September 13, 2013

#22 Ghost Beach

Judging a Book by its Cover

It's Friday the 13 and you know what that means? Absolutely nothing! Here is a super special* (*Specialness has not been independently verified) Terror of Youth entry for Ghost Beach. Here we have Ghost Beach boldly depicted as a ghost... at the beach. Actually it's a beach cemetery, which seems like a bad place to have a cemetery. Do the corpses wash out at high tide? The ghost is a bit of a grim reapery looking ghost. It's got a nice ghost hoodie and is coming out of a tombstone marked from 1642-1732. That is a pretty old ghost by American standards (and I am going to assume like all Goosebumps before it this is set in America.) Let us not forget the full moon behind it all, because the full moon is the spookiest moon. Crescent moon? That shit is hardly spooky at all.

Now this ghost is clearly disobeying the front tagline which reads, "No swiming, no surfing, no haunting." Now this spirit is clearly haunting but I personally would like to see it surf and haunt at the same time. Like, totally gnarly there spooky dude! Cowa-BOOnga! ...Moving on, the back tagline is a total disappointment. "Do you believe in ghosts?" Jeeze, bring on a bad pun or something!

Overall, not the most memorable cover, but I suppose there is only so much you can do with ghosts. It's adequate, but I feel like the more unique covers stand out better. That is probably true of the stories themselves as well. Will this just be a generic haunting? Or a spooktacular beach party? Wait 30 minutes after eating before reading on!

Getting Goosebumps

This book begins by throwing us in the midst of Jerry and Terri, siblings that are 12 and 11. Which one is the older one? Does it matter? Not really. What does matter is that they are in a graveyard looking at tombstones when suddenly green hands start bursting up out of the ground! Wow, what an exciting and unexpected way to start out the bo... and oh wait, it's a dream isn't it? Yep, it is. Goddammit. Not only is it a dream, but it is a MEMORY of a dream that Jerry had a month ago. At least we got the dream scare out of the way.

In reality Jerry and Terri Sandler are visiting their distant cousins Brad and Agatha somewhere in the vague vicinity of New England. These cousins are a bit on the elderly side of things but seem nice enough. While noticing a spooky old cave on the beach the kids are startled by a bat. A bat-kite that is. 3 other children were flying it, and guess what? Their last names are all Sandler too! Strange... There is oldest boy Sam, a bit younger Louisa, and youngest of all Nat. They share the tale of a ghost that lives in the bat-kite-cave. It seems he comes out on the full moon. Is he the ghost of a werewolf? Undetermined.

This is either indian pipe or a dog skeleton.
Later on Terri decides to engage in one of her many hobbies. She goes looking for wildflowers with her brother, and while looking for some indian pipe they instead find a dog skeleton. Almost the same thing. A howling comes from the distance. This dog's ghost come for revenge? Or the 3 Sandlers. I'll give you a hint, it's the latter. Their theory is the cave ghost did it. Dogs can tell when there is a ghost out and they bark. The ghost must have killed him to shut him up. Sam used this as a means to spook Jerry n' Terri again, but it seems he may actually believe these tales about the ghost. They talked to Brad n' Agatha about it, but they poo-pooed the idea of a beach-cave-ghost.

The next day on the beach the kids are looking for stuff in tide pools when the Sandler 3 show up again. Jerry n' Terri do their best to get more ghost info out of em. Seems it is a 300 year old ghost that cleans its victims to the skeleton. No one has ever seen it but at night you can see a weird flicker of light in the cave. Jerry remains unconvinced but Terri is having her doubts. I mean how else could you explain a dead thing in the forest and a unconfirmed light in a cave? Irrefutable evidence. They leave the beach as night rolls around but forget a towel there. Jerry heads back to find it and sees the mysterious cave light. Terri comes up from behind him for the "hand on the shoulder that is spooky but from someone innocent scare." He explains about the light, but it's gone when Terri looks. The ghost must be bashful around girls.

The next day's activities started out with another of Terri's hobbies, bird watching but the siblings meets up with the Sandler 3 who are fishing. The ghost light is discussed and the trio acts a bit weird. The fact that they show up everywhere and are so concerned about that cave make me wonder if it is they who are in fact ghosts.The old cousins Brad n' Agatha act weird when they talk to them about it too. Brad claims the light was just the aurora borealis... because the northern lights... come from a cave... or something. Bold claim from me here, I think both the 3 kid Sandlers and the elderly Sandlers are ghosts. Perhaps trying to add some more ghost Sandlers to their ranks. Maybe they'll kill Adam Sandler next and we wont have to endure his terrible movies. Nah, he'll probably make movies from beyond the grave.

To try and prove me wrong (about my ghost theory and not my Adam Sandler theory) the kids go and enter the cave. First they get startled by a colony of bats. Then they get scared by creepy old man surrounded by candles. Could he be the ghost? They don't stick around to find out. Which is probably is a sound idea. At best he is a weird old man in a cave. That usually doesn't mean good things. I recommend avoiding all cave dwellers whether they be alive or undead. Safe at home, the kids decide not to tell their old cousins about their adventures. They wouldn't believe in the ghost and would just get mad the kids went there.

That night there is a tap at the window. Not a ghost tap though, don't worry, just a tap from the 3 Sandlers. Once again they discuss ol' cave ghost. Apparently the ghost wants to kill them all? How they know this? No clue. We are just going to assume that if it is indeed a ghost it has sinister motives. Sounds reasonable. Anyway apparently there is a way to stop it, but they are going to have to work together. They agree to meet the next day, but it is raining so Jerry n' Terry can't get out until it stops in the afternoon. They looked for 3 ghost obsessed (and possibly ghost being) kids on the beach, but they were no where to be found. To lighten their minds from all this ghost business they do something cheerful. They make rubbings of tombstones. It is another of Terri's hobbies. What a nice normal thing for an 11 year old to be interested it. Something is strange at the cemetery though... it looks like all the people there are Sandlers... and there are tombstones with the names of all 3 of the other Sandler kids. They died at the ages those kids are now. My really "all the other Sandlers are ghosts" theory has some proof now! They talked to the elderly Sandlers about it. It turns out that the Sandlers were a very large family that tried to start a colony but had almost all of them die. The surviving Sandlers are kin of those, and were named after their ancestors. In fact even Agatha and Brad were named after ancestors. You will find tombstones for them out there as well. But mostly because THEY ARE GHOSTS. The kids are reassured however, even if I am not.

Finally all the Sandler kids meet up and discuss what to do about creepy cave man who is believed to be a ghost but probably is not. Apparently the cave is a sanctuary that the ghost cannot leave as long as it is sealed up. The plan is to have the trio of ghosts kids distract the cave inhabitant while Jerry n' Terri push large rocks down in front of the entrance. Apparently the 3 ghosts kids haven't done this themselves because they are "too scared."  Their plan isn't execute exactly the best. Instead of trapping him inside, the 3 ghosts kids run away as he comes out and grabs Jerry n' Terri. He explains that he is yet another Sandler who came here to study his ancestors and ghosts, and that he discovered his ancestors are ghosts. Those 3 kids out there, according to him (and me) are ghosts. Jerry n' Terri remain unconvinced. I mean come one, this guy is creepy. Little kids aren't creepy. He must be the ghost! In the ultimate in ghastly before he... lets them go. He tells them to check out the graveyard though, claiming it will finally convince them. They figure he just knows there are graves with the three ghosts kids' names on them but it turns out there are fresh graves. Graves for Jerry and Terri Sandler!

And because the 3 ghosts kids all the god damn time, they show up again. They all agree to try and slay the cave dweller yet again. It starts to storm and they all meet in front of the cave. Mr. Cave Dude comes out and confronts them. Who is the real ghost? A german shepherd appears to solve this for us. You see, because ass we earlier established dogs can tell when someone is a ghost. It barks at the 3 ghosts kids ghosts. They confess, explaining how they died too soon in their youth over 300 years ago. They get pushed deeper and deeper into the cave. Their bodies start to fall away in ultra-spooky fashion as the storm rages. Jerry n' Terri ran from the cave in terror. Looking back they witnessed a rock slide. Neither creepy old man nor ghost kids emerged. Old man Sandler gave up his life to stop the ghosts.

Scared, but victorious Jerry n' Terri return to their elderly cousin's home to explain what happened. They have a visitor though, the german shepherd followed them there and wont stop barking at Brad n' Agatha. How unfortunate, the dog revealed the secret that I guessed way earlier in this blog. Brad n' Agatha are ghosts too! Now what are they gonna do with those rascally kids?

The end.

What I Thought

I feel pretty smart! I discovered the plot twist of a book aimed at 9 year olds! Go Me! Seriously though it was a fairly enjoyable read. I like a book with a twist you can figure out versus a book with a random twist just for the hell of it. However, because I knew that both the young and old Sandlers were gonna be ghosts, it annoys me that the encounter with the elder Sandlers wasn't resolved. I know Stine likes to have a quick unresolved twist at the end, but it was just as predictable as the main twist, so it didn't really work. I want to know how the hell the kids dealt with the old ghosts! There were no more caves to trap em in, so what happened? Did they have to call in Egon and Ray?

Anyway... what to discuss... Unlike the previous book, this one is once again in the first person. As a result it feels like sister Terri was more full of a character than Jerry in some ways. People don't describe themselves as much, and when they do it feels weird. It is kind of interesting that different Goosebumps books are in first and third person though. You'd think he'd stick to one or the other for the most part. My personal preference is third person, but the narrative worked here for the most part.

It would be nice if there could be a little more character to the characters. Though Terri has more hobbies and is a little more fleshed out, she is kind of interchangeable with her brother. Besides their ages the ghost trio doesn't have many attributes besides being obsessed with the cave. Old Ghost Sandlers are just typical old people (besides being ghosts.) Creepy old cave guy is just a run of the mill creepy old guy. Nothing is terribly unique, and it could be. It would really help make the story stand out. Instead of being excellent, it is adequate. I guess that is good enough for Goosebumps. Adequate. I realize this is a complaint I make a lot.

The kids visiting their relative stories happen with a fair amount of frequency in Goosebumps and there is a reason. It works, and it can be more interesting. The children have new things and people to discover. They are out of their element. Parents are a major comfort for children. Being away from them even without ghosts present can be a little scary for kids. It's something to play on that works, and that is why Stine keeps coming back to it. As long as he thinks of new situations to put them in each time I suppose I'll give him a free pass to do it.

So, this is a competent book with a twist you can predict but that is part of the fun. It is not as outrageous as some of his books, but there is something to be said for competence over ridiculousness. Frankly as long as they didn't pinch the ghosts to kill them it is fine by me.

Rating: 3 out of 5 ghost-sniffing german shepherds

Up Next

Return of the Mummy starring Brendan Fraser... I mean... Gabe. This is a sequel, and may be my favorite Goosebumps book as a child. I remember loving one of the Mummy ones a lot and the first one wasn't so great on reread so I am hoping this one is extra excellent. Once again, merely looking at the cover I remember almost nothing about the story. Presumably good ol' Uncle Ben will be back. I assume there will be more mummies... Check back next time!

September 4, 2013

#21 Go Eat Worms!

Judging a Book by its Cover

This book appears to feature grape gummy worms that are spilled all over math homework. Someone is snacking while doing their long division! Seriously though, worms don't look like that do they? This doesn't look scary, or even particularly gross despite the tagline reading, "Homework was never this gross before." But anyway, I get it. It seems a book called Go Eat Worms! is going to heavily feature worms. Will worms actually be eaten, or just be handy study aids? Lets find out!

Getting Goosebumps

Todd is your average suburban, Caucasian, middle school, Goosebumps protagonist. He plays Nintendo, plays pranks on his sister, and is almost never seen without his Raiders cap. His sister claims, "Only grunges wear Raiders hats." Which people in the 90's totally sounded like. And fans of grunge, or "grunges" totally wore Oakland Raiders gear all the time. That definitely wasn't instead way more of a west coast rap thing... But I digress, Todd is pretty much a regular kid... except for his extreme love of worms. He has a tank he keeps them in, in his basement. Whenever it rains out he can be seen out gathering worms, as that is when they come to the surface. Often times Danny, his partner in crime, would be right there with him. Though Danny doesn't share in the worm love, he loves when Todd uses them for practical jokes. Todd's sister Regina and her friend Beth were their usual targets.

Well Todd had all the more reason to collect worms. The school science fair was coming up and naturally a worm based project is just the thing to win the grand prize of a home computer. So during lunch Todd and Danny went out to their favorite worm digging spot behind second base on the baseball diamond. It was all going well until the earth started rumbling! In a panic they ran in to school to warn everyone about the earthquake but no one else felt any shaking what-so-ever. Curious.

Meanwhile Regina and Beth were having lunch and discussing their science project. They're making a large paper mache robin because apparently that passes for a science project. Unable to resist a chance at bugging the crap out the ladies, Todd bets Beth that there is a worm in her chicken soup. When she agrees to the bet, he drops a worm in her soup, because he is a huge dick. Note to all the young readers out there, this will not gain you many friends.

Back onto the subject of the science fair. It turns out schoolmate Patrick is digging up worms in Todd's favorite spot, because he too has a worm based science project. Two worm science projects? THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE! Todd becomes obsessed with Patrick's project. What is he doing? Is it better than my project? How can he be doing a worm project when I am the worm kid? After pestering Patrick about his project turns up nothing he asks Regina. She doesn't know much either, but she gives him Patrick's address so he can investigate himself. The investigation reveals a devil dog that chases Todd and Danny into an abandoned house with a corpse inside. That is actually pretty scary, except the corpse turns out to be a Halloween decoration. The devil dog goes unexplained. Instead of a hell hound the story returns to worms, and getting revenge on Regina for sending them purposely to the wrong address.

The revenge came at the science fair. Regina and Beth's project named Christopher Robin, the big paper mache bird was getting judged when they noticed something strange in the beak... WORMS! What an unpredictable prank coming from the kid who is obsessed with worms. But things didn't work out too well for wormy Todd. His project was a worm house. A model house built with windows where you can see the worms crawling around. I am not sure what is scientific about that, but it didn't matter because guess what Patrick's project was? A mother fuckin' worm sky scraper. So there! Even a worm sky scraper couldn't beat Danny's project though... a partially deflated balloon solar system. Seriously, that is what won. I suppose it probably won because it was the only one with actual scientific content.

Later, when Todd was squabbling with his sister about the previous happenings he decided to show her
something "cool." He cut a worm in half and showed her how both sides kept wiggling. Then he told her the false fact that both sides will continue to live. They wont. Either one or both sides will die. And now you know!
Regardless, Regina points out that the other worms are watching this worm execution of his. Worms don't even have eyes, but sure, they are watching all right. The worms are angry at his careless worm murder Regina claims...

Then the worms started turning up in the darnedest places. First they were in Todd's "grunge" Raiders hat. Then in his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And in his math book. He thought Regina was doing it, but some eavesdropping on Patrick made him think it was his doing. Turns out he was just drawing an unflattering comic staring Todd as a worm. Despite all this chaos with the worms, Todd still went out to the baseball field to dig up more worms. There was more rumbling this time, but he learned to ignore it. His worm love, however, is beginning to wain. I suppose that is natural when they begin to turn on you. They even showed up in his bed that night! And Regina couldn't have done it because she wasn't home! In his hot bath to clear up the bed worms, he encountered more worms. Worms pouring out the faucet. Worms sliding down the walls. Worms covering him up, pulling him down into the water. Nevermind, it was a dream. Only the bath worms that is. The rest of the worms were real.

Finally, Todd is determined to get to the bottom of it. He sneaks down into the basement to view his worm tank and wait for something to happen. Something does. His dad goes down there with a baseball bat thinking Todd is an intruder. Understandable upset, dad proclaims that this worm nonsense is over. Tomorrow they are all going to be dumped into the garden. Now Todd will never figure out how they were getting into everything.

Oh wait. He will. The next day he overhears Regina gloating to Beth about how he'll have to get rid of his worms now. Payback for all the pranks he has played on them with the worms. And Todd was none the wiser the whole time. He was actually beginning to think the worms were actually getting revenge on them. How strange that the whole thing would end up to just be his sister. That's not usually how Goosebumps end up... And it's not really how this one ends because that was a red herring of sorts. Determined to get her back for this, he heads out with Danny to harvest as many worms from the football field as they can. Big ones, little ones. It doesn't matter, he digs them all up. It rumbles some more, but rumbling be damned! Only this time the rumbling resulted in a giant worm the size of a tree trunk bursting out of the ground and wrapping itself tight around Todd, trying to squeeze the life out of him. It just so happened that his sister and Beth were walking by with their large science fair robin as this was happening. It cast a large shadow by the worm which then relented and retreated back into its hole to escape the giant bird. Of course the girls didn't
actually see this, and refused to be scared by his story...

Well in the end Todd understandable lost his interest in worms. He became more interested in butterflies. He would pin specimens into his new collection... Until giant butterfly showed up with a huge pin, ready for revenge! The end.

What I Thought

I really wish the internet could shed some light on RL Stine and ghost writers. Most people assume he used them, because he churned out so many freaking books, but there are no details. I thought about that while reading this because for some reason the first half felt ever so slightly different tonally than other Goosebumps. I can't quite put my finger on why. It had many marks of the standard Goosebumps. There were dream scares, screaming without making a sound, nintendos, average tweens, but still Todd felt a little different. Maybe it was due to his obsession. These characters so rarely get personality traits, but his worm lust helped actually defined him. Was this a ghost written book? Did it come straight from Stines pen? I may never know.

Lets go over some other things about this book. For one, it relied on the grossness of worms far more than "scares." There wasn't any grabbing someone from behind to startle. There weren't a lot of "scary" pranks, mostly "eww worms." The only real scares besides the predictable worm dream and the big reveal at the end were the demon dog and the dead body decoration. The body was pretty good, but the dog felt really out of place. There was a whole lot of relying on people finding worms gross though. Plus the titled delivered, a worm was eaten!

Now the big scare at the end. The giant worm appeared and was dealt with quickly. Many times dealing with the villain or monster or what have you will take a couple (albeit short) chapters. This was over and done with in basically one. Big worm appears, squeeze Todd, get scared away. Because people weren't necessarily anticipating this as the worms appearing everywhere was featured far more than the rumbling it worked pretty effectively. Now naturally the way they got rid of it was kind of silly, but a lot more plausible than a lot of stuff Stine has tried, except for one fact that he already pointed out. WORMS DON'T HAVE EYES! How did it see the bird's shadow? BAM! I just punched a huge whole in the plot of a book for 10 year olds. Eat it RL Stine!

Still though, I enjoyed it. His sister didn't turn
out to be an alien, or a ghost, or a monster, or a robot. He didn't pinch the giant worm to make it go away. It was a little different, and a great deal of fun. The main story was a feud between siblings, with a giant worm thrown in for good measure and how could you go wrong with that?

Rating: 4 out of 5 worms

Never Before Done Book Suggestion:

I've never done this before, but I'd like to suggest another book to go along with this. If the notion of eating worms is intriguing to you, after checking out this book perhaps you'd like to try out How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. It's a book I remember from my youth and though it has nothing to do with Goosebumps or RL Stine, reading Go Eat Worms! brought up memories of this book as well. If you've never read it, give it a shot.

Up Next!

Ghost Beach! Once again, I remember nothing about this book. I swear I read all these Goosebumps as a kid but remembering is hard. I guess they are mostly forgettable. Fun. But forgettable. Will a bikini clad ghost bop a beach ball around? I guess we'll find out next time.