January 18, 2012

#7 Night of the Living Dummy

Judging a book by its cover:

Yikes! This is the first Goosebumps cover that actually disturbs me a bit. Something about ventriloquist dummies is always a bit unsettling and this really captures that and then-some. I'd be pretty terrified if this guy came alive. Plus the tagline is "He Walks. He stalks..." I'll bet he does! Creepy Bastard...

Let's check out the back the back tagline? "He's no dummy!" Ok, that's not very scary or clever, but I'm still giving the cover art an "A" for being genuinely creepy. Those green eyes may haunt me tonight. In fact the back picture where it is all cropped to be just his face may be even more creepy. Bah! Lets get on with it so I can stop looking at this cover and get into the book.

I don't remember a lot of specifics about this book besides the obvious dummy coming to life aspect. I know this spawned several direct sequels so it is probably one of the better books in the series, at least I hope so.


Getting Goosebumps:

The creepy side of ventriloquism, it's not that hard to see, but Stine does a pretty good job of bringing it out regardless. This one stars twin sisters named Lindy and Kris. The fact that they are twins brings a different dimension to the book. Their sibling rivalry is more intense and more believable as well. It fuels the story.

So one day Lindy and Kris go checking out the house that was being built next door. Perhaps not how I'd spend my weekend, but what do I know? I'm not a young teenage twin girl! Wandering around the empty shell of a house creeps them out. Even little things like squirrels walking around seem freaky under those circumstances... apparently. Lindy finds a garbage can and what do you think is inside? A BABY! Wait no, that's what Kris thought she pulled out. What she really found, however, was a ventriloquist dummy! Almost as odd really. Personally I'd probably be more likely to throw out a baby than a dummy, but that's purely because I have actually held a baby and never even touched a real ventriloquist puppet.

Well, immediately Lindy thought her find was pretty rad. Kris on the other hand wasn't so impressed, she thinks ventriloquism is dumb. Her tune changed pretty quickly however. Lindy named the dummy Slappy and worked up a routine which neighbors gave her 20 bucks to preform. Suddenly Kris realizes the awesome side of puppetry and wants in so she throws a hissy fit to their parents. The ingenious solution was that they should share the doll, which of course pisses Lindy off. It would piss me off too! Here was a perfectly good dummy she stole from her neighbors garbage fair and square and now she has to share? Lame! Dad however breaks down and buys Kris her very own dummy from a pawn shop that was eager to get rid of it. This dolls name you ask? Mr. Wood. We had a puppet in sex-ed class named Mr. Wood, but he was for demonstrating how to put on a c... eh, nevermind.

So... Twins. Early in the book they competed over stuff like who could blow the biggest gum bubble, and who or who did not in fact "stink." Now they had worked up to competing ventriloquist acts. Lindy took to it easily and was rather annoyed her sister had to copy her and get a gig performing with her dummy at the spring concert. Kris was a bit jealous that Lindy was making fat stacks of cash off all the neighbors. This seemed to manifest itself in the dummies doing strange things to each other at night. When they'd wake up they'd find them in odd poses, like one strangling the other. One night they woke up to discover that Mr. Wood had taken everything out of the fridge and scattered it over the floor. Mom woke up too, and was pretty darn pissed. Kris on the other hand was scared, what if her dummy really was coming alive? I mean, she had noticed it saying evil things she would swear didn't come from the user. Maybe it was really an evil possessed puppet! Oh no! We've got to do something? Wait, mom is pissed and wants to throw him out? Absolutely not, that's no fair! I want to keep my evil deranged puppet! He's mine and you can't do that! I'll never understand the logic of kids I swear...

After she finally convinces her mom to let them keep the dummies, Kris tosses Mr. Wood in the closet and has a breakdown. She believes she hears it saying, "let me out, let me out." Tears roll down her face. Thank goodness she convinced mom to let her keep him! Unfortunately this puppet may not be possessed after all, Lindy spills the beans that it has been her messing around the whole time. The best way to get revenge on your copycat sister is definitely to assure her years of therapy.

Well this incident wouldn't deter her from working with her dummy. One day while practicing Kris found a note in. Mr. Woods pocket that said, "Karru marri odonna loma molonu karrano." I ran it through google translate but it didn't seem to think it meant anything. Probably best to just say things like that out loud for no reason instead. It's not like it makes a dummy come to life or anything ominous like that! Elderly neighbors came over and were hoping for a show. Lindy preformed wonderfully with Slappy but for some reason Kris's performance with Mr. Wood was all just angry insults. Peculiar... Actually I thought the insult comedy was the funniest bit of the entire book. I guess elderly neighbors don't have a very good sense of humor.

Then comes the big day. The day Kris has to preform for the school concert. She is nervous as you'd expect from anyone who has to preform a comedy routine with an evil puppet. Of course Mr. Blue decides again it is time for insults and heaves them at a heavyset woman who is helping backstage. For a grand finale he pukes green sludge on her. Now that's a showstopper! This girl could have a great act after all. He even showered people in the front row like it was a Gallager routine.

Despite her awesome showing at the concert, mom and dad made her put her dummy away in the closet and they swore they'd bring it back to the pawn shop the next day. Now that they know it can spew bile it's probably worth twice as much I'd say! Kris however awakes in the middle of the night to find Mr. Wood has gotten up out of the closet on his own and is walking around. Running a muck really. He tumbles down the stairs in a fight with Kris and lets her know he is in control now. Of course when mom and dad appear the dummy is asleepy. Tricky bastard. It turns out of course, that all that "Karru marri" stuff from the note in his pocket were in fact the words to bring him to life. They think if they repeat them he'll die, but that's a bust. They are the life bringing words, not the death bringing ones? Oh phooey..

Next came attempts to kill him. Ripping his head off didn't work, nor cutting him with scissors. Instead they locked him in a closet, which prompted him to promise he'd kill one of their family. They burred him in the ground, but he dug himself back out. Haven't these kids ever heard of gasoline and matches? They wrestle with him, and he tries to kill their dog which may be the ultimate dick move. They bring him outside to try and throw him under a steamroller, but he gets free only to flee and get smashed under a different steam roller. Finally, they are rid of him in a puff of rotten green smoke. Rejoicing they go inside to discover that now the other dummy Slappy is alive, and thankfully to be rid of the other dummy. Now this book is over until the sequel!

What I thought

This is probably the best Goosebumps book so far. It was written in 3rd person, which I prefer. Plus we get to know more of who the characters are in this book. The fact that they are twins makes the reader understand the rivalry which is present the whole time. When the twist in the middle comes that Lindy had been fooling her sister the whole time, we aren't surprised that it did happen and yet weren't necessarily expecting it either. The frustration from the parents throughout was really believable.

Also, there weren't a whole lot of "RL Stine-isms." I don't think he did any "tried to scream but no sound came out" moments. He also didn't overdo the prank scare. Granted there was the big one, but as that was a major plot point it wasn't an issue. I mean little pranks, jumping out from a dark corner of the room or something like that is something he tends to overdo but it wasn't in this book much. The only thing that seemed very Stine-y was their dog. Last book they had a black terrier named Whitey. This time they have a black terrier with an even more clever name... Barky. Terrible. All the dogs in the books before this I'm pretty sure were spaniels which means I am pretty sure he only knows 2 kinds of dogs. Or maybe they are just the only kinds of dogs he's ever owned. Anyway, it's a small point but stuff like that amuses me. Oh, also he name dropped Stephen King in this book, the mom was reading a novel of his at one point and that kind of amused me as well.

Anyway, I thought this book was well written for Goosebumps, it had a decent plot that moved along and characters that didn't seem completely flat. I am actually eager to get to the sequel and see if it picks up right where this one left off or if it starts from a different point in time. We shall see, eventually!

Rating 4 ventriloquist dummies out of 5

Up Next!

I literally could not remember less about this book if I tried. I knew it existed, the title... That is it. Will it be a boy who cried wolf type story? Probably, there is generally an element to that in all the goosebumps but I think that was just his attempt at a clever title more than anything. I kind of look forward to this book, will I recollect anything about it? We shall see, next time!

January 4, 2012

#6 Lets Get Invisible!

Firstly, sorry this is so delayed! Halloween turned into Thanksgiving turned into Christmas turned into New Year's Day and I've been caught up in various things. I try to read 1 Goosebumps book for everyone 1 "real" book I read, but I got a little out of sync with that concept and had a lot of real life stuff going on. I hope I wont leave you hanging as much anymore. Anyways, here we go!

Now you see him, now you don't!

Judging a book by its cover:
Lets get invisible! Why not, it sounds fun? Think of all the awesome things you could do while invisible. Now forget all those things because this is a kids book and that shit wont fly in these pages. You know the main illustration always looked to me like a kid just staring at his hand like, "Wooooah... Dude!" and not much like a kid disappearing. Really he looks shiny more than invisible.

The tagline on the front is, "Now you see him, now you don't!" Which is mildly clever. You associate the line with bad magicians, but it works. On the back it says "Disappearances can be deadly." which is actually sort of intriguing. How exactly can turning invisible be deadly? I suppose it would significantly increase the odds of you being hit by a truck if you frequently walk down the middle of the street.

What is there for me to say about this book? I remember almost nothing right now. I am curious to see if it starts coming back to me as I read it. So far that has been the case with other books, but I've also gone into them remembering at least something. This one leaves me a bit blank. It does seem like there is a lot of opportunity for fun shenanigans. Invisibility opens the door for all sorts of things. Will R.L. Stine deliver this time? LETS FIND OUT!

Getting Goosebumps:

So this one stars a teen/tween named Max. He has a left-handed brother nicknamed Lefty, a black dog named Whitey, and a squeaky friend nicknamed Mouse. Stine is the KING of naming characters I tell ya. Early on Max has a birthday party that gets rained on so they have to stay inside. After name dropping things kids will relate to, like Terminator Movies, X-Force Comics (the only comic Stine seems to be aware of) and, Super Nintendo games they decide for some reason to go into the attic. Every child's dream birthday party! Up there the dog Whitey accidentally leads them to a hidden room which contains a weird old mirror.

Now it's INVISIBLE TIME! When you pull the chain on the light on the mirror it makes you get invisible. Imagine all the amazing things you could do while invisible. Now forget those things because they don't happen. Mostly what the kids end up doing is competing to see who can stay invisible the longest, because after awhile it starts to make you feel funny. Max starts feeling wrong about it, and regrets doing it. Allegory for peer pressure and drug use? MAYBE!

Of all the kids only Max and his Mousey friend are apprehensive about it. Lefty is kind of a joking jerk who actually wants to use it for pranks, albeit dumb pranks. There is also a friend named Zack who has his hair shaved on one side and grown out long and combed straight on the other. This Rihanna wannabe seems the most set on staying invisible the longest because amazing mystical abilities should always be turned into a stupid juvenile pissing contest. Max however gets less enthused and more concerned as time goes on. After all, they don't understand anything about the mirror, and it could be dangerous. But come on, this is a Goosebumps book, what could go wrong?

Well one night their grandparents come over and Lefty the jokester decides this would be the perfect time to go invisible and raise some hell. Max on the other hand, tries to cover up the shenanigans and drags him back to the mirror to become visible again. The longer you stay invisible, the longer it takes to appear again, and it took Lefty a really long time to come back. Also, something looks wrong about it, but no one can quite say why, though even mom notices it.

A few days pass and Max feels pretty strongly about not using the mirror anymore. He cancels a planned day for all his friends to come over and mess around with the invisibility some more. They show up anyway because Lefty called them and told them to come... but Lefty is gone playing softball. Weird!

So Max tries to get them not to mess around with the mirror but they all kind of goad him into it. Clearly he should have been paying more attention to D.A.R.E. and the war on drugs. Just say no Max! But alas, his friends get him to concede and they try and get record setting times for being invisible. Only his friend Male Rihanna, err... Zack actually does anything interesting while being invisible. He leads them all outside and juggles the neighbors tomatoes while he is out gardening. The guy goes to get his wife to show her, and then the kid stops juggling. Classic. Of course this all takes a long time and eventually Zack stops replying, so they bring him out of the invisibility. Max is worried but Rihanna hair keeps it cool. There is just one strange thing, his hair do seems like it is long on the opposite side now...

Now Max is more resolved then ever to not use the mirror. But his friends want him to, so of course he does. What did I tell you in the last paragraph Max? JUST SAY NO! He is kind of defiant about it and just stays in one place though, so there is that. Around the 12 minute mark he starts feeling very strange like he is being pulled away or something. He winds up in a weird realm with strange faces looking at him and most oddly... himself! Only... his reflected self, you see, he is in the mirror. The reflections have been trying to swap places with the real people. Frank and Erin have already been swapped and Max is next unless he puts up a fight. Guess what? He totally does. He actually manages to get out of the mirror, but Reflected Frank and Erin manage to push him back in. Just then Lefty comes in and throws a softball at Max but it misses and breaks the mirror.

Ah, now everything is back to normal, and Max learned a valuable lesson about standing up to peer pressure. All's well that ends well. Oh wait... Left is throwing Max a ball from his right hand now... DUN DUN DUN!!!!!!!!!!!!

What I Thought

First and foremost R.L. Stine is getting much better at writing in the first person. This one sounds significantly more like it could have been written like a 13 year old than a middle aged man, and I mean that in a semi good way. Of course sometimes you have to chuckle at their speech and really wonder if kids said, "you dork" and "you stink" as much as Stine thinks they did but all in all he doesn't do a bad job.

What bugged me about this book though was the lack of actual things done with invisibility. Zack does make a joke about going to peep on the girls locker room, and he does the juggling in front of the neighbor thing but that is really about it. I know if I was a kid that had just been given gift like invisibility my first thought wouldn't be "lets see who can stay invisible the longest!" That part seemed kind of silly and forced. They should have been doing other things with it. That is really the biggest missed opportunity of the whole book.

Also I wish I kept a spreadsheet of things R.L. Stine mentions. He brings up Super Nintendo a lot, though never Sega Genesis. The only comic he ever seems to mention is X-Force which I believe is a spin-off of the X-Men. And he seems crazy about Schwarzenegger movies. I kind of wonder if these are things he was actually fond of, or perhaps he had a kid that was wild about them, or what. They keep popping up. And while Nintendo is definitely right for the era, the other things could easily be replaced by other things. Why not Batman or Spiderman instead of X-Force? I am interested to see if they keep appearing or if it was just a phase he was in early on.

Oh yeah, and I know I kept pushing the "peer pressure about drugs" moral message of the story, but I'm not necessarily convinced I would have given it a second thought as a kid. Only as an adult did that really pop up in my mind. He's not very heavy handed about given moral messages in these stories, they are more about the fun of fright.

I never really did remember much about this book while reading, though I know I read it as a kid. It's not a terrible entry into the series, but it is pretty forgettable so I'm not surprised. The writing was fairly solid, but the actual story didn't deliver much. The verdict is in.

Rating 2 1/2 Mirrors out of 5

Up Next!

Night of the Living Dummy! I remember this being one of my favorites. A ventriloquist's dummy comes to life and runs a muck. I sort of remember it being like a PG version of Chucky. Will it actually be anything like that? Check back next time and find out! And I'll try and make sure next time is a little sooner. Thanks for reading!