there is a giant-ass roller coaster with cars that look like shuttles and the tracks go almost up the clouds it seems! That's what Brad and Patty are doing. Of course, behind me there is organ music coming from the Little House of Horrors and I do love me some haunted houses...

TO THE COASTER I SAY! PAGE 26: It's pretty sweet. It goes hella fast, and loops and all kinds of crap. However, it stops dead, and my friends Brad and Patty are gone. Do I sit here and wait for help? or perhaps I should hop out of the car..

I PLAY IT CAUTIOUS AND WAIT FOR HELP, PAGE 92: I wait for 15 minutes then start to feel... strange... like someone is watching me. Then there is rustling and strange smells... I feel sick. I can't move. 2 guys come in and say the perfume worked and haul me off to be a real life display for the park. Next time I'll know better! Or will I? Because there wont be a next time! This is... THE END? (or is it? mwahahaha)

Attempt 2
Once again my friends and I are bored, we go to the carnival and I don't fight the urge to break in this time. Big Al shows up and lets us have free reign. Rides, or Midway?

AWW YEAH, CHECKIN' OUT THE MIDWAY, PAGE 77: There is plenty of cool stuff here, but I'm drawn to the fortune teller. She reads my palms and says there is horror in my future. Sounds bad... Then she tells me to pick a card. Do I go red or blue?

WELL BLUE IS MY FAVORITE COLOR... PAGE 59 (Hah it actually says blue is my favorite color when I turned the page.) The card says the freaks at the freak show are in trouble and I'm their only hope! When I inquire what this is all about the lights go out with a scream and the fortune teller is gone. When I try to grab the card it bursts in to flame. Do I keep going along with this and help the freaks, or do I say screw em?

I CAN'T RESIST HELPING FREAKS, PAGE 11: I race to tell Brad and Patty about my predicament. They're in. We race to the freak show. The door says KEEP OUT, so naturally we bust in. Turns out they are slaves in a prison, and Big Al is the freaks' master and he is just about to show up. Do I stay and give em
him a stern lecture or should we book it down the hall?

I'M NO FOOL, GET OUTTA THERE! PAGE 48: We get outta there, but escape right into a reptile petting zoo. What a messed up idea! Some of the snakes are coming to try and cuddle us. We need to get out of here. Should we go left or right?
RIGHT SEEMS RIGHT, PAGE 12: We book it like mad, but then there is a crashing sound behind us. Then on the sides of us. Then in front of us. We're trapped. It is then that we here a voice welcoming us to the reptile petting zoo. The alligator, it seems, has been lonely. And we are its new pets. THE END (or is it!?)

Attempt 3

Yadda yadda yadda bored, go to carnival. Blah blah blah break in, Big Al. Rides or Midway?

RIDES, PAGE 34: Coaster like before? Or Haunted House?

HAUNTED HOUSE! PAGE 64: So I ditch Brad and Patty and head off to the Little House of Horrors. There is a rickety bridge to get there. It sways and creaks and as a thunder bolt of lightning (very very frightening) goes off I fall. Do I try and grab at the bridge or do I flap my arms like a bird (that is seriously an option.)

Well I can't think of anything else to do so I flap my arms like a bird. Just then a big gust of air comes up under me and blows me back up onto the bridge. No shit? What are the odds! I go to the haunted house and look back at the void I almost fell into. The bridge is gone. Cool special affects! It's not like I almost died or something. I notice at the Little House of Horrors there is also the Boat Trip to Nowhere. Do I get side tracked to no where or do I stick with the haunted house?

SCREW GOING NOWHERE, ON TO THE HAUNTED HOUSE! PAGE 66: Near the entrance a skeleton taps me on the back and tells me if I go in I'll wind up like him. Awesome! Inside its totally dark. I can't even see my hands. I stumble around... Finally I find myself in a house of mirrors! Do I go left or right?

RIGHT WONT FAIL ME AGAIN, PAGE 29: I go to my right, and get frustrated. Punching the wall seems like a good idea after staring at all these images of me. After I do so the walls start closing in on me. Literally. Right when it seems like I'm about to be crushed the floor falls out from under me and I'm caught in a net to someone declaring that a new player has entered. A short creepy man and some 7 foot tall beastly monsters great me. Apparently he is "Dr. Frank-N-Stone" which has got to be the worst name I've ever heard. I sounds like a Flintstones villain. Anyway, he is the one who created the Carnival of Horrors. Do I kick him and try and escape? Or do I wait for the hulking monsters to leave first.

KICK HIM AND TAKE MY CHANCES, 79: I kick him, but nothing happens! I kick him harder and my foot busts through him... to... metal. He's a robot!? Awesome, I deactivated him but now those creatures are after me.One of them pins me up against the wall and I give its head a shove. The head comes off. It was a robot too! Now one left... but is it also a robot? Or do I think he's a real monster...

ONE OF EM'S GOTTA BE A REAL MONSTER, PAGE 110, Well I was right that it wasn't a robot. It wasn't however, a monster. It's Big Al and he thinks what I've got what it takes to be in the Carnival of Horrors. I however, am not a fan of that idea. He assures me that I can't leave. We go into the next room and people in old timey clothes welcome me to the Carnival of Horrors. It appears in different places each night and tonight it was in my town, and there is no getting out... or is there? Apparently if I can escape before midnight, I'm ok. But it's 11:40 and the floor has started to shake... Suddenly I appear outside with my friends again. I tell them we've gotta be out before midnight. Patty says the exit is by the Hall of the Mountain King. Brad says its by the Halloween express.

ITS HALLOWEEN SO I SAY HALLOWEEN EXPRESS, PAGE 108: We head that away, then hop into some cars and drive off. A skeleton comes out at us and we drive by. Then there are zombies and ghostly figures. We should jump out and run! But am I able to?

I'LL BE HONEST, NO... I CAN'T, PAGE 127: Well it doesn't matter, I crash through the ghost! Take that! But now we have to hide from the Carnival folk. Do we all hide in the cannon, or in the kiddy choo-choo train!

I CHOO CHOO CHOOSE YOU! Page 128 It starts chiming to 12. I however notice the train is called Right Way Railroad. There is only one RIGHT WAY out... Could I be right? We go through a tunnel and once through we see Carnival Workers everywhere... Regular, run of the mill carnival workers. At the same rinky-dink tiny Carnival we have every year. No monsters or zombies anywhere. This carnival just has baby games and lame food stands. It's he greatest carnival ever. Whew.

What I thought

Woohoo I survived! Rarely do I survive these things, and I swear to gosh I didn't even cheat by looking ahead. The choo choo always gets you where you wanna go. Ultimately each of my ventures whether I survived or not was fairly long in terms of these books. I was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, this was far more enjoyable than I remember these things. I recall dying every other page. Maybe I just got lucky and got some longer strains, or maybe perhaps maybe RL Stine did an ok job with this? I guess limiting myself to 3 attempts helped make it more enjoyable. A common ploy of people who read these is to keep a finger on pages with choices so you can go back and do the other if you fail. That's not really that fun, however it does help if your only goal is to see every ending. And if you own it you probably do want to see every ending.

It would have been nice to get a little bit of characterization. I know I was the main character, but it seems like you ditch your friends a lot. They were pretty much irrelevant characters. They were there so I wouldn't be alone... but I was alone most of the time. What's the point?

Ultimately the strength of this book came from the setting. There are a lot of things to do in a Carnival and I got the opportunity to do a lot of them. Roller coasters, haunted houses, fortune tellers. Good stuff. If only I could have had some ghostly food. Perhaps an I SCREAM cone, or uhh... Hell I dunno.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Corn Dogs

Up Next!

Next time we we'll be back to to your regularly schedule classic Goosebumps. I just did this special for Halloween because I only have a few of the Choose your Own Goosebumps series, and I don't know when I should review them. I doubt I'll go out and get them all, so I'll just throw them into the mix every now and again. Hope you enjoyed it. Happy Halloween!

October 17, 2012

#14 The Werewolf of Fever Swamp

Judging a Book by Its Cover:

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. I'm not entirely sure why it's called Fever swamp but I'm guessing the neon green water has something to do with it. The wolf itself, howling in the moon light, looks like something you might find on a t-shirt. The clothes on the ground beside the wolf, suggest that a young boy turned into the creature... but then wouldn't the wolf be wearing the clothes? Maybe it ate the kid in the clothes but then they would be blood soaked. I guess that wouldn't make for a very kid friendly cover.

The taglines both relate to Little Red Riding Hood. On the front it says "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?" while on back it says "What big teeth you have!" Sort of predictable, but I guess at least it fits. It's neither particularly clever, nor particularly groan worthy. In all, C+. Now lets get to reading!

Getting Goosebumps

As is the case with many Goosebumps characters Grady and his family recently moved to a new house. His parents are scientists that moved to Florida in order to preform tests with South American "Swamp Deer." I believe there exists in real life, a "Marsh Deer" from South America, but I don't know about any Swamp Deer. Plus these deer have webbed feet. I don't know about that... Regardless, releasing a non native species into an ecosystem always proves to turn out well. Just ask Australia about cane toads. They love those things!

Well Grady and older sister Emily decide to go out exploring the swamp together. They see swampy things, like cranes, and peat bogs. Then they promptly get lost. Using the tried and true method of wandering around aimlessly, they eventually stumble upon a ramshackle hut, and knock on the door asking for someone to help. A weird old hermit comes out and scares the kids shitless, purely by virtue of being a creepy hermit. Come on kids, who do you think is going to answer the door of a swamp shack? They decide to run away instead of getting directions home. It does seem to work though, they found their way back and inform their parents of the hermit situation. Dad says the people in town say Mr. Hermit is perfectly safe, just... hermity. Sounds reasonable.

The hermit wasn't the only person Grady met that day. He also Will, a neighbor kid the same age as Grady. He lets him know why the swamp is called Fever Swamp. Apparently over 100 years ago, a bunch of people come down with a horrible fever that killed a lot of them, and the rest started acting strange. They'd wander around in circles and mutter gibberish. That night as Grady goes in to watch a Shark program on the Discover Channel, he feels as though he is coming down with a fever...

Grady tries to sleep, but wakes up hearing terrible howling. He goes into the kitchen to investigate, and bumps into her sister who hears the same thing. She asserts that it must be wolves, but that's ridiculous! Wolves don't live in the swamp! That's almost as ludicrous as... swamp deer... wait... Anyway, there is a scratching at the door. When Grady works up the courage to open the door and check it out, there is nothing there. Back at sleep, he has dreams of being chased before being sucked into a peat bog.

The next morning, Grady gets mauled by a terrible beast as he exits the house! It tackles him and licks his face. Turns out, it's a dog. A really big, wolf looking dog. They name it Wolf, because ya know, screw creativity. The kids want to adopt it, but the parents are not so down with that plan.

Grady goes off with Will to explore the bog and both get startled when Wolf decides to join them. They go off to the peat bog and Wolf starts to growl. The creepy hermit wanders by, with stains that look like blood on his shirt. He leaves the kids alone, and the kids hypothesize the origin of the stains. Later on their adventure they discover a heron that had been torn to shreds. Immediately Will condemns the hermit. Can't a guy just live by himself in a shack covered with blood and not arouse suspicion? Jeeze! Grady on the other hand thinks a wild animal is the culprit, because there were paw marks. They take wolf away, without even considering that the mysterious giant dog could have been the culprit.

Wolf's first night sleeping inside doesn't go well. Everyone is woken up in the middle of the night as the dog crashes into lamps and windows, frantically trying to get outside. The parents decide that perhaps Wolf should be an outside dog. He happily goes outside and they go back to sleep... for awhile. Then there is that loud howling again. In the morning they find a rabbit torn to shred on their lawn. Emily thinks its wolf, but Grady refuses to believe.

One day Grady and Will go out exploring. Neighbor girl Cassie comes upon them, and they start talking about how a neighbor man is missing. Apparently it was the work of a werewolf. Will teases Cassie for this notion. Grady doesn't seem to know what to think. Suddenly Cassie points out the werewolf. Grady thinks she is pointing at Wolf, but really it's the swamp hermit. He apparently overhears them because he jumps out at them yelling "I'm the werewolf" and laughing. The kids apparently think that this is standard werewolf behavior and run away. Grady, however, trips and falls. The hermit leers over him, then assures him he was just kidding around. On the way back home Grady thinks about Wolf, and the hermit, and werewolves but then gets attacked by a much more tangible threat: a snake.Unfortunately Fortunately it wasn't venomous.

The howling at night keeps happening. One morning they discover a slaughtered swamp deer, and dad decides wolf is the culprit because there are paw prints by the corpse. Apparently lots of other animals in the area have been killed, and the neighbor is still missing. Wolf gets all the blame. Grady is distraught and gets Wolf to run away before his dad can take him to the pound. Next night the howling comes back and Grady decides to follow Wolf and investigate. Which is sensible, when something is accused of slaughtering countless large animals the best course of action is to follow it into the dark wilderness. Apparently Will had a similar idea of going out in the swamp to investigate the howling of a killer beast. Smart.

Somehow they get split up and Grady becomes concerned. He happens upon the hermit shack, and hears the terrifying howling. It must be the hermit! He is the werewolf! Suddenly Grady gets attacked by a creature. It's Will. With a furry face! A teenwolf!? I thought those only did slam dunks and van surfing! But its true, Will is the werewolf, and he bites Grady in a fury. Luckily Wolf arrives and chases him off. Later when Grady's parents are helping heal him, Grady tells him about what happened. Dad is skeptical but goes over to Will's house to investigate. Turns out, it doesn't look like anyone has lived there in months. Strange. Oh well. Grady still has a friend in Cassie, plus he gets to keep Wolf. That is lucky, because on full moons when his face sprouts fur, he has a companion to go out hunting in the swamp with...

What I Thought

Sometimes I wonder what the ratio of Goosebumps kids with scientist parents is. Maybe I should have been keeping track. It seems like a lot of them. Ultimately however, the scientist part wasn't very relevant to the plot. It just set up a reason for them to have moved to the swamp, and a reason for them to be skeptical of werewolves as if being a rational human being wasn't reason enough. Moving into a new house is kind of an overdone thing for these books already. I mean, I get that there is a bit of eeriness and uncertainty to a new house, or from new situations but it's getting old and I'm only 14 books in.

On the other hand, some things still amuse me even though they are frequently done. All the touches of 90'sness entertain me. It seems like at least 2/3rds of the kids in these books own a Nintendo... which is probably fairly accurate to the time. Still, you'd think at least one of them would own a Sega. Also some of the clothing seems amusingly unfashionable. Will apparently wore lycra shorts. What 12 year old boy wore lyrca shorts, even in the 90's?

So lets get to the plot. There was a decent amount of mystery surrounding who the culprit was. The two obvious contenders were the hermit and Wolf. Both were too obvious, and I'm happy it was neither. It could have also been Grady, but that would have made far too little sense with how things were going. Having it be Will worked out, because he seemed like a perfectly normal kid, who was reasonably skeptical of werewolves. If he got legitimately upset about them, then it would have been all too obvious. So ultimately this book ends up being above average in terms of Goosebumps because it doesn't end ridiculously. I mean, I guess the twist of Grady going on as a werewolf is sort of silly, but it is a thing Stine really likes to do. It's an ending straight out of cheesy horror movies gunning for a sequel. Except that Stine almost never actually follows them up.Ultimately it just shows that these characters are not really meant to be meaningful people emotionally invested in. They are just props for a tale to be told. I guess you shouldn't really expect more from these books.

Rating: 3 out of 5 werewolves

Up Next!

The next book in the series is You Can't Scare Me! I like titles with exclamation points! Now there are 2 things I know about this book.
1) It is one of , if not the very first Goosebumps book I ever read.

2) I don't remember any bit of it at all.

Will I remember things as I read it? We shall see! Catch ya next time.

September 5, 2012

#13 Piano Lessons Can be Murder

Judging a book by its cover:

If I was going to guess the plot of the book by looking at the cover I could only assume it was about Thing from The Addams Family finding his long lost brother and them becoming world renown pianists. Also assassins. Pianist assassins. Wait, no, that makes them sound like they kill pianists...

Regardless, on the cover we have disembodied hands tickling the ivories. The tagline reads "Play it again, hands!" I assume this is a reference to "Play it again, Sam" from the movie Casablanca. This is great for two reasons. 1) They never actually said it in Casablanca. It's one of the world's most popular misquotes. This makes it so you can't get sued, brilliant! 2) Kids just LOVE Casablanca. I'm sure all of them get the reference perfectly and chuckled heartily.

There is another cover to this book. While I'm not sure which edition it comes on, this cover came up with googling and all I can say is... What the eff? Pedophile cyborg man in a weird trippy background? I honestly have no idea what is going on. I think if I had come across this book with this cover as a kid I would have hesitated to buy it. I guess on the plus side it is genuinely creepy... It gives me the heeby jeebies.

Anyway lets move on. I am predicting either there will be a haunted piano or a scary piano teacher. Possibly both. Will that be what happens? Lets check it out!

Getting Goosebumps:

This book's star tween character is Jerry who is just moving into a new house with his parents. He starts things out by scaring them into believing some dust balls were really mice. It seems like every Goosebumps book has to have a character that loves scaring or playing tricks. I guess it's a really simple way to make sure people don't believe it when something genuinely scary happens... as if you need a reason not to believe super natural things are happening.

Anyway one thing that is set up that may be intricate to the plot is Jerry's cat Bonkers. He hates it, because it always lunges at him and claws him. I feel like maybe the Bonkers will end up clawing the bad guy or something. Maybe it's just a red herring. I bet cats love red herring.

More certainly intricate to the plot is the piano Jerry and his dad discover in the attic. It's a good quality piano which makes it a mystery as to why it got left behind. The first night in the new house Jerry hears sad piano music from the attic but when he goes upstairs no one is there. He plonks a few keys himself, waking up his dad who then suggests piano lessons. Jerry thinks it might be cool. He could get some synthesizers, and maybe compose music and make it big with a rock band. Jerry thinks big, and that is actually some pretty good character description that makes him feel slightly different than all the other generic Goosebumps stars. I'll take what I can get.

The potential villain of this book is Dr. Shreek, Jerry's piano teacher. He was the only one advertising piano lessons in the news paper which is as solid of credentials as anyone needs. Despite having a "spooky" name, his looks are likened to that of jolly old Santa Claus. At first they just have a short lesson so he can meet Jerry. He compliments his hands, which is slightly weird but hey, he's a pianist!

The next lesson doesn't go as well. Dr. Shreek keeps going on and on about Jerry's hands. They are alive! Each finger is alive! Move them faster! He keeps playing the same song faster and faster, his hands going out of control. It, of course, is a dream.

Nightmares aside, Jerry also has to deal with the spooky piano music at night. On night he goes down there to check it out and is tackled by Bonkers the cat which wakes up and pisses off his parents. The next time he investigates he sees the ghost of a woman who tells him to stay away from her piano. His parents think that perhaps instead he should stay near a psychiatrist.

Eventually Jerry has a real second lesson with Dr. Shreek, who keeps up his hand fetish. Apparently Jerry's hands are good enough to get into Shreek's piano school for lessons. When Jerry shows up for his lesson at the school he discovers its in a creepy old building at the end of town. Inside he comes across a creepy floor sweeping robot made by Mr. Toggle the janitor who shares Shreek's hand fetish. The lesson itself goes well but the hand comments continue. Also, when Jerry gets home his parents demand a demonstration of what he learned. Instead the ghost bangs the hell out of some piano keys and his parents thing its him. Isn't having a haunted piano the worst?

Back at school Mr. Toggle shows Jerry a bunch of his inventions. He has stuff like big robots, surveillance monitors, and interesting musical instruments powered by air compression. Also, there is a desk drawer murmuring help me. Never to worry though, he's got Toggle's assurance it's just some damaged equipment.

To further the schools reputation, later Jerry runs into a girl from school who shares lots of stories about Shreek's school. Apparently there are bizarre monsters in the basement. On top of that, there are kids who have gone there and never returned. You'd think someone would report them to the Better Business Bureau.

Another night of piano music has Jerry freaking out and needing to investigate one more time. The ghost reveals bloody arm stumps and tells him the stories about the school are true. His parents find him absolutely freaking out, screaming at the top of his lungs. He tells them he wants nothing to do with the piano. This is ok with them he just has to have his one very last lesson because ya know, they already paid for it. This is what we call good parenting. If your kid is freaking out about pianos to the extent that he screams bloody murder about them in the night and needs professional therapy about them, hey why not send him to one last lesson?

When Jerry lets Dr. Shreek know its his last lesson, the good doctor flips his shit. He asserts that he needs Jerry's hands, and chases him around the school. Eventually they end up in the auditorium where thunderous piano playing can be heard. Pianos are all over each with an instructor and a pair of disembodied hands playing. Finally Mr. Toggle comes in and saves the day by deactivating Dr. Shreek. Yes, Dr. Shreek is a robot, and the whole school is filled with Toggles creations. There is only 1 problem. Mr. Toggle can't make hands. He can however cut off kids' hands and use computers to control them. All this hand harvesting is for 1 purpose. Good music. The only thing wrong with piano music is human error. Why he doesn't just have a computer generate music instead going to the trouble of hand stealing? Who knows.

Anyway, guess who shows up to save the day. Go on, guess. THE GHOST. Ghost lady shows up stumps and all and summons all the other piano person ghosts. They take their hands back and carry Mr. Toggle off. He's never seen or heard from again. The end.

What I thought:

First thoughts, "well that's odd." I guess that's probably the reaction he was going for. These books are supposed to be odd, but still... It seems like a genius that can build a legion of intelligent robots would have loftier goals than harvesting human hands. Where does he get his funding anyway? It can't be from piano lessons because they only seem to have a couple before the harvest takes place. For that matter, why is no one investigating all the missing children? This novel is pretty dark when you think about it. Mr. Toggle has murdered dozens, perhaps hundreds of people and reanimated their hands. What is he doing with the corpses? Why is a children's book making me ask these questions?

So I always do this, I read til the end and then just want to talk about the end when it's over. Lets discuss some other things, like Jerry. There is some good characterization to Jerry. He always likes to think big. When they move into the house he imagines each room in the perfect state as he sees it. Big tvs, work out equipment, whatever it takes. When he started piano lessons he immediately starts imaging himself in a grander and grander state like starting a band, composing music, being a rock god. This trait is unlike Goosebump characters I remember so far and makes him unique. It is also a pretty accurate depiction of a kid. I think a lot of kids think this way. In fact one thing Stine does well is pander to kids. The plot of moving to a new house is something a whole lot of kids can relate to. Something spooky about the new place is something kids can probably relate to as well. A robot piano teacher that wants to cut off your hands is something kids can probably relate to too, right?

Of course there are a lot of things about Jerry that aren't unique. He is 12. Pretty much every character is 11, 12, or 13. I suppose that makes sense as it is kind of the age his readers are. Probably even slightly older which is wise. Kids like reading about people they can relate to but look up to. Also in the not unique column is Jerry's love of the practical joke. It seems like in every book there is one jokester who scares people for kicks. It's an over-used device that is used to conjure up false scares. It also makes it so there is a reason for people not to believe them. Ya know, because it's hard to find a reason not to believe in piano ghosts.

I was kind of surprised at how I remembered exactly 0% of this book. Usually as I'm reading things that happen later on in the book start coming back to me. Not in this book. I can predict what happens based on my knowledge of Goosebumps but actual memories are sparse. I suppose this isn't the most memorable book in the series though. Overall, it's an acceptable but forgettable Goosebumps book.

My rating: 2 1/2 hands out of 5

Up Next!

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp is next up on the list. I am actually pretty interested to see RL Stine's take on werewolves. I know there are at least a couple werewolf books and this is his first. Will there be full moons and silver bullets? Check back next time, same Goosebump's time, same Goosebumps channel.

July 27, 2012

#12 Be Careful What You Wish For...

Judging a Book by its Cover:

Be Careful What You Wish For... and if you wished for good cover art you probably didn't get your wish in the early 90's. We have a snow globe seeping fumes and a generic girl looking bored. Really makes me want to read this book. The tagline of "it might come true" is a bit boring and predictable but at least it fits and isn't a huge stretch.

Now here is something a little different than usual. Generally I take a picture of the actual copy of the book I own but my digital camera is broken. I had to google for the cover art to this book, and then found out there are not 1, not 2, but 3 different covers. The original books all had a second run in the early 2000's. Usually they had the exact same cover art, except for a moderately different ooze border. Apparently, this cover was so lame they got a different picture to plop on it. I have to admit this generic mystic lady surrounded by second hand smoke is slightly better but still not amazing. I prefer the original purple border to the bright orange as well.

The third version is much more recent I gather. My understanding is that Stine is currently releasing brand new Goosebumps books and with each one he is also re-releasing a repackaged edition of one of the originals. This cover looks much hipper, more colorful and in my opinion a far superior illustration. It's pretty eye catching and appealing to kids. It almost looks like a still from a cartoon or something.

Of course no matter the cover the same book is still inside. Lets take a look, shall we?

Getting Goosebumps

Samantha Byrd is the star of this book. She's a lanky 12 year old that has some coordination problems with her long limbs. Because she's tall the basketball coach convinced her to play for the team but she has almost no skill. Even off the court she has trouble with clumsiness, often tripping and making mistakes. Because of this the popular (bitchy) girls in school constantly make fun of her. Most often the taunts are "why don't you just fly away Byrd," from extra bitchy Judith and Anna who are of course stars of the basketball team. Samantha dislikes Judith so much, one time she even strangled her in school after being picked on long enough. Being as these were the days before zero tolerance policies, she got off by simply apologizing. Luckily not everyone dislikes Samantha. Her best friend is Cory who she eats lunch with. He always gets a cold grilled cheese sandwich made by his dad, much to his dismay. Unfortunately for Cory, he barely even factors into the story. I think he only exists to prove that Samantha has friends.

Anyway, after practice one rainy day Samantha came across a creepy old lady named Clarissa who couldn't find her way home. Samantha helped her, and instead of explaining it all, Clarissa pulled out a glass ball and assured her that she would grant her three wishes. Needless to say, Samantha was skeptical but to humor the weird lady she wishes to be the strongest player on her basketball team, because fuck world peace.

Well the next day they had a basketball game, so it was time to see if her wish came true. As she played, she realized she was just as terrible as ever. Unfortunately, everyone on the team started to play even worse than her. It seemed they were all coming down with an illness that made them slow and tired. Her wish HAD come true, and in pretty much just the way you'd expect in a book such as this. Bummer for Byrd! None of the rest of the basketball team show up for school the next day, and Samantha is overwhelmed by guilt. She even goes so far as to call, and visit her arch nemesis Judith. Instead of being thankful for the concern, Judith does the only rational thing she can. She accuses Byrd of witchcraft. Now of course it is true but honestly who jumps to that conclusion? The startlingly accurate accusation pisses off Samantha so much that she hastily wishes that Judith would just disappear. Clarissa pops by to let her know that the first wish is canceled, and her second wish is granted. 

Time for a "It's a Wonderful Life" type of plot? Nope, that would be too complicated. Instead of just Judith disappearing, everyone disappeared. Not quite what Samantha was aiming for, she became a bit worried. After searching around a bit trying to find any sign of life she eventually comes across Clarissa again. The weird old lady lets her know that she tried to fulfill her wish as best she could, and getting rid of everyone was the only way she knew how. Doesn't make much sense, but a little lazy story telling never hurt anyone I suppose. Now Samantha has one wish left to go, surely she has learned her lesson about wishes never turning out how you want and will fix everything... Or she will almost do that, but then add on the last part that Judith will think she is the greatest person ever. Great idea, wishes never backfire. She clearly realizes that by now!

So now Judith thinks Byrd is great. She goes so far as to dress like her, follow her around, and carry her backpack. During the basketball game she screws up like Samantha on purpose just to be more like her. She even sneaks into her house during the night. In a desperate attempt to get away from her the next morning, Samantha crashes her back into Clarissa. The old woman feels bad that the wishes didn't turn out how she wanted so she offers her 1 final irreversible wish. Samantha wishes that she had never met Clarissa. Sensible. And that Judith had met Clarissa instead. Oops.
The book concludes with Judith and Clarissa talking. Samantha thinks she overhears Judith saying, "Byrd, why don't you fly away!." Samantha Byrd proceeds to eat an earthworm and flap her wings. The end. Cue the song Free Bird over the credits.

What I Thought

This was a pretty average entry into the Goosebumps theory. I didn't remember much of it, and it's no wonder why. It's really not that memorable. Magic wish stories are pretty common and predictable. There were really only 2 ways that first wish could have gone. Either exactly the way it did, or instead that she would have actually become a stronger basketball player. Then she would have gotten popular, turning into a huge bitch like Judith and then come to regret her transformation. The first is easier and less preachy. 

Her second wish turned out pretty darn lazy. It didn't backfire in a way that made sense. It wasn't particularly clever or enlightening. If Stine wanted to put forth actual effort he would have tried to show that Judith actually contributes some good to the world, despite being a bitch. Or perhaps without Judith another bitch would take her place and make Samantha's life hell. Maybe she could have disappeared in a way that everyone knew she was missing and then was concerned. Then Samantha could feel genuine remorse. Making everyone disappear was just simplistic and unimaginative.

Wish three was perhaps the most interesting of all of them. I wish these books were a little longer though, so the wish could have seemed to be good at first. Then slowly Judith would have gotten more and more obsessed. Having these books be so short does give things limited time to play out. Still, I have to remind myself that they are for kids.

One thing that struck me as interesting in this book is that only 3 characters mattered. This was probably true in other books, but for some reason stuck out for me in this one. Samantha, Judith, and Clarissa are the only ones that mattered. Samantha had a brother that I didn't even mention because he had no purpose. The only things he did was 1) Disbelieve Samantha's assertion that a magic wish came true and 2) Disappear. Basically the same for Cory. Her parents existed only because they had to exist. They didn't do anything.

So there you go. Not one of the most interesting Goosebumps, but it wasn't terrible. The ending was a bit silly but at least the twist sort of made sense. It didn't turn out that Judith was a werewolf, or that Clarissa was a robot or something stupid. It worked, mostly.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Crystal Balls

Up Next!

Piano Lessons Can Be...MURDER! That was my choice of punctuation. Pretty good title for a Goosebumps book. I do not, however, remember anything about the book. That seems to be happening too often. I suppose with a series this long read so long ago there is bound to be a lot of stuff that just isn't that memorable. Check back in a while for my next read! And thanks for checking out my blog.

May 23, 2012

#11 The Haunted Mask

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Now we arrive at The Haunted Mask. I recall this being one of the "big ones" when it comes to Goosebumps. This is one that stands out as a favorite in a lot of people's mind. The cover has the titular mask, which reminds me a bit of the Green Goblin from Spiderman. Maybe if the Green Goblin mated with an Orc from Warcraft...
The front tag reads "If looks could kill," which is just the kind of popular turn of phrase I'd expect on one of these covers. The back line, "Face to face with nightmare" is a little less punchy, but it works. I still wonder who churns out these things. Did they hire a guy who writes for movie posters? Who knows. Regardless, lets see what kind of shenanigans this overall wearing girl gets into!

Getting Goosebumps

The generic preteen star of this story is Carly Beth who discusses with her best friend Sabrina their plans for Halloween costumes. It turns out ironically that Carly Beth, not Sabrina wants to be a witch. This causes a bit of disbelief, because witches are scary and Carly Beth extremely easily scared. Last week her friends Chuck and Steve scared her witless by convincing her there was a ghost in the attic. Why, during school lunch with Sabrina she shrieked in terror just because someone dropped their lunch trey.

Steve and Chuck have gone to further lengths to harass their friend however. For example, one of them gave Carly Beth a free turkey sandwich for lunch that had a real live worm in it. For one, that isn't so much scary as gross. For two, who remains friends with dicks like that? Have some self esteem and find yourself better pals Carly Beth!

Though her friends seem to lack much kindness towards her, her family is another story. Her mom seems to love her a great deal. She even made her a duck costume for Halloween. Of course, Carly Beth wants to be something frightening and unless you suffer from orinthophobia that's probably not going to cut it. A duck costume isn't the only product of her mother's love though, she also made her a strikingly realistic plaster of Paris sculpture of Carly Beth's head. Moderately creepy, but its the thought that counts, right?

So, you remember how I just mentioned that Carly Beth got a duck costume and that it's not very scarey? Well, her little bastard of a brother snuck off and dressed up in it so he could jump out and startle her. It even actually worked, thus proving exactly how easily frightened she can be. All this being scared is eating her up, and she desires nothing more than to be the scariest thing ever for Halloween. She'll be the one doing the scaring, and she vows to never be the frightened one again! The very next day at the science fair Chuck and Steve scare the crap out of her via an imaginary tarantula. At least spiders are scarier than duck costumes I suppose.

Halloween day rolls around and Carly Beth gathers up her life savings and sets off for the costume shop. Unfortunately it's closed despite being early in the evening on Halloween, which seems like an odd business decision. Lucky for her however, the owner is still inside and lets her inside to make a quick purchase. He had some sorta scary masks, like gorilla's and aliens, but they just didn't cut the mustard. Despite his insistence that she hurry up, she kept on looking around until she found a back room. It contained just the kind of masks she wanted! Realistic foul creations with fangs and green skin. Skin that feels more like actual flesh than any kind of rubber. The owner however is extremely apprehensive about letting her purchase one. He claims they are too real, and far too scary. Eventually after continuing to pester him, she finally just throws money at him and takes off with a mask. Remember, theft isn't theft if you throw an arbitrary amount of cash at the person you stole from.

Now armed with a terrifying mask, Carly Beth is ready to do some scaring. The first victim is little brother Noah. She pounces at him growling with a unnatural hoarse voice and scares the living daylights out of him. He thinks her voice was even scarier than the mask, but she is unsure how she even made the voice. After the attack, she removes the mask, noticing that it takes great a deal of effort. After getting ready to go out trick or treating with some friends, she puts the mask back on and it seems to oddly suck itself on to her face. She dismisses it, and before heading out decides that the plaster of Paris bust of her on a pole would make a great scary accessory.

Finally she is ready to truly scare the crap out of some people. First she creeps the bajeezes out of some kids she thought were Chuck and Steve. She doesn't even relent when she discovers they were not. Not only that but she attacks her best friend Sabrina, scares the crap out of random young children, and throws apples back at the house of the guy who gave them out. I suppose I can't blame her too much for that last one. Who the hell gives apples for Halloween? Sabrina's getting pretty worried about her friend doing all this stuff that is pretty out of character. They decide to split up to get more candy. I am not sure how that makes any sense. I mean people would give them both candy, so they could all go to the same houses at the same time... Regardless, it's their plan.

So who do you think Carly Beth stumbles upon next? Why yes, douchey Steve and Chuck. For all their love of scaring, they are wearing pretty crappy costumes. One seems to be vaguely dressed as a hobo. The other is merely wearing a bandana and a plain black mask. Creative. Anyway, she readies her head on a pole and pops out to terrify them. They are startled, but seem somewhat impressed at her costume, and perhaps even a bit uneasy. The most unsettling thing seems to be her unnatural voice. She informs them that she is not Carly Beth. Carly Beth is the head on the stick and they'll be next. They remain mostly uneasy until the head statue blinks, and mouths the words, "help me." This pushes them from the realm of "uneasy" to that of "fucking petrified." Victorious, Carly Beth dumps the head in a bush and heads off to Sabrina's while her friends scream off into the distance.

Back at Sabrina's house they begin to divvy up the candy. They decide to get out of their costumes, but Carly Beth is having a little trouble. Sabrina tries to help but discovers there is no space between her face and the mask. It's like it is fused to her face. Carly Beth checks herself out in the mirror and sees animal eyes staring at her instead of her own. Now it was her turn to be scared again. Immediately she dashed out of the house and headed back to the costume store. Though it was closed, the owner was still inside waiting for her. It seems he figured she would be back. He knew something about the mask she didn't. It's not really a mask, it's a real face that he created scientifically in a lab. Equally scientifically, it can only be removed by using "a symbol of love." Even more scientifically, the rest of the grotesque faces start flying toward Carly Beth and chase her. Science!

Well, Carly Beth does the only thing she really can do, which is run frantically away. In the midst of running she realizes that the statue of her head may be just the symbol of love she needs to get her face back. She runs back to where she discarded it and finds it blown a short distance from where she put it. She tries to fend off the hover-faces, and finally resorts to putting the statue of her head over her real head for some reason. This random ploy works however, and her face is back to normal, and the grotesque mask is in her hands. She returns home to her loving mother, and settles in to share with her the tale of the evening. She is interrupted however, as her brother Noah busts in wearing the hideous face! And he can't get it off! The end.

What I Thought

It was really a matter of time until there was a Goosebumps book centered around Halloween. It makes too much sense for it to not happen. Having a mask that takes control of you is a pretty fun concept, even when done by the likes of Jim Carey. It's a pretty solid foundation.

Setting up Carly Beth as being a scaredy cat was something that worked. It could be a concept that would be easy to overused in Goosebumps but so far I haven't noticed that trend. Her embarrassment at being startled by the jerks she associates with gives concrete motivation to her character. Rather than sort of arbitrarily falling into a creepy situation, she kind of makes it happen by seeking out a thoroughly horrifying costume and taking it against the advice of the salesman.

I felt like there were issues towards the end though, which seem to happen in Stine's books. Arriving at a plausible cause for these super natural things is something that plagues all artists in the genre I think. The salesman claims to have made the faces in a laboratory, which is a decent explanation I suppose. It lacks a reason though. For example, in Stay Out of the Basement, the scientist father accidentally creates these monster plant things by playing with DNA to create new types of plants. That has a somewhat plausible excuse for the result. What on earth could the salesmen have been doing to create living monster faces that fuse to peoples heads? I think if it had a concrete semi plausible reason it might have added a lot to the book. Another problem is suspension of disbelief. Even if you believe that this guy could fashion living monster masks that fuze with people's face having them start flying somehow just pushed it over the edge of belief for me. It seemed more silly than scary.

One thing that struck me as kind of funny is the title of the book. The Haunted Mask is neither haunted nor really a mask. I suppose "The Scary Ass Scientifically Engineered Horror Face" wasn't as catchy of a title. Oh well.

I must say I am now looking forward to the sequel. Will it involve the same characters? Will it be the exact same mask or one of the other ones? Will the twist ending at the end of this amount to anything, or will it be forgotten? Time will tell, and I have plenty of books to read between then and now.

Rating: 3 Halloween Masks out of 5

 Up Next

Be Careful What You Wish For. I have almost no idea what this is about. Presumably a kid will find something that grants wishes and it will go wrong. Will it be a genie, a leprechaun, or other type of mythical creature? We shall see I guess.

And do you know what I wish for? More Goosebumps. My birthday is next month, so if you feel like giving me the gift of more Goosebumps books to fill out my collection and keep this blog going longer, feel free to wander over to my amazon wishlist. Don't worry, I'm not going to start going over board into conning you guys into buying books for me, I just thought I'd let it be known that I'll accept some help.

April 6, 2012

#10 The Ghost Next Door

Judging a book by its cover:

You know, I haven't mentioned the color schemes of these book covers before but I think perhaps I should bring it up now. Each book has a 2 toned border thing-a-majig. Some of the color schemes work pretty well, like the gray and green of Lets Get Invisible. This book's color scheme can only be described as "salmon and diarrhea." It doesn't work at all. Unless of course you are into salmon diarrhea...

The actual illustration is pretty straight forward. There is a ghostly figure at the door of a house with someone opening it. Both are wearing pairs of chucks before the era of them being part of the hipster uniform. Also the perspective is kind of odd. Apparently being a ghost gives you fish-eye lens vision.

The front tagline reads, "There's a strange new kid on the block..." I guess it pertains to the book, but it's not very clever or punchy. I prefer ones that are plays on well known phrases and such. The back tagline is a little better, saying, "How come I've never seen you before?" Which is kind of clever because ya know... ghosts are invisible and such. Not bad.

Not much more to say about it. Now onto the actual contents! 

Getting Goosebumps!

This one stars Hannah Fairchild as your usual t(w)een main character. She is a pretty typical kid in the fairly nondescript town of Greenwood Falls. She lives with her parents and younger twin brothers who are always being nuisances.

The book opens with Hannah in a room being consumed by fire. When she comes to in her own bed and nothing is burnt she comes to the conclusion it was all a dream and goes on about her business. The summer has been pretty boring for her because most of her friends have gone to camp but her parents couldn't afford to send her. Her friends at camp wont even write back to any of the letters she sent them! Regardless she found ways to cope with the boredom, like having a campfire on their yard the night before telling ghost stories to her little brothers.

In the one interesting developing of the summer it turns out someone has moved in next door. It seemed odd to her because she never saw any moving trucks. Further adding to the oddness is the fact that they go to the same school but don't know any of the same people.

It turns out that Danny is some what of a hooligan. One day when Hannah goes into town to mail a letter to one of her camping friends she sees the local postmaster yelling at Danny and his rabble-rousing friends Alan and Fred. Seems they were loitering on government property and Postmaster Chesney doesn't take kindly to that. After she leaves the scene, she is pursued by a strange shadow-like apparition that calls her name. Peculiar!

Well Danny and his pals just keep raising more hell. Hannah goes to get an ice-cream cone and witnesses them all steal from the shop. She follows them and sees them vandalize the postmasters mailbox, though he comes out and threatens them. Danny gets the brunt of it because he is the one they conned into doing it, but he also seems rather apprehensive.

Meanwhile the shadow entity keeps harassing Hannah, especially when Danny is involved. Other odd things occur and she becomes convinced that he is a ghost. Well there is only one thing to do when you have found someone that is a ghost. Politely ask them if they are a ghost... And she does. And he isn't. But she is. Danny can put his arms through her, and it freaks him right the fuck out. Turns out that a couple years ago her house burned down and her whole family died. It was caused by that campfire she made to tell her little brothers scary stories. Hannah killed herself and her entire family... Woah Mr. Stine, that is pretty damn heavy for a kids book.

She tries to confront Danny again to explain herself, but he is still freaked out by the "she's a ghost thing," so he runs off. She follows him to Postmaster Chesney's house and sees his friends there. They finish their vandalism on his mailbox then head into his house with a lighter. Escalating their hooliganry, they proceed to start his house on fire. Danny however gets trapped. Then the Shadow-creature returns and Hannah unmasks it. Underneath it looks like Danny. Apparently it is Shadow Danny, that wants to kill the real Danny so he will go to the shadow world and then Shadow Danny can live.. Or something. Hannah realizes she can save him from dying horribly in a fire like she and her whole family did. She rescues him and Shadow Danny burns in the fire. The final scene has Danny explaining to his mom that the neighbor girl Hannah saved him, but his mom assures him that Hannah died in a fire. Hannah's spirit then fades away.

What I Thought:

With the last 2 books having horrible twist endings, I was on the look out for another twist. I wasn't positive Hannah was going to be a ghost and I sure as shit wasn't expecting it to be because she burned her house down killing her entire family. That is some heavy shit for kids to be reading. I can only wonder if M. Night Shyamalan read this book at some point.

Anyway, this book does a lot of things right that the last few haven't. Firstly, it actually hints at the twist. There are a lot of times when people don't seem to notice Hannah, though it is not so painfully obvious as to ruin everything. Also, the shadow-being while not my favorite element of the book did make it harder to conceive of Hannah being a ghost. Secondly, the the twist wasn't absolutely ridiculous. It fit with the story, and didn't come completely out of the blue. It also carried some weight with it. Perhaps even a little too much weight. I kind of wonder how kids responded to the revelation that Hannah burned her family to death. I kind of wonder how I responded to it when I was young.

I also wonder what the hell is going to happen to Danny now. The dude just burned down a mailman's house. Surely he is at least going to go to juvenile hall. There is some what of a moral tale at play here with him being driven to do bad things by his friends, which almost destroy him. He is saved from the destruction, but is he ultimately redeemed? Is he going to continue being a delinquent? Hannah may have saved him from dying, but we don't really know if she turned him away from a life of crime. The moral tale falls short.

Still, it is a cut above the previous couple books. It's coherent and intriguing for the reader level its aimed at. My faith in the series was waning after Camp Nightmare, but I think it has been restored with this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Ghosts

Up Next!

The Haunted Mask! I'm kind of excited. With a couple direct sequels, this is one of the more popular entries in the series. Plus I feel like I sort of remember it, which is seeming rare for these books. If I recall it involves a kid who gets picked on a lot buying a mask to scare the bejeezus out of the bullies, but it backfiring in a big way. Check back next time to see if I'm right about that.