July 30, 2011

#2 Stay Out of the Basement

Judging a book by its cover:

There's something waiting in the dark....

Ah now here is a cover with a little more character than just a "creepy house" as per last book. Stay out of the basement, because there is a green handed dude down there! However, the tagline on it, "There's something waiting in the dark...." is still pretty bland. I am reasonably sure the first time I looked at it I was oblivious to the fact that the hand has little stems and leaves all over his hand. Maybe they could have used the line, "Leaf him alone!"

See, this book, as I recall and the short teaser on the back confirms, is about some kids with a father who spends all his time growing plants in the basement. He is either growing weed, or trying to engineer a race of evil plant people... Actually I don't really recall what his motivation is. Was he just way into plants and the human-plant-monster-thing was a happy accident? Or was he plotting this all along. Seems odd that a father would be purposely doing that. I am just going to stick with my theory that he's trying to grow some primo weed and something went wrong. The result of course is, (as the back tagline says) "Live plants.... dead people?" Which... really doesn't make sense. I mean I don't think it is based off any saying, it's not clever. I am not really sure  what is up with that. That's 0 for 2 in taglines this book. Hopefully he is saving all the clever writing for the inside of the book.

Let's find out!

Getting Goosebumps

This book is about an intelligent girl in her tweens with an annoying 11 year old brother that have recently moved into a new house with their parents... Wait.. This sounds familiar! Luckily besides perhaps reusing a few stock characters things are different here than in Dead House. Most notably that this book uses third person instead of first. Like I thought, this works far better.

Anyway, Margaret is the main character here, with her brother Casey and her parents Dr. and Mrs. Brewer. They have moved to California fairly recently because Dr. Brewer (a botanist) got a job at the labs of "Polytech." He got fired and has been spending all his time in the basement growing plants. Mom's sister in Arizona winds up in the hospital for reasons I don't believe are ever specified, however, it is implied it is important enough for mom to go be with her but not important enough for people to worry she's gonna die. Thank goodness!

The first few chapters show the kids being kids. They drink juice boxes, play frisbees, call each other dork, mention "playing Nintendo," the movie Robocop, and Casey watched an unspecified Schwarzenegger movie.Given that it is mentioned lots of stuff gets shot at and blown up I'm guessing it's not the 1994 classic, "Junior." All this certainly does detail the era and up the nostalgia factor.

Unfortunately it's not all fun and playing Nintendo. Dad is acting strange and ignoring them in favor of the mysterious goings on in the basement and with mom leaving the kids are worried. It doesn't help that at the end of chapter 1 dad semi-threateningly tells them to "stay out of the basement." Twice! I kind of expected them to say the title in the book, but so soon, and twice? Seems a little premature. Surely they will stay out of the basement after this prompt and stern warning!

Que their friend Diane. She shows up full of typical youth-filled boredom and curiosity. Wondering if perhaps her friends' dad was a mad scientist she cons them all to go check out the basement using the ultimate motivator: calling them chicken. So of course they all go down there and discover a basement full of jungle-like plants. Lots of vines, ferns, stems, stocks, and the word tendrils get tossed around like crazy. I liked the fact that they all reach out and touch the leaves of one odd plant. It's not like any plants ever gave anyone terrible rashes or anything! Fortunately instead of making them itch all these plants did was breath and moan. Wait, are plants supposed to do that? No?

Predictably dad finds out they didn't STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT! And while he is upset with them he doesn't yell at them or punish them in any way. In fact he acts distant and weird. Margaret catches him eating plant food. She sees him shed green colored blood. Also, he hasn't called her by any of her nicknames in a long time. Nicknames like "Princess" or "Fatso." Yes, Fatso. Don't worry though, it's not offensive because she is extremely skinny. I am pretty sure it is sound parenting to call your young daughter fatso. I am positive the fact that she is underweight has nothing to do with this loving nickname! To add to the oddness he has been wearing a baseball cap all the time. This can only mean that a) he has decided to be a dodgers fan. B) he is trying to mask the fact that he is going bald. C) he has leaves and stems growing out of his head. I'll let you figure out which is correct.

Dad understands the kids are concerned however and is ready to put their minds at ease. All that is going on is that he is using the basement to genetically engineer a race of half animal half plan monstrosities. I know my mind is at ease!

Later on Dr. Brewer's old boss Mr. Martinez shows up. Turns out he is interested in the work he was doing and wished he didn't have to fire him. Great to see that someone appreciates his fine work in the field of monstrosity engineer! This and the fact that mom is heading home put the kids at ease. Finally everything can go back to normal. Before that however, perhaps they should take another trip to snoop around in the creepy plant filled basement to find some kites, because if there is any way to celebrate your mom coming home it's with some good old fashioned kite flying! So what do they find in the basement? Mr. Martinez's pants. I assumed he was just doing a little "pollinating" with their dad, but the kids think something more sinister is going on. There is thudding coming from a large cabinet which seems to confirm these suspicions. Inside they find... their dad! But their creepy, distant, inhuman, plantlike, probably evil, dad is gone picking up their mom. Who could this tied up guy REALLY be?

Well after bit of debate Margaret finally decides to rip the tape off of tied up dad doppelganger who informs them that the guy walking around looking like him wasn't really him, it was a lab accident plant-clone that looks like him. He expressed all this with human concern and emotion. They untie him, but he goes crazy and grabs and axe. Just then mom and other dad show up. Mom does the only thing she can do, and yells, "No" because you can't yell "what fuck is going on?!" in a kids book.

Que the "which one is the real one" scene. The Dr. Brewer with the baseball cap informs them that the tied up escapee isn't really their dad, he is a plant. The escapee responds as closely to "I know you are, but what am I?" as you can respond without getting sued by Peewee Herman. To break up the insanity mom yells at the kids because it is obvious it is their fault that there are two versions of her husband.

Well escaped dad pleads with them using emotion and concern. The other cold emotionally distant dad acts... cold and emotionally distant. There is no telling which one is human! While one keeps droning, the axe wielding one gets more and more worked up. Margaret thinks dad would never act like this... ya know, trying to destroy all the evil monstrosities he unleashed on the world. He'd want to lock em up in a closet and keep working on them, clearly! But then the escaped dad calls her Princess. I guess he didn't think calling her Fatso would have the right effect at this time, but good ol' Fatso had a surefire way to tell if he is really her dad. She stabs him. It reveals red blood, meaning he is their real dad unlike the green blood giving fake, and then dad takes care of business and chops the fuck out of plant dad with his axe. Turns out he really was just steams and whatnot on the inside. Oh yah, and Mr. Martinez was found locked up in the cabinet too, all safe and sound.

Anyway things go back to normal. Dad gets his job back, which is fitting for a scientist who tampered with nature and unleashed a crazy plant monster that took over his life and could have done only god knows what to the world. He gets rid of almost all of his breathing, moaning, hellish, tortured plants. Only a few normal plants are kept, replanted in the back yard. The basement is turned into a game room. All is well. The end.

Oh wait and the last sentence says a little yellow flower tells Margaret that it is her real dad.

And they all lived happily ever after!

What did I think of it?

I thought this was an improvement over dead house. I was a little disappointed by the fact that there were a bunch of character similarities. The son and daughter in this book are pretty interchangeable with the last one, but I guess he was trying to write them very hard as very "average" children. Really the most important character in the book was Plant-dad who did get a fair amount of characterization. Some of it was pretty silly, but that's to be expected.

There were other reoccurring things I found kind of lame. For example, there was yet another scene with the young girl trying to count to fall asleep. Couldn't' come up with anything else besides counting?  There was of course at least one moment of someone grabbing her shoulder from behind and startling her only for her to realize it wasn't who she was concerned about. If this keeps up over 60 books it's gonna get kind of annoying.

More positively however, I think this plays on a real fear kid could have. Having your dad acting strange, like someone else who can't be trusted is an eery thing to think of as a youth. Going between wanting to trust him because he is your father, and being skeptical because of the weird goings on is a smart thing to play on.

Also of note, the actual writing of the book felt more solid. There were less run-ons and fragments. Things felt a lot less clunky because of this and the fact that he switched to a third person narrative. The fact that his narrative "voice" is almost entirely unchanged by the move explains why first person just didn't work well for Mr. Stine.

Ultimately the greatest strength of this book over Welcome to Dead House is that Plant Man is far more unique and interesting than a generic haunted house. All hail Plant Man! With that, please enjoy this music video:


Rating: 3 1/2 evil plant things out of 5. 

 Up Next!

Check back next time for Book 3 in the series: Monster Blood. I remember this one being extremely popular. I think it was one of the few ones that got a direct sequel. Actually off the top of my head I think it got at least 2 sequels. Until then feel free to spread the word of this blog if you like it. There are all sorts of buttons on this thing so "like" it, "+1" it, leave a comment, subscribe to the rss, link your friends to it, all that good stuff. Or not. Just checking back and reading more would be cool too.

July 24, 2011

#1 Welcome to Dead House

Judging a book by its cover:

This blog is about so much more than the actual contents of the books but the actual exerpience of Goosebumps. The Oozy Logo, the two-tone color schemes, the silly taglines, all of. Since this is the first book I'll probably touch on it a bit more than later ones since so much of it will apply to the whole series, but here we go.

It will just kill you

Look alive!
Ah yes, now this just feels so familiar. The look is so iconic. It's funny how it is really simply and appealing to children without feeling like it saying THIS IS FOR CHILDREN! The Goosebumps logo actually has pressed up bumps- a nice touch that I had forgotten about. The cover art for this kind of a generic looking spooky old house with a creepy gnome looking dude peaking out the window. Each book always had a tagline for the cover art. This cover art's is "It will just kill you." Not the most clever thing in the world. There is also usually one on the back if I remember right. This one's "Look Alive!" Slightly more clever with the double meaning and all. You know I am not actually sure who did the cover art for the books and the inside doesn't seem to mention it. Sucks to be that dude! Although assuming the same guy did all of them (and they do seem to all be similar style) he probably made a bundle.

If we go inside the book we can see that he already had the next two books out (or on their way)
when this one was released. I wonder how many books at a time they contracted him to write.

In back there is a listing of books you can mail away for. I remember this being pretty common for kids books. Interestingly even though the front of the book lists 2 more books in the back you can buy books 1 through 20! I guess this is good evidence of my "I didn't start reading until the teen number books" theory.

Well the fact is, I remember very little about this book. Actually, I always remembered it being "Welcome to THE Dead House." I'm not sure why my brain added the 'The." So beyond this book being obviously about a haunted house of some sort I can't recall details.The back of the book says it's about kids named Amanda and Josh moving into a spooky house in a strange place called "Dark Falls." Their parents don't believe them. Shocking! They want to make friends, but their potential new friends want to be friends.... FOREVER! Ooooooo. Well then since I have nothing else to say about it, time for me to read the book. Be back in a second!

Getting Goosebumps

So now I've actually read the book. It's written in a first person perspective from the view of 12 year old Amanda. Being the first book I reread I'm really wondering if first person narration is standard for the series. I suppose it would make sense, but it makes for some awkwardness. Stine does an acceptable job of narrating for a 12 year old girl some times, but then there are times where he tries to shove in details that and author would and it just doesn't make sense. Why would Amanda tell you what kind of shorts she was wearing when things are happening? Also the Stine-ster really enjoys starting sentences with "but." I get that sometimes this works out just fine. But it doesn't always make sense.

Anyway, Amanda, her 11 year old brother Josh, and her parents I don't remember the names of but that doesn't matter because they aren't particularly important, inherit a house from a great uncle that no one knows in a place called Dark Falls. Nothing odd about that right? They go there to check it out and of course everything is spooky. There are tall spooky trees, with dead spooky leaves on the ground. Their house is big and spooky. Stine probably uses slightly better descriptors, but that is the gist of it.

A dude name Compton Dawes is showing them around the place while Amanda's brother Josh is busy being a whiny bitch. This whiny bitchness continues pretty much through the entire book. At the end of the first chapter he is missing! Unfortunately he gets found. Turns out their dog Petey ran away and Josh had to go find him at, where else, the cemetery.. The dog is tweaking out and barking at everything which standardly means, "this shit is haunted, yo." Just because throughout the rest of the book the dog happens to bark at every single person in town doesn't mean they are all dead, does it? SPOILERS: it does.

So anyway they find the brat and the mutt and head back home to pack up for their move. At this point you can really tell Stine's trying to relate to kids. Amanda's having a hard time moving away from her friends. For youngsters with little life experience, this is something that they have actually probably gone through. I recall a couple of friends moving away, and back in the 90's you couldn't just be like, meh, we'll still message each other on facebook. You had to write actual letters to each other. Who is going to do that for more than 3 weeks? No one, that's who.

Amanda, by the way has the best friend ever even though no one expects them to be good friends. Why is that you ask? Well for starters, they look different. I'm shitting you not, this is the example given for why no one expects them to be friends. Amanda is tall and skinny, Kathy is sorta chubby. Amanda has dark hair while Kathy is blonde. How on earth did that friendship last?!

After their tearful goodbye Amanda's family heads out to make Dark Falls their home. It storms while they move in of course. Then Amanda keeps seeing people inside her house and hearing voices, but is it only her imagination? But she just making things up? But is it real or just in her head? Sorry, but the book asks it so often I just thought I would too. Of course she isn't imagining it, this is a Goosebumps book! If it was all in her head it would suck.

So she meets some kid named Ray and the dog barks at him and he introduces her to more kids and the dog barks at em and then the kids act menacing and the dog barks at em and that Compton guy shows up and the dogs barks at em and then the kids are nice again and the dog barks at em. GEE THINK THEY ARE GHOSTS? Well one day they are playing softball with the totally not ghost kids and their dog breaks loose from his leash. Amanda and Josh try to find em but can't so they go home where there mom tells them to eat dinner before they look for the dog some more. Seriously? You can't go cruise around dog searching in a car for awhile before eating? Isn't the family dog a little more important than PB and J?

Well eventually they rode around in the family car looking for Petey but the parents gave up because they had more important things to attend to. Party time baby! Gotta go have cocktails with the neighbors, who cares about some dog. They ditch the kids and go off gallivanting about but do the children give up? Yes. At first anyway, until midnight when Josh has a brilliant idea: Maybe the dog is at the cemetery like he was the first time? Could it be? They get flashlights and head there. On the way Ray the first boy they met in town finds them and wonders what they are doing. He seems oddly disturbed by the flashlight and tries very hard to keep them from getting to the cemetery. Not suspicious at all.

Oh but they got to that cemetery all right. They found some weird outdoor auditorium there, the tombstones of all the friends they just made in town.They also found Petey! Too bad he was dead... well undead. Still though ghosts kill a dog in this book? Harsh. They didn't even do a good job of dog killing because I didn't cry my eyes out. Old Yeller this is not. Anyway turns out Ray was "The Watcher" which actually manages to sound way creepier than Ray "The Undead Spirit Kid." His job was to make sure Josh and Amanda didn't find out about their deadness. Way to drop the ball dude. Turns out he shockingly made up the dead great uncle story to get them in the house, and most of their other kiddy ghost friends had lived in that house, because they need "new blood" once a year. Unfortunately for Ray whatever form of zombism, vampirism, or ghostliness he was afflicted with seemed to not be very flashlight resilient because Josh definitely melted his flesh off. Do the undead need flesh? Apparently, because Ray seemed pretty dead-dead after that.

Despite the fact that they have a fool proof method to slaughter any of these dead dudes they book it home in terror. I get it, I mean even if you could stop these dead things it would still be pretty creepy and they had their parents on their mind. Unfortunately their parents were still at the party. All the ghost kids (sans Ray) show up to spook Josh and Amanda good and deliver the best line ever, "We used live in your house. Now we're DEAD in your house!" Clever shit right? Too bad it gets broken up by good old "Couldn't Be A Ghost" Compton who shows up to help. Turns out their parents were in trouble too! So Compton takes em back to cemetery where we find out *gasp* Compton is dead too. Apparently Dark Falls was a fine little community until some yellow gas was released. Now everyone is dead. "Dead and buried." Wait what? If they all died, who buried them? Did they each die one at a time until everyone got buried but the last guy? Why are there different dates of death on the tombstones? I guess the "new blood" they trick to come in each year would have a different date of death... but why on earth do they bury them? Is that really necessary?

But I digress, so light kills these undead guys and they have a flashlight so of course they take the utmost care of theirs right? Wait, no? They break it? Of course. Josh does however literally chuck it at Compton's head, so bonus points for style. They run away and find their parents tied up at the cemetery auditorium thing. If only it was getting to be daylight out! Oh, it is. Unfortunately for them this tree does a hella good job shading the cemetery. Unfortunately for the undead, the tree is old and brittle and the push it over, obliterating all the undead mofos.

The last chapter is really brief and pretty much explains that after the incident the family immediately packed up and got the hell out of there. Personally, if I just conquered a gang of ghouls and secured myself a rad uninhabited town I'd probably run wild for awhile, but I suppose high tailing it is also a valid option.

So what did I think of it?

You know this book is kind of hard to "review." I mean, is it cliche? Of course. Is it well written? Not particularly. It was competent enough and had more descriptions that I would have expected, but a bit of it was rather clumsy. RL Stine can't decide sometimes if he'd rather make a run-on or an incomplete sentence. It doesn't overwhelm the book, but as an adult it's noticeable.

One thing I did like however, is that he tends to leave you hanging at the end of each chapter. There are sort of mini cliff-hangers that keep you reading. Also, since the chapters are like 5 pages each it's hard to tell yourself not to read just one more.

I suppose that as an adult now I also appreciate that these are b-movies for kids. Not just subject-wise, but quality wise. I can also appreciate that there isn't anything essentially wrong with that. People who criticize them for being simple and silly are just kind of missing the point.

For kids, I feel like there was a bit to relate to. I already touched on moving away from friends. Beyond that, there was the fact that the parents never listened to the kids about the spooky goings on. Parents never listen, do they? And what do they get for it? Almost killed, that's what! Serves em right, kinda. 

I'll say though, that this book did feel a little overly cliche. The classic "haunted house" and dogs barking at ghosts... I don't know, I always remembered the series being a little more uniquely cheesy than this. Oh, and Amanda kept getting grabbed on the shoulder from behind, all. the. time. Who could it be? A ghost! No, it's only chapter 2. What about this time? It's chapter 3, so it's probably still not a ghost. Chapter 4, is it a ghost grabbing her this time? Nope!

Ultimately though, being a bit generic is a decent way to ease into things. If by book 20 I'm still complaining about how generic things are, I'll be disappointed. With titles like "Say Cheese and Die" and "Piano Lessons Can Be Murder" coming I think I wont have to worry about things being too overly generic though.

So lets get to some ratings:

How familiar was this book: About 40%
Just picking it up and looking it over I remembered very little. Actually reading it however I thought, "oh yeah, I remember that!" all the time. A lot of it blended in with other books in the series though. Tends to happen with books with over 50 entries I suppose.

Overall rating: 3 Tombstones out of out of 5.

Despite being first in the series, it's probably not the first one I'd recommend. Still, it does a decent job of setting the pace for things to come.

Overall all rating for this blog entry: 2 out of 5 interwebs

I'll be honest, I babbled more than I intended. Who is going to read a blog this long? We'll see I guess! I'm still working out exactly how things will go down, so don't expect each entry to be exactly like this one. Feel free to leave me constructive criticism. "You suck," is only valid if it you tell my why I suck!

Up next!

One thing I half forgot about Goosebumps is that they include a preview chapter of the next book in the series. This is kind of clever, but I don't think I ever actually read them because I usually already owned the next book in the series! Anyway, check back soon for book #2, Stay Out of the Basement.

July 22, 2011

It Begins

So if you're here and you don't know what in the hell this page is all about I made a convenient entry that may explain it a little bit, aptly titled What is this blog and why does it exist?. Go there if you have no idea what the hell is going on. If you do know what the hell is going on, read on!

The Unveiling: First Impressions

So here it is, my Goosebumps collection. I have books 1-39, 41, 42, 48, 54 of the original series. I am pretty sure there were about 60 original books and I didn't ever have every single one of them but I am pretty sure I owned #40. I am not sure why it isn't in with the rest of y books but I am almost positive I owned it and that it was Night of the Living Dummy III. Though a lot of these series is really foggy in my mind I kind of remember that book as being sort of the end of my enjoyment of the series. I stuck with it a little past that one but didn't feel compelled to get every book after it. That book in particular just seemed to exemplify the "more of the same"ness I had been feeling about the series.

Besides the original series I also have #1, 2, 5, 10 of "Give Yourself Goosebumps" which was a side series they had towards the end that were "Choose Your Own Adventure" style books. I am really not sure how many of these they ever made.

Also, while it isn't officially connected to the series I have one "Gooflumps" book. It was a parody series of Goosebumps made by an author who called himself "RU Slime." Clever, right? Again, I a not really sure how many there were and while I remember these books existing I remember very little about them.

Oh, and there were 2 cards in with these. They appear to be some kind of "trading card" that basically just has a picture of a book and random junk about them. I assume they came inside one of the books or something but I really don't know. These books were enough of a collecting job in their own right. I don't know if they really thought kids were going to collect cards on top of that?

So a few thoughts before I delve into the series more and actually look things up. One thing that strikes me is how utterly uniform the entire series is. Not just in the logos, layouts, cover art and whatnot but even just in size. They all seem to be almost exactly the same length, or at least book thickness. It makes me wonder how formulaic they were. I mean it goes without saying that these kind of books are going to go by a formula but to be so precise in length? You gotta wonder if Mr. Stine ever hit 100 pages and was like "oh shit, I gotta wrap this up."

Also, wouldn't RL Stine be the absolute best puzzle answer for the final round of Wheel of Fortune? I mean, you get RSTLNE as free letters, you could nail that shit.

And now I've looked up some actual facts!

So apparently the original series ran from 1992 to 1997. I would have been 7 when it started and 12 when it ended. I probably started reading when I was about 8 or 9. There were 62 original books. That is a pretty impressive output. The "Give Yourself Goosebumps" series I've already mentioned had 50 books (8 of which were "special edition" books and I have no idea what the hell that means.)  These were made from 1995 to 2000. Jesus Christ. With these 2 series alone this man wrote over 100 books from 1992 to 2000.

Shall I go on? Well lets see, he wrote 8 collections of short stories that went under the titles "Tales to Give You Goosebumps" and "Goosebumps Triple Header." The former I vaguely recall existing but never read. The latter I had absolutely no idea about.

Apparently from 1998 he made a "new" series of goosebumps books called "Goosebumps 2000." I think what happened was when he "finished" the series in 1997 after a few months he thought to himself, "You know what I miss? Paychecks." There were 25 of these made and I absolutely don't remember that these existed. Their covers look pretty intense though...

After this I guess there was a planned series called "Goosebumps Gold" that never happened for some reason. And now? Well apparently there is a new series still going on called "Goosebumps in Horror Land" that started in 2008 and has 20 or some books already.

I'm seriously starting to wonder if this guy uses ghost writers (which would be fitting, ya know.. GHOST writers? har har har...) or what. All this stuff and it doesn't include his Fear Street series of books which were also spooky books aimed at youths (though perhaps slightly older ones.) There was the Original Fear Street Series, New Fear Street, Fear Street Super Chiller, Cheerleaders (which apparently was a Fear Street Series?), Fear Street Saga Trilogy, Fear Park Trilogy, Cataluna Chronicles Trilogy, 99 Fear Street: The House of Evil, Fear Street Sagas, Fear Street Seniors (if this is about Old people I totally want to read it,) Fear Street Nights, Ghosts of Fear Street, and god knows what else? This guy is a literary madman!

Anyway, even though all these series exist, I only plan on focusing on the Goosebumps books I owned and read as kids. I may try and flesh out the end of the original series collection with trips to the thrift store but who knows. I also wouldn't be opposed to visiting the newer series, but first things first.

So now that I have this out of the way it's actually time to go through the books one by one to read and discuss them. I have no idea how often I'll get to update the blog but ideally at least once a week I'll be posting. So check back soon for my entry for Goosebumps Book 1: Welcome to Dead House.

(Did I mention that RL Stine apparently also wrote books under the pen name Jovial Bob Stine? Makes sense, that is one jovial looking dude.)