November 25, 2018

Goosebumps HorrorLand #2: Creep From the Deep

Judging a Book by its Cover

You may notice the cover above is not my usual slightly blurry photo of a book from my own collection. If you look close you'll notice it is the cover for the audiobook version of Creep From the Deep. Well that was an astute observation. For the first time ever I'm reviewing the audiobook version of a Goosebumps book! I thought it would be a unique experience. I am not really a big audiobook listener but I thought that one of these books would be short enough to keep my focus and the potential for audio spookiness could add a new layer to the story.

So what do we`ave here? It is number 2 of the HorrorLand series, Creep From the Deep. It is, I believe, a sequel to Deep Trouble which I have already read and reviewed here. There is also a Deep Trouble 2. Which I haven't read yet. I haven't read it yet because I don't own it. I generally like to own the books I'm reading. I made an exception for this audiobook because I got it from the library. It was also the only Goosebumps audiobook they had that I hadn't reviewed yet. Made my choice easy, that's for sure. I don't think I will be missing a lot from Deep Trouble 2 though because these HorrorLand sequels had a tendency to retcon other books in the series. A prime example of this would be that The Scream of the Haunted Mask disregarded everything that happened it The Haunted Mask II.  I have a sneaking suspicion the same thing has happened here (and I might have checked the wiki for it...)

Nevermind that though. I guess I should talk about the cover itself. It prominently features a rather mean looking eel. It's a rather big eel at that. Like... kinda bigger than I think eels get? I suppose that depends on how big the porthole it's busting through is. Deep Trouble's cover featured a shark in the open water. It made you think about how vast the ocean is, and how alone the victim was. This cover makes you feel cramped, claustrophobic, and invaded. It may be the nostalgia talking but I've never thought the later series's covers ever had quite the charm of the originals, but I don't have a lot of complaints about this picture. There is a creep, it looks deep, mission accomplished.

I noticed the reading is performed by Jeff Woodman. A quick googlin' showed me that he has done over 400 audiobooks so I am gonna go out on a limb and say he is probably pretty good at his job. I am optimistic for this reading... or listening rather. It's going to be my first audiobook experience since I was little and listened to a cassette of The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree (which might I say was plenty scary in its own right.)

So lets go back to the ocean (I assume) and see what is lurking for us there this time. Is it the eel on the cover? A megalodon? Is a sharknado brewing? Lets find out!

Getting Goosebumps

Meet William Deep Jr. Perhaps you've already met him if you read Deep Trouble (or Deep Trouble 2.) He also goes by Billy, or perhaps as his alter ego The Undersea Mutant. You see he is an underwater hero waging battle against the fearsome Albino Eel. Or maybe he's just a kid with an overactive imagination and the whole first chapter is a fake out fantasy sequence.

Really Billy is on a science boat called The Cassandra with his uncle Dr. D who is a marine biologist. It's a regular Sealab. He likes to try and discover new species like perhaps the infamous Albino Eel? Alas, it seems to be just regular seaweed. Never fear though, just in case he needs protection he trains Billy to man the harpoons. His first throw goes horrible and Billy fatally spears his sister Sheena. Nah, just kidding. She pretended to be hit by a spear. Younger sisters are like that I guess. And even though she may play tricks, she doesn't have quite the imagination Billy does.

So what is the marine biologist vessel doing out in the ocean this time? Hunting pirate treasure actually. Seems odd for a marine biologist to do, but hey, why not. Their target: The Scarlet Skull. Captained by the ruthless Long Ben One-Leg (a name that seems vaguely sexual) this fearsome pirate vessel sank over 200 years ago in a mysterious cloud of black smoke. While checking out a ship site sounds interesting, the real prize is PIRATE TREASURE, ARRRRRRRR. Shan't be easy to be obtaining that ther booty tho, tharrr be zombie pirates guardin' it.

So to explore they have a nice yellow submarine (a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine) called The Deep Diver with which they can explore. But first, the eel has returned to munch on Billy again, unless that's his imagination. Oh. It is. Nevermind then. All aboard! Billy, naturally, gracefully falls straight on his ass upon entering. Now it's time to dive, dive, dive.

Things do not go smoothly on our maiden voyage. There is some engine trouble. The a black cloud The Scarlet Skull. Well on the bright side at least they found what they were looking for. They also found a freakin' skeleton army that starts beating on the ship. The engines won't start. It is the classic moment in a slasher film when the murderer is coming and the cool convertibles ignition won't go. Thankfully Sheena is there to smack the console like Fonzie smacks a jukebox. Problem solved.
eerily like the myth of Cap'n Long Ben envelopes the sub. It is scary, and sickening to the stomach. Even brave Sheena is sacred. Is Dr. D scared? No. Dr. D is... GONE! How could he disappear when they are under water in the middle of the ocean?  Only one thing is for sure, they have to get themselves out of this mess. The kids get the engine going again, but can't control it and crash right into

They manage to steer themselves safe out of the depths, but on the surface The Cassandra is nowhere to be seen. There is an island though. Sheena swims for it, and Billy tries to but the clutz bashes his leg on the way out of the sub and falls into the water. On shore he needs a stick to use as a crutch. Ashore there is no Dr. D, but there is a strange man in a black cloak who turns out to be a corpse. Also there is a trail that looks like skeleton prints. One of the other nice features of the island is a massive pit in which they fall, and then the skeleton pirates capture them. The pirates like to speak in rhyme too. Kooky spooks they are. Anyway, the pirates captured Dr. D so at least he's still alive. Unfortunately they want the kids to give back what was taken from them, and the kids don't know what on earth they are talking about. It must be the treasure, but they don't even have the treasure.

Once again Goosebumps characters decide there is no problem on earth that can't be solved by running away. Unless you meet a big snake, like they do. Then you gotta solve your problems by flinging it the fuck out of the way.

Soon they discover two men on the island. Two LIVING men, which is a big improvement. They are Roger and Goldy, who are photographers and not pirates. They even want to help the kids, and after a fight with some skeletal pirates its off to their motorboat. They want to photograph the shipwreck to get that sweet sweet shipwreck photo money. Is there a lot of money on photographing shipwrecks? Apparently!

They reach the site of the submarine and it's scuba time! While the men are down below Billy uncovers some rifles aboard the boat. Why would photographers need guns? Well the photographers return with the treasure, so all the kids' problems are solved. But the men are actually undead sailors from the pirate ships rival ship which the treasure was stolen off of, and these undead sailors plan on keeping the treasure. So I guess problems not solved. They seemed to have fooled the kids by wearing masks. They must have been really good masks... After tossing the kids overboard Roger the skeleton man touches the red skull jewel on the chest to open it but it turns out to be a trap. It zaps both then men and fries them to ash. That is way more secure than a lock.

After that crazy happening even more crazy shit goes down. The Cassandra somehow just drifting on open water manages to bump into the motorboat. Then the sunken pirate ship rises from the ocean depth with Captain Ben and Dr. D his hostage. He demands what is his be returned, and the kids offer him the treasure but he has no interest in that. No, what Long Ben One-Leg back is the return of his leg. It seems the stick Billy found on the island to use on a crutch was actually the pirate Captain's leg. Sheena shrewdly asks how they can trust he will give back their uncle. The Captain proudly states that he won't give back the uncle either way and he'll murder the kids too. This doesn't seem like the most effective way to get what you want.

Now how do you kill that which is already dead? You throw its own severed leg at it like a harpoon, because your uncle gave you lessons on spear fishing. Why this works is anyone's guess, but it does. The Captain croaks, the red jewel cracks, the pirate ship resinks, Dr. D dies.

Wait.. Dr. D dies? Wait nah, nevermind, he's fine. He advises them that they must go back through the black cloud to return to the living world. Doing so is a success, but sadly the treasure is gone. Does that mean the treasure is dead too? I'm confused. Either way the skull jewel remains, and Billy seems confident it has no more power. All that is left to do is radio for help. The only help they get is dead pirates chanting in rhyme....

This is the end of the book proper.

Now for the HorrorLand section. At the end of each HorrorLand series book, the characters from that book enter HorrorLand and the episodes tie all the books together. Would it have made sense to review all this books in a row? Probably... But I didn't do that...

Soooooo, Billy and Sheena received a special invitation to go to HorrorLand. How could they refuse?

Early on they see two girls in distress at the front desk of the hotel for the park. Their parents have gone missing. Sheena assures them it is just a prank she overheard the employees play on the kids, by moving parents to another room. Traumatizing kids and getting paid for it... is this what being a clown feels like?

The girls are named Britney Crosby and Molly Molloy. I'm guessing their from the first HorrorLand series book but I haven't read that one yet. Either way, they are now worried about a creepy picture on their digital camera. It's of Slappy the Dummy but somehow he is IN HorrorLand and in a picture with all of them including Billy and Sheena. How the hell did that happen? Weird. Must be another HorrorLand Prank.

Their group goes off to quicksand beach and then immediately freak out because they are sinking in quicksand. Did they not understand what the premise of the attraction was? It is especially creepy for Billy because he hears the pirates chanting again. Finally the kids succumb to the sinking and get pulled down by the sand... into a totally wicked sweet slide. Best ride ever! Except... Sheena and Billy don't see the two girls that came with them. Oh well, they are probably not horrifically maimed or dead or anything.

Eventually Billy and Sheena make their way to the games arcade area. One kid with a strange gray keycard is kicking every game's ass and winning all the prizes. He is doing so good the Monster Police come to bust him. The kid sneaks Billy his card and runs away. Billy decides running away is a great idea too

Back at the hotel using the phone is no good because the only person they can dial is a creepy laughing pirate that may or may not be Captain Long Ben One-Leg. I hope it's not long distance.

The kid that gave billy the card turns up at the hotel. His name is Matt Daniels and apparently a strange HorrorLand employee gave it to him. They all decide to see if Britney and Molly are dead or not, which is very nice of them after spending some time at the arcade.

Searching turns up the girls at a cafe. Strange thing is that the door is locked, and it looks odd inside. Luckily the gray keycard opens the door. Inside, the girls are no longer there. In fact, no one is. But there is a mirror. Their reflection reveals Sheena is no longer with them either. But she assures them she is still there. In fact she is there, she is just... INVISIBLE.

My Thoughts

Even in audiobook form, Goosebumps are still Goosebumps. Though the format did alter the experience a bit, it still felt like basically the same old thing. It just made the book take over 2 hours to listen to instead of like a half an hour or so to read. Was it worth it though...

The audiobook aspects of this book were really good! The narrator did a great job. He had unique voices for the very characters that fit with their attitudes. There were nice effects to go with it, like some creepy deep zombie pirate chanting. Plus all the sound effects and really livened things up. It helped make tense moments feel genuinely tense. The whole thing added a level of polish to a foundation that is well... at its heart the generally somewhat average typical Goosebumps story.

If we take away the studio tricks and slick narration does the story hold up? Well, about as well as any other Goosebumps story does. The thing that makes reviewing these books starts to get the same over and over. So many of these books have the same strengths and weakness, the same flaws, the same structure.

So let me compare it to the most obvious title Deep Trouble. This being the sequel to that book we can point out some things. Like the first book, the main interest of the story ends up being supernatural rather than your typical sea creature. The first book had mermaids, this book has the ghost pirates. Unlike the dead swashbucklers in this book, the mermaids of the original weren't villainous. They were a plot aspect to allow man to be the true villain. They are both myths of the sea but have a very different vibe. The first had a bit more of a sci-fi vibe with a small bit of moral quandary (is abducting the mermaids for study ethically alright?) Creep From the Deep is a little more straight horror. Walking pirate corpses that want you dead. It is more scary but perhaps not as interesting.

The whole premise seems a little bit inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean. It's not like that movie was the first to have undead pirates, but the third Pirates movie came out just a year or 2 before this book. Was it an inspiration? Maybe...

Anyway, as a whole this book was a pretty fun piratey adventure. The audiobook aspects of it were really well done and added something to the experience. I won't say that I am an audiobook convert, I still like reading books the old fashioned way but I can see the appeal.

Rating: 4 out of 5 spooky pirates

Up Next

Honestly, the next review might take awhile. December is a pretty busy month for me, so this might be the last review for 2018. When I do finally get around to update again I will probably go back to the original series. Of course, something interesting may catch my eye by then. We'll see. As always, thanks for reading.

October 31, 2018

30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps Listing

In case you haven't been following along, all October I am reviewing a story a day from the book 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps. That book is made up of 3 previously released books of short stories. I am making this handy little thing with links to all of my updates in October. Here ya go!

Intro to 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps (Click Here)

Book 1 - Tales to Give You Goosebumps

Just click on the story title to go to that review

#1 - The House of No Return
#2 - Teacher's Pet
#3 - Strained Peas
#4 - Strangers in the Woods
#5 - Good Friends
#6 - How I Won My Bat
#7 - Mr. Teddy
#8 - Click
#9 - Broken Dolls
#10 - A Vampire in the Neighborhood

Book 2 - More Tales to Give You Goosebumps

Just click on the story title to go to that review

October 30, 2018

The Thumbprint of Doom - 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps #30

It's finally here! It's Halloween and that means it's time for the final review of 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps. For the grand finale I'll be reading "The Thumbprint of Doom." It's a title that doesn't inspire a lot of fear, but does cause a little bit of curiosity. How does a thumbprint cause doom? Does it link you to a crime scene? That's pretty scary. Let's find out.

Trisha is not having a great summer. She wanted to spend it with her best friend Jeremy, but his nerdy cousin is staying with him. They hang out, but it's just not the same.

They all end up meeting a new girl in town named Carla. She believes in horoscopes and various superstitions. If mercury is in retrograde this chick will know it. The most horrible curse she knows is the "thumbprint of doom." She lives in fear of it, as it will cause the recipient to only have 24 hours left alive. She has many other fears as well, driving Trisha crazy by preventing her from doing fun things for silly reasons. For example, perhaps the stars aren't aligned. Reasonable in Carla's mind.

Well they come up with a plan to show Carla that her superstitions are a bunch of bullshit. They drag her to the local carnival and into the fortune teller's tent. Carla's future is distressing. Clear on her forehead is... THE THUMBPRINT OF DOOM! Carla is distraught but the gang let her in on the joke. Carla lets them know she is well aware it was a joke. It had to be a joke because only Carla herself has the power to bestow the thumbprint of doom. It is a horrible power to bare and one she lives in fear of. Now though, her new friends know her dark secret. This she cannot allow, and thus gives them each the thumbprint in doom. Naturally they run in terror. In their absence the fortune teller lets Carla know it was a rather mean prank to play on them. Carla figures they will figure it out in a bit and they can all laugh about it. Then she lets the fortune teller, her mother, know that she'll see her at home later. The end.

My Thoughts

This is a unique Goosebumps story and I will tell you why: there are absolutely zero supernatural elements to it. There is no magic, no monsters, no aliens, no nothing. Because of this I was actually fooled. I thought for sure there was going to be a twist where even though it seemed silly there actually was a curse, that Carla would actually have powers, that the fortune teller would be evil. Something! But there was nothing like that. It was all a prank, and it turns out magic isn't real. And you know what? That's refreshing! It was enjoyable, and funny. It's certainly not the outcome I would want every time, otherwise it would basically be Scooby Doo, but I think for 1 story out of 30 to end this way? Why not.

Over and over again I have lamented how after awhile Goosebumps stories were all starting to feel the same. And of course again and again I have praised stories that could offer up unique experiences. This is one of those ones I praise. It might even work so well because of the fact that Goosebumps are so formulaic. Because there is ALWAYS the supernatural element, I wasn't expecting one without. Because there are always pranks, that in the end turn out to have some real hidden horror behind them in the end. I didn't see it coming. I really like it.

Of course, some might lament that it isn't really a scary story if there isn't anything to be genuinely scared of in it. I might agree, if you are looking for a story to frighten you, this probably isn't it. At it's heart the threat of the "Thumbprint of Doom" is very silly. There are some pretty silly things in Goosebumps though, so it doesn't make you discount the fact that the threat is supposed to be taken seriously. You just can't, because it's ridiculous. But it ends up that it is supposed to be ridiculous, you can't help but smile. I couldn't anyway. So if you want a fright, yes, this is a let down. However, after a bunch of short stories that all have frights, to end like this, it's just fun. 

So basically, in summation this is enjoyable but not scary. If anything it uses the fact that it is supposed to be scary to fake you out. I give it my... THUMBS up! Hardy har har.

Rating: 4 out of 5 thumbprints of doom

So there you have it. It's Halloween and I've read all of the 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps. If I had to review the whole thing I'd say I am fairly positive about it. Yes there were a few stinkers among them. There were also some really fun stories kids could share around the campfire or at sleepovers. There were some fun ones like this to fool longtime fans. They all still pretty much felt like Goosebumps while managing to be mostly unique. We ran the full gamut of baddies from werewolves to evil teddy bears. Because of the variety I think if you like Goosebumps you'd find something to like in here. So, even if you can't track down this specific hardcover collection, I'd recommend checking out the 3 "Tales To Give You Goosebumps" books that comprise it. They are good fun.

So this was a little bit exhausting keeping up with an entry every day for an entire month. I will probably take a little break BUT I have another review of a full book ALREADY DONE. I was going to post it this month but then I decided to do this special thing for October instead. I'll release that review I have done sometime in November, probably towards Thanksgiving. To all the readers who stuck with me through this, thanks so much. I know it's a little bit silly for a grown man to be reviewing these things. I guess that's kind of the point. So anyway, I hope your Halloween was nice and Goosebumps filled.

Aliens in the Garden - 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps #29

Halloween is a day away and now I'm going to read "Aliens in the Garden." Do the aliens need some basil or fresh oregano? I don't feel like writing a long intro so lets just read the damn story.

During a fierce thunderstorm 12 year old Kurt notices a strange small object in the sky get zapped by lightning. Whatever it was, it crash landed in his garden. He discovers a tiny spaceship there. How would a toy like that crash in a storm? Strange.

While going to show off his new discover to his friend Jenna he gets intercepted by local bully Flip. The teen teases Kurt and starts physical altercation. A strange blue ray stops the bully in his tracks. It turns out inside the spaceship were 3 little aliens. While they recognize Flip as a threat they seem fine with Kurt.

Jenna arrives at the scene, and after some disbelief marvels at the little creatures. Her marveling is cut short by the return of Flip, this time with his cousin Drake. There is a struggle for the tiny aliens which becomes even worse when Flip's mean old dog shows up.

One alien seems to be trying to get the spaceship working again. Kurt loads the rest aboard and takes drastic measures as their foes go after them. He hurls the spaceship into the sky, hoping all it needs is a little momentum to get going. After a bit of a worry, the rocket takes flight  The bullies are too surprised by the spacecrafts flight to take revenge.

Whilst celebrating Kurt notices a bit of ripped clothing leftover from the spacemen. He and Jenna inspect it. It looks like a tiny little flag, made up with red and white stripes... also a blue square filled with white stars. Peculiar!

My Thoughts

This is a pretty fun take on sci-fi that might just get kids to think about aliens in a different way. So often we think of aliens as either little green men, or scary monsters, like in the movie Alien. What if  they were weak and tiny? This is the first thought. Then of course the twist is WHAT IF WE ARE THE ALIENS? I know, I know, sometimes I criticize a story for having a twist like this. Thing is, I think it kind of works here. It's a little hokey for an adult, but I think it would be more enjoyable for the young.

While the villain in these stories would usually be the alien, in this it is the bullies. I have long supported stories in which it is revealed man is the greatest monster of all. Although I guess the human beings are the aliens... Oh, whatever. What I'm saying is that I like that the supernatural element was not used to be the danger. The danger was in butthead jerk kids. The aliens were used as something that was cool and interesting. It was a fresh feeling change.

Nice that at the end of the book there can still be some stories I would enjoy. I was worried by the end I'd just hate everything and want to die... Maybe I'm just being generous, but I really liked this story.

Rating: 5 human aliens out of 5

Tomorrow is it. The big day. Halloween. I'll be reviewing the final story in 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps. It's called "The Thumbprint of Doom" and it sounds.... well uhh... not super scary. I mean... a thumbprint? I don't know. We'll see tomorrow I guess.

October 29, 2018

For the Birds - 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps #27

Birds can be scary. Crows are seen as signs of death. Vultures are pretty creepy looking. And who can forget Alfred Hitchcock's famous movie. Now it's time to see what R.L. Stine can do with "For the Birds". At least, I assume birds will be involved. I'll feel awfully foolish if they don't!

Kim's family is CRAZY for birds. Maybe they are just plain crazy. They do like birds a whole lot though. So much that they all went for a stay at the Bird Haven Lodge, a peculiar bird sanctuary. That is to say, it is peculiar, and also a bird sanctuary... not that it is a sanctuary for peculiar birds...

Anyway, the whole family is very into it all besides Kim. There are so many birds to see, beautiful hedges made into bird shapes, and even a hedge maze. Kim is bored out of her mind. While trying to find something to keep her busy she accidentally sit on lodge owner Mr. Dove's (ugh, a bird name) hedge pruning shears.  Mr. Dove is thrilled she found them, and asks Kim about getting revenge on her family for bringing her here. Well that's odd. Also odd that night is the massive swarm of birds outside her window. Why are they out at night? It's not like it is a flock of owls!

The next morning the whole family goes to hedge maze. Mr. Dove is there to greet them. There is even a perfectly sculpted hedge in the form of their entire family. Weird! Oh well. They do the maze and wind up in a giant bird cafe. Fun! The cage closes in around them. Not so fun. Mr. Dove is there creepy as ever and armed with his hedge clippers. Since this is a kid's book he doesn't commit a gruesome murder. Instead he snips his clippers and turns the family one by one into birds. Her parents who are constantly making out become lovebirds. Her jocular brothers become mocking birds. True to his word to help her get even, Mr. Dove turns Kim into a cat. The end.

My Thoughts

I'll be honest, this one is kind of a groaner. I was hoping this would unleash some of people's weird fear of birds, but birds aren't the weird thing here, Mr. Dove is. As it is, there isn't enough Mr. Dove for you to really get scared of him. Also, magic hedge clippers? Eh... I dunno.

What works? Well it does develop an atmosphere where you think "well this is a bit strange." You definitely side with Kim in thinking her family is a little bit crazy. The lodge is odd... but not necessarily in a way that is creepy per say. It does get you wondering about the people involved though.

Besides the family's love of birds, and their eventual turning into birds, the birds play very little part in the story. They show up at night which Kim finds odd, but that's about it. They really could have used some more odd behavior from the birds. For example, have some birds being seen acting like people, or acting more directly to get her attention. Maybe have some sort of half bird half human monstrosity that was a failed experiment from the magic clippers.

Oh man, speaking of magic clippers. So using topiaries and clippers to work magic to turn people into animals is.... weird in a dumb way. Like in an, "I can't bother coming up with something better," way. What next, a haunted lawnmower? If you are gonna have it be magic just straight out have it be magic.

Here is a more creepy conclusion to the book. Instead of literally turning them into birds, have them just be kept like birds in cages for the weird as Mr. Dove, who will treat them like birds. That is creepy and doesn't involve any magical yard equipment. Maybe R.L. Stine will let me write a story for Even More and More and More and More Tales to Give You Goosebumps. Call me, Mr. Stine!

Not the finest story in this tome of many tales. It could have been worse though. If your family is obsessed with birds, perhaps this is the story for you.

My Rating: 2 birds that used to be human out of 5

Tomorrow is the second to last story in this book called "Aliens in the Garden." I am reasonably sure that aliens don't belong in the garden. Check back then and we'll all find out what they are doing there.

October 28, 2018

Perfect School - 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps #27

As we near closer to Halloween we shall be reading the story "Perfect School." School as we all know is a great source of terror to most kids out there, so it seems fitting. Let's see what horrors await in "Perfect School."

Brian O'Connor is a pretty average kid. A bit too average for his parents' liking so they decided to send him away for a two week course at the Perfect Boarding School. A perfect school makes for the perfect kid.

On the way he meets a fellow student there named C.J who shared the same apprehensions. Once there they notice things are pretty strict. Everyone is in uniforms. Their instructors are called "guardians" Each kid is assigned a number and is known by that number instead of their name. There is to be no talking. They must answer many questions about themselves. It's all a bit strange.

Brian pretty quickly screws up and gets sent to the pattern room for "special training." He hears voices from the vents, and not for the first time. They warn him to get away but there is really nothing he can do. Inside that room he gets weighed, measured, and otherwise inspected closely. Peculiar.

Afterwards Brian managed to find an empty room with a phone. He tries to alert his parents to the strangeness happening but a guardian catches him and puts an end to it. Locked away in his room, he hears the vent voices again. They inform him that the school makes a robot replica of kids to send home, and hides away the children where they'll never be found again. It would really make more sense to kill the children, but I suppose that is too scary...

Brian asks to go to the bathroom and uses some paper to keep the door from locking. He sneaks away and finds C.J. Whew. A friendly face. C.J. leads him to his safety. Wait no, he leads him to his doom. C.J. was an agent for the guardians, and locks him away with the other children. Betrayal.

Flash forward a bit. Brian is delivered to his parents a perfect specimen. Perfectly uniformed, perfectly behaved. But is he a robot? NO! Brian managed miraculously to switch places with his robot double. All he has to do now is act completely perfectly and no one will be any the wiser. It's not so hard to be perfect is it? I mean... he's only made a COUPLE mistakes so far...

My Thoughts

As Goosebumps is a series for kids, it makes sense that they would play to fears specific to kids. This story does so mostly successfully.  In tone it comes across as sort of a... Twilight Zone Junior? The robots definitely give it a sci-fi vibe. Sometimes you gotta remember that a trope that may seem worn out to an adult, may be viewed for the first time by a youngster reading this book... so it could be fresh to them.

So as far as specific fears for kids... Kids frequently worry about the expectations of their parents and teachers. Are they living up to what is expected of them? But what if what is expected of them is too much. WAY too much. What if parents really would be happier with a mindless automaton that would just do everything expected of them? What is a simple story for me, could feel a lot deeper and connect a lot more with a kid.

The robot/sci-fi aspects aren't necessarily my favorite type of Goosebumps tale. I mean, there is nothing wrong with them and I do generally like sci-fi out of Goosebumps... It just that when it comes to 'bumps I kinda like monsters more. Monsters, and magic, and curses. It's more a matter of personal taste.

As for the twist, that I've always gotta talk about... I guess the twist was that he escaped after all. The reality is that they just sort of rushed into this ending. It was basically like "You thought I was locked away BUT NOT REALLY." I just could have been much better thought out and executed. A more interesting but perhaps less funny ending would be if the reader didn't know if Brian became a robot or not. Would that be a bit too "mind fuck"y for a kid? Maybe. Woulda been cooler though.

Ultimately, this was the 27th Goosebumps short story I've read this month and I wasn't bored to death so I guess that merits some appreciation. It's interesting enough even if I don't adore it. Not too shabby I guess.

Rating: 3 out of 5 perfect robots

Only 3 more stories left until the book is over and it's Halloween. Hopefully I still got some readers with me at this point. Check back tomorrow for "For the Birds."

October 27, 2018

A Change for the Strange - 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps #26

"A Change for the Strange" is the story today. I don't foresee this being any stranger than any other Goosebumps story, but maybe R.L. Stine will wow me. Let's see if he does.

Jane is a middle schooler aspiring to be the star jumper on her track team. Unfortunately she didn't even make the track team, so that's gonna be tough. Her friend Lizzie would rather try on outfits. Convenient then, that the new store A Change for the Strange opened near them so they can try on retro and unusual clothing. Jane ends up with a fashionable red snakeskin jacket. Lizzie purchases an adorable set of bunny slippers. Too cute.

Back at Lizzie's place Jane is wearing her new jacket and kind of loving it. For awhile anyway. Then she starts to feel ill. In fact she starts to feel... strange. Snakelike even. Lizzie freaks out upon discovering one of her brother's disgusting snakes escaped it's cage, not realizing it is actually her best friend. No matter what Jane tries she can't communicate with Lizzie. Though the brother realizes it is not one of his snakes, he still captures it due to his sisters insistence. He notices there is something odd about this snake though. It has... a zipper? I wonder what would happen if you unzipped it. He does so, and *poof* human Jane is back. Hurray.

Flash forward a little bit. Jane is sure to be a star jumper now since Lizzie let her borrow those bunny slippers. She just has to deal with an insatiable desire for carrots.

My Thoughts

We definitely have another story that leans more towards "trying to be fun" than "trying to be scary." That's fine. The title didn't promise it would be scary, just that it would be strange. I guess turning into a snake because you got a snakeskin jacket is pretty strange. 

So does this story work? Yes, mostly. The idea of an odd store that sells magical items is nothing new, especially in Goosebumps. If they can sell haunted masks, why can't they sell animal clothes. The idea is similar but not exactly the same, so it works. They say you are what you eat, but I guess in this case you are what you wear. 

Sometimes a small aspect of Goosebumps leaps out at me, and I NEED to talk about it. Prepare for one such instance. So R.L. Stine loves to throw in details to prove he knows kids. A lot of time he'll describe their attire. He'll through in references to video games, comic books ect. One example is that in this story he mentions after school they watch the cartoon Animaniacs. This is a well loved real life cartoon from the era. Nice job Stine. Now the thing I NEED to talk about. He immediately follows up this detail by saying they also like to listen to the band "Fruit Bag." This is NOT a real band. I am not even going to google it to determine if this statement is true. It CAN'T be a real band. It's not even a good name for a fake band! How come R.L. Stine can come up with Animaniacs but can't name a single band a kid would be into at that time? How come he can't even come up with a believable fake name! It is the 90s, come up with something that sounds Grungey! Go to a Best Buy and look at the music aisle! Say they like TLC. Come on R.L. Stine, don't go chasing waterfalls!

Now that've ranted about an arbitrary detail let me just say this. I am not sure this is one of the great "tell your friends at a sleepover to scare them" stories, but it will probably make you smile a little bit. It might make a kid consider what it would be like to turn into an animal, and that's pretty cool I guess. I dub this story, "Good Enough."

Rating: 3 out of 5 cursed animal clothing items

Tomorrow we'll be reading "Perfect School" which sure as hell is not about any school I went to growing up. Thanks for reading and check back tomorrow for that review.

October 26, 2018

The Haunted House Game - 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps #25

"The Haunted House Game." Today we get to see how you turn a haunted house into a game, apparently. Is it a board game? Like Monopoly but the properties are spooky? Monopoly teaches us that the only horror in this life is capitalism. I am running out of ways to introduce stories. Let's just read the damn thing.

Jonathan is babysitting his 2 younger siblings with his best friend Nadine. The night is dark and stormy, which means it is a perfect time to play the board game called Haunted House. Each player rolls the dice, and the square they land on has a spooky direction. The thing is, what they read on the board happens in real life. One square may say they hear the windows rattle, and the real windows actually rattle. Another square may say you hear an eerie moan and one actually sounds out. Very creepy.

Of course every game must end. Jonathan lands on the square marked "Scared to Death." Basically every scary thing that could happen. There were lightning blasts, thunder booms, moaning, screaming, rattling windows. The kids screamed for what seemed like hours. Jonathan tried to escape the house but curiously stopped at the newspaper out front. The paper had an article about 4 kids who died mysteriously in a mansion. It appears like they were scared to death... in 1942. So that's how long they've been haunting this place.

Jonathan returns to the house, his siblings are still in there. For some reason he goes to the closet. There is a board game in there called Haunted House. Boy, it would be a great night to play it.

My Thoughts

This tale has a fun premise, albeit one that is not too far off from other stories out there. While it feels like other stories per say, it doesn't feel quite like other Goosebumps stories, so that is good. The idea is pretty simple but effective. I do think the frights have a lot more to offer the young than they do for me. Reading about thunder and moans and rattling just doesn't do it for me anymore.

The story kind of plays out like a spooky, simplistic version of the movie Jumanji (the original version.) I mean, both are about a board game that comes true. This story came out a year after the movie so it's entirely possibly it was inspired by it. That being said it is different enough to not feel like a complete rip off. I guess the end also kind of shows a bit of a Groundhogs Day but with ghosts vibe too...

Lots of these stories feel like they have a particular time that it would be good to read them to other people. Babysitting kids on a stormy night, this would be a great one to take out. You might not be invited back to babysit again... but oh well.

I guess basically this is a pretty fun story. The twist isn't a showstopper, and I probably should probably be complaining about how it's a "they were dead the whole time" one... but it works. The whole "stuck like this for eternity" has also been done before, but I think it is done here well for once. This is one of the better "Tales" I've read thus far.

Rating: 4 out of 5 dice that will lead to your death

Tomorrow I'll read "A Change for the Strange." Who knows if it will be scary, but at least it will be strange. See you then.

October 25, 2018

I'm Telling - 30 Tales to Give You Goosebumps #24

I'll be reading the story "I'm Telling" today. They are words meant to strike fear in your siblings. Just wait til mom and dad find out about this! Then there will be trouble! But will this story strike fear into the hearts of its reader? Let's find out.

Rathering that doing his art project Adam is in the woods playing pretend. He is hunting a stone gargoyle in a fountain using his trusty squirt gun. Sadly, he is out of ammo but the gargoyle begins to emit a strange green ooze from its mouth. Good enough! He fills the gun with it and is ready to go. 

Then his annoying little sister shows up. She is ready to rat him out for goofing off instead of doing his work. She informs him she is telling on him, repeatedly. Adam really has no choice but to blast her with the squirt gun. Rather than just being gross, the green goo has a strange effect. It turns his sister to stone. What to do what to do.

He loads her up in a wagon and starts to cart her off. By pure happenstance his art teacher sees him and thinks his stone sister is an art sculpture he did for his project. Naturally she is amazed and tells him to bring it to the art contest before it's over. He wins first place. Well done.

Now there is the problem of what to do with her. He decides ultimately to wheel her back to the gargoyle. It's not where he left it, it is in the air now, alive and ready to attack. He blasts it with the ooze and the beast returns to stone. Now he hears his sister statue beckoning for help. He has an idea. He squirts her with the gun and she returns to normal. Whew, all his problems are solved. Or maybe they aren't. His sister is rather upset about everything that went down and is threatening to tell on him again. Even though his parents probably wouldn't' believe the outrageous tale, she is pretty annoying... He squirts here again. Back to stone. Problem solved.

My Thoughts

Though I did appreciate the classic mummy in yesterday's story, it is always nice to get a fresh monster to read about. As far as I know, R.L. Stine has never done a gargoyle before. They are by nature kind of creepy but I wonder how familiar kids are with them. Do kids know what gargoyles are? Since the Gargoyles cartoon isn't airing any more I'm not so sure!

Somewhat like yesterday's story I think this one mostly works except with one complaint. This complaint is a little bit more minor this time though. I basically liked the plot, turning his annoying sister to stone is great. Entering her in an art contest is great. The gargoyle coming to life is fine. The problem is this, he did the exact same thing to bring her back to life as he did to turn her to stone. Does the Gargoyle juice just toggle the status of you being rock? That is weird and doesn't make much sense. Stine could have written something where the living gargoyle did something that result in her turning back. Perhaps if it had different spit while in living form  that undid the liquid stone stuff while in its statue form? It seems like that would be a simple enough thing to do.

I think rather than the gargoyle itself the heart of this story is probably Adam and his little sister. People with siblings have probably at least been annoyed by them to an extent they wish they could just shut them up at some point. If you didn't have siblings there was probably a kid you knew you would like to turn to stone. It's a fun idea, and since it is a short story you don't have to do much with the potential ramifications. Yes his is worried about what will happen when people realize she is missing.. but not so much he doesn't want to turn her to stone again. Sisters can be that annoying.

Despite the flaw I find in it I think this story is mostly enjoyable. If I was 10 I probably wouldn't even care about it. 33 year old me is grumpier about such things. I think perhaps just because a story is for kids doesn't mean you shouldn't use some care while crafting it. Still, it is not horribly detrimental.

Rating: 3 gargoyles with magic spit out of 5

Tomorrow another bone chilling tale will be read. I'll be reviewing "The Haunted House Game." Haunted houses are usually scary. Games are usually not. How scary a haunted house game is will have to be determined I guess. We'll do so tomorrow.