Monday, December 31, 2007

#28 the Cuckoo Clock of Doom

#28 the Cuckoo Clock of Doom

Front Tagline: Keep your eye on the birdie!
Bag Tagline: Don't Beat The Clock!

Official Book Description:
Tara the Terrible. That's what Michael Webster calls his bratty little sister. She loves getting Michael in trouble. Making his life miserable. Things couldn't get any worse.
Then Mr. Webster brings home the antique cuckoo clock. It's old. It's expensive. And Mr. Webster won't let anyone touch it.
Poor Michael. He should have listened to his dad.
Because someone put a spell on the clock. A strange spell. A dangerous spell. And now Michael's life will never be the same again....

Brief Synopsis:
Michael Webster has suffered at the hands of his little sister Tara for the last seven years of his life. Even as a baby she was a brat, and her behavior as the book opens has gotten no better. She visits him at his basketball game and plants a brutish teammate's baseball cap in his backpack, resulting in Michael receiving a beat-down. Tara leads Mona, the girl he likes, into his room while he's still in his underwear. It's subtle but the point is that Tara is so rotten that she deserves to be erased. Whoops, did I just spoil the ending?

Michael's dad has decided to spruce up the household decor, not with new wallpaper but with an antique cuckoo clock! 'Cause he gets up in the morning and goes to work at nine and he comes back home at five-thirty, Michael's dad has passed the clock in the window of Anthony's Antiques and Stuff for the past fifteen years and finally talked Anthony into lowering the price. Anthony claims the clock has a slight defect, though he wouldn't reveal the defect. Anthony also tries to sell him an urn he bought in Stillwater, perfect for throwing up blue slurpees into.

Michael's dad ominously warns against anyone touching the clock, so the two kids waste no time in touching the clock. Shenanigans ensue, none anywhere near as exciting as those found in Juno, In Theaters Now.

Several days after the arrival of the clock, Michael suffers his worst humiliation yet at the hands of seven-year old Tara. It seems that even his birthday party is not safe from the tiny terror. Michael is led out to the garage to see his secret birthday gift. No, not a cactus-gram, but a new 21-speed bike! Unfortunately, Tara decides to try to ride the bike and hops on, crashing it into the cement garage floor. Michael glumly looks at the large white crack in the new black frame of the bike. Back inside the house, things get worse as Tara tells Mona that Michael likes her. He tries to tell her to shut her gob, but Mona thinks she's cute. Tara then opens all of Michael's birthday presents for him. Mona got Michael a CD-- It's never revealed what album but I suspect it lacks the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges. To cap off the lovely party, Tara trips Michael as he carries his chocolate cake into the living room. She won't stop until somebody calls the cops and even then she'll start again and just pretend that nothing ever happened. Michael is so upset that he makes a secret birthday wish to get a chance to redo his birthday. As this wish is about to come true, the reader will discover that Michael would have been better off wishing he could attend a screening of Juno, In Theaters Now.

Late that night, Michael decides to get back at Tara by framing her in a clock-blocking. He sneaks downstairs and pulls the little tweety-bird out of the clock. He positions the bird backwards, knowing that his father will blame Tara.

When Michael wakes up, he discovers that it's his birthday again. RL Stine lacks the subtle direction of Jason Reitman, so the repeat of events in the book is not as thrilling as repeat viewings of Juno, In Theaters Now. In fact, all that happens is exactly what happened the first time, meaning that Michael doesn't even alter his action beyond occasionally whining that he's reliving the same day. He still trips, gets embarrassed, etc.

The book keeps working backwards. Every time Michael goes to sleep, he wakes up earlier in his life. Except he wakes up at arbitrary times so that he can not only relive the events from the beginning of the book (and still not change them, rendering the book's padding padded), but also skip back four years at one point, all for cheap shots like, "Boy I look silly as a 3rd grader," "Boy I look silly as a 2nd grader," etc. The cuckoo clock is still in the antique shop so Michael never gets a chance to turn the bird back around, thus solving the whole time travel problem. RL Stine was never a stripper, so naturally the Cuckoo Clock of Doom can't be anywhere near as good as the Golden Globe-nominated Juno, In Theaters Now, but this book is exceedingly dull and uneventful.

Eventually Michael wakes up and he's a year-old baby, wearing diapers in a crib. It seems as though Michael is Phuket Thailand-ed for life, as the next time he goes to sleep he'll presumably cease to exist-- a worse fate than being hanged by a licorice Super Rope! Being a baby sucks for Michael, because he can barely walk and his parents won't let him pop Orange Tic-Tacs due to the choking hazard. Luckily, Michael's parents decide to visit the antique store that day. As they argue over a table, Michael sneaks off to turn the bird's head around. So there's a baby climbing up some chairs to play with the antique clock. Reader Beware, You're In For A Scare! Geez, even Juno has a Kimya Dawson song about vampires in it, this book has babies playing with clocks.

Michael-baby reverts the bird and then messes with a dial on the side of the clock, setting the year to 1995. A white flash and suddenly Michael is back at his birthday party-- again. Except this time his bike doesn't get ruined, because it turns out Tara was one doodle that could be undid, homeskillet. When Michael goes to look at the clock, he sees the dial he played with doesn't have a 1988 spot-- meaning his sister was never born. He goes off to slow dance to Mott the Hoople with Mona, safe from his non-existent sister's antics at last.

But the Twist Is:
This inferior book doesn't even have the decency to end with an unbroken shot of Mona and Michael singing a Moldy Peaches song, much less provide any sort of twist ending. This Cautionary Tale has nothing on The Cautionary Whale, Juno, In Theaters Now.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Michael Webster and his little sister, who disappears forever halfway through the book.

Questionable Parenting:
Michael's parents are no Bren and Mac MacGuff, that's for damn sure.

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
I don't remember reading anything in this book about hamburger phones or blueberry condoms or collecting bones in pants. You lose again to a movie that came out twelve years after your book, RL Stine!

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 1/2:
Hard to garner any sympathy for a main character who becomes frightened by the bird inside a cuckoo clock. This book was doomed from the beginning and it didn't even have a Rainn Wilson cameo.

Great Prose Alert:
It had the meanest bird face I ever saw.

A short story's worth of plot stretched out to 118 pages. Honest to blog, I can't figure out why everyone kept requesting this entry. Well, now that you've sated this particular thrist, time to go quench your funny-bone and your heart by leaving the house and seeing Juno, a Fox Searchlight film, Now Playing at a theater near you.

See you next time for There Will Be Monster Blood.

Friday, December 21, 2007

More & More & More Tales to Give You Goosebumps

Goosebumps Special Edition #6:
More & More & More Tales to Give You Goosebumps

Back Tagline:Reader Beware-- You're In For Ten Holiday Scares!

Official Book Description:
Will Brad learn to care for his pet Gronk, before it takes care of him? Can Samantha sit through a boring Nutcracker ballet without cracking up... for real? Are Max's new monster skates putting him on thin ice? Has Sam been caught in the bone-chilling grip of an ice vampire?
Find out in these ten creepy Goosebumps short stories guaranteed to fill you with holiday fear!

This collection, which sports the most unwieldy title imaginable, originally came packaged with a green Christmas stocking. I initially thought was so the reader would have something to throw up into. However, imagine my surprise when I actually sat down to read this collection and-- well, read on and see for yourself. It's truly a Christmas miracle!

Don't Sit On the Gronk
It's Christmas morning and Brad has received the cutting edge gift of a Walkman portable tape-player from his parents. Of course, because he didn't read the instructions on the box, he can't get the Walkman to work-- wait, the instructions on the box? There's like one place for the cassette to go in, how do you screw that up? Brad finds another gift under the tree. It's addressed to him but there's no sender. Inside the box is a blue Kooshball. Brad is quite thrilled, as he collects Kooshballs, but when he picks the gift up, he notices that the ball is breathing. It's been a long time since I've thought about Kooshballs but I do remember something about them not being alive, so I understand Brad's puzzlement. Brad's parents see no problem with letting their son keep a mysterious breathing Christmas present and so Brad now has a pet. (Why does no one in this story question where this came creature came from? What kind of pervert gives a twelve-year-old kid blue balls anyways?)

Brad invites his friend Roscoe over to play with the creature. Inside the box is a paper outlining how to care for the Gronk. Brad discards the paper without reading it (Uh oh, I smell a lesson coming) and goes outside to toss the Gronk around with his pal. As they lob the Gronk to and fro, they notice the creature is giggling and growing in size. Eventually it swells to the size of a basketball and the two kids shoot hoops with it. Then they take turns rolling it back and forth as the creature swells in size. Brad rolls the small boulder-sized Gronk back into his house. Once the creature is in his room, it has swelled to the size of a beanbag chair-- So Brad decides to sit on it. It's pretty comfy but the Gronk keeps growing, pushing Brad almost to the ceiling. His sister Kelly enters his room and asks him if he read the paper that came with the Gronk. As the two flee the bedroom from the ever-expanding Gronk, Kelly reads the three rules for caring for the Gronk:

Rule Number One: Don't feed them after midnight Don't take the Gronk outside, as this will cause it to grow.
Rule Number Two: Don't bounce the Gronk, as this will cause it to become too playful.

Kelly starts to read Rule Number Three, which begins "Don't sit on the Gronk because--" when the Gronk bounces through the ceiling and lands in the living room. Brad yells as Kelly to read why he shouldn't sit on the Gronk. She finishes reading, "Because it will want to sit on you!" I had no idea Yakov Smirnoff ghostwrote for the series.

Naughty or Nice? Silly, but Nice.

Nutcracker Nightmare
Sam is upset because her former teacher Mrs. Boren-- or as she calls her, Boring-- has invited her and her parents to see the ballet. Sam is upset because she was forced to wear a green taffeta dress and miss out on seeing a movie with her friends. Sam's father reminds her that some people have real problems, and she should be happy about getting to see the Nutcracker.

Once inside the theatre, Sam makes a comment about being bored to death to Mrs. Boren. Ol' Boring takes out a gold watch and tells Sam she'll show her what boredom really is. Sam waits for the ballet to start. And waits. And waits. The conductor warms up for what seems like hours, but no one else around her seems to notice. Finally some dancers appear on stage. Once they slowly go through their routine, the audience applauds and applauds and applauds and won't stop applauding. Sam tries to stop applauding but her mother, who doesn't notice anything wrong, forces her to keep applauding. Sam starts getting worried-- just how long has she and the rest of the audience been in the theatre? Samantha looks up at her mother and sees that her hair now has gray flecks in it. It dawns on Sam that Mrs. Boren has placed a spell on the audience. She jumps out of her seat and attempts to walk towards the exit, but every step towards the door results in the same distance, essentially trapping her in place. Mrs. Boren snarkily tells Sam that the snack bar is closed during the performance and that she should just sit down and enjoy it. Sam sits down and hears a rip. She's grown out of her dress, which has split at the seams. Again Sam poses the question, Just how long have I been sitting here?

Finally the curtain falls and the audience applauds wildly. Sam jumps out of her seat, glad that the whole ordeal is over, only to be stopped by Mrs. Boren, who reminds her that it's a two-act ballet.

Naughty or Nice? Ingenious and disturbing, this short story has the same bitter humor found in the wonderful Be Careful What You Wish For... Very very Nice.

the Ice Vampire
The sequencing in this tome could have used a little tweaking, as this short story also has a main character named "Sam," though this one is male. Sam and Billy have entered their cobra sculpture in the local ice sculpture contest. There are about a dozen contestants, all standing next to the wooden crates holding their large creations. Billy and Sam however are disappointed to learn that the judges have chosen "The Ice Vampire by Bram Stokeman" (Oh I get it) as the winner. Billy and Sam walk over to view the winning sculpture. Carved out of deep blue ice, the vampire is life size and they concede that it probably did deserve to win. One of their friends come up and they chat for a few minutes. When the two boys turn back around to view the vampire sculpture again, they find it missing. In its place is another intricate ice sculpture, one that looks very much like Sam's next door neighbor Rebecca.

Sam starts walking home when he feels that inevitable, quintessential Goosebumps experience: someone grabs the back of his neck with icy hands. Maybe the payoff isn't as big for casual readers of the blog, but I swear this cop-out happens in every third book in this series, so when Sam turns around and the person responsible for the icy hands actually is a horrible monster, it is worth commending! The ice vampire accosts Sam's arm and begs for heat. Sam feels his arm numb and ice up. Luckily Billy wrestles him free from the vampire's grip and the two run home. Once inside the house, the ice vampire again tries to coax them out so he can steal their heat. The vampire gets pissed and freezes their keyhole over. That'll show 'em.

The next morning, Sam's older sister Emily is breaking the icicles off their porch when the ice vampire returns. The boys quickly pull her from the vampire's deadly grip. Sam picks up one of the icicles from the porch and attempts to stake it through the vampire's heart, but it merely crumbles against his chest. Sam wisely runs back inside. Their parents are out not being murdered by ice sculptures, so it's up to the three kids to save their own necks. They gather in the kitchen to think of a plan when the ice vampire shows up at the window above the sink. He places his hands on the panes of glass. Once they ice over, he simply shatters the glass and pulls Billy though the window. Awesome.

Sam spies Emily's portable hairdryer and he aims the nozzle at the vampire. He lets Billy loose and merrily soaks up the heat waves from the hairdryer. Sam excitedly tells Emily that this is great because now the vampire won't hurt them because he'll know they're his friends. I don't think vampires are nearly as genial as Sam thinks, but no matter-- the hairdryer goes dead. However, somehow Sam and the others failed to notice that the vampire melted into a puddle in the sink. All's well that ends well-- until Sam and Billy's cobra sculpture pounces through the open kitchen window.

Naughty or Nice? Ice.

A Holly Jolly Holiday
Beth is watching a match on TV featuring her favorite wrestler, the Krusher, when her older sister Jody enters the living room, waving a gift bag. Jody found a rare VHS copy of her favorite Christmas TV program, Holly Jolly Holiday, at a store called The Christmas Shoppe. Even though she watches it on TV every year, Jody wants to watch it again. The special features an incessantly cheerful redhead pixie named Susie Snowflake, who cheerfully spreads holiday joy to all she encounters. This is a good example of the economy of comedic timing employed by the author:

I watched as Susie Snowflake spread holiday cheer throughout her neighborhood. She sang. She danced. She baked dozens of cookies.

The sprightly sprite offers her Christmas tree cookies to some children, provided they ask for them via the magic words, "Pretty-bitty please with Christmas trees." She gives a grumpy old man a Christmas hug. Eventually the treacly antics cause Beth to retreat to her room. After reading a wrestling magazine cover to cover, she comes back downstairs to find her sister watching the video again. Her mother has joined her on the couch and the two blithely focus their attention on the TV. A pile of fresh baked Christmas tree cookies are cooling in the kitchen, which Beth finds peculiar since her mom doesn't cook. When she looks closer at her mom and sister, she notices that both appear to have dyed their hair red-- the same shade as Susie Snowflake. Beth notices the family dog's white fur has also started to turn pink and gathers that perhaps something supernatural is afoot.

Beth goes out to the garage and talks her dad into figuring out what's going on. He leaves and she waits for him in the garage. When he fails to come back, she returns to the living room and finds his beard has disappeared and his black hair has turned bright red. The entire family is slipping into Susie Snowflake's vernacular, calling each other "dearie" and being menacingly cheerful. Beth notices in the mirror that her hair has tinted slightly pink. She tries to swear but can only exclaim "Oh sugar cookies!" I love this story.

The film ends. Jody gets up to rewind it so the family can watch it again. Beth tells Jody to give her the videotape but she won't hand it over unless Beth says the magic words. Beth can't remember what Susie Snowflake's magic words are and she sits quietly in the living room, trying to remember. She eats a cookie and starts humming a few bars. She feels compelled to bake and begins to question why she'd ever want to stop the holiday cheer she was feeling swell-up inside her. Suddenly she remembers the magic words and Jody relinquishes the tape. Beth is very excited to get the tape because what better to watch to get in the Christmas mood than Holly Jolly Holiday? She gets up to put the tape back in the VCR when she sees the wrestling match on TV. Beth's mind clears up and she throws the tape in the fireplace, curing everyone.

The next week, Jody presents Beth with her Christmas present: a wrestling videotape featuring the Krusher! Beth is thrilled because she didn't know he had his own video. Jody reveals that the woman at the Christmas Shoppe said it was quite rare.

Naughty or Nice? The Nicest. This is maybe the best-written, best conceived entity ever to appear under the Goosebumps banner. I need to make Susie Snowflake t-shirts.

Why I Hate Jack Frost
Jared is upset because this Christmas in Arizona will be his first Christmas without snow, or even wintery weather. He hates the plastic Christmas tree and the heat and is having trouble dealing with the change. Inside a little knickknack shoppe he spots a real Christmas tree with decorated with hundreds of old-fashioned ornaments. An old man draws his attention to an ornament depicting an old shack with an elf standing in the doorway. The ornament feels cold in his hands. The clerk tells him that the elf in the doorway is Jack Frost, who brings the cold. The clerk then points to an old copy of Playbill, which brings in 'Da Noise and 'Da Funk.

Jared decides that the new ornament is too nice to waste on the fake Christmas tree and instead hangs it over his bed, hopefully for different reasons than why other boys hang posters over their beds. That night Jared dreams that the a snowstorm has hit his neighborhood. Jack Frost shows up and brings a snowman to life. The snowman challenges Jared to a sledding race. When he wakes up from the dream, he still feels a little cold. He dresses in long sleeves even though it's seventy outside.

The next night he dreams of Jack Frost again. This time the elf goes ice skating with Jared in the Winter Wonderland. When Jared awakes, he's even colder-- even the beams of heat from the window cause him to shiver.

Jared dreams of Jack Frost again, only this time the fun game they play involves getting buried alive in the snow. This has nothing to do with Goosebumps, but one of the things I picked up from some other Young Adult book I read as a kid was that if you're trapped in snow after an avalanche, and you don't know which direction is which, you're supposed to spit and then whatever direction it falls, dig in the opposite direction. I can't tell you how many avalanche-related deaths that piece of knowledge has personally prevented.

Jared wakes up and everything he touches is like ice. He takes the ornament down and throws it into the garbage can outside. That night, Jack Frost becomes quite irate when Jared reveals that he doesn't want to play in the snow. Frost forces him to participate in a snowball fight. Jared complains of being tired and Jack Frost offers to let him take a nap in his cabin. Uh, let's not speculate on what Jack Frost's middle name must be. Before Jared can enter the cabin though, he must help Jack Frost decorate his Christmas tree by retrieving the Christmas ornament from the garbage can. Jared complies and then snuggles up in front of Jack Frost's fireplace.

Jared wakes up and finds himself in the backyard. He's still dressed in winter wear but is now sweltering and begins peeling off the layers as he is now soaked with sweat. I've heard of wet dreams but this is ridiculous. Seriously, take my wife-- please! Jared strips to a single layer but is still hot. He runs and jumps in a neighbor's pool, only the icy water is now boiling hot. Jared realizes this must be another dream and wills himself awake. Only he wakes up back in Jack Frost's cabin.

Jack Frost asks if he had a bad dream and Jared Oh Snaps him by telling the elf that he's the bad dream. Jack Frost doesn't understand though, since Jared lives with him in the cabin. Jared disagrees and tries to tell the elf that he lives in Arizona. Jack Frost shows him the Christmas ornament he dug out of the trash: it's Jared's house in Arizona. Jack Frost tells Jared to get dressed for another snowball fight.

Naughty or Nice? A confusing Christmas retread of I Live In Your Basement, but still, another Nice.

Unbelievably the book is five for five so far. At this point I'm actually feeling suspense as to whether or not the last five stories will retain the level of quality found in the first half of the book. Suspense? In a Goosebumps book? I think somewhere hotter than Arizona just froze over.

Marshmallow Surprise
Marsha is racing her sled against her brothers Ricky and Ronnie, when they take a sharp curve into Mrs. Spooner's yard. Mrs. Spooner is a bitter old woman (are there ever friendly elderly people in these books?) who hates kids. She once called the cops because Marsha's dog was in her yard. In the past the kids have retaliated by playing tricks on her, such as ringing the bell and running away, but now they've accidently destroyed her flower garden. Marsha swoops into the yard and knocks over the mailbox with her head. Mrs. Spooner comes out into the yard and instead of getting mad at the kids, she invites them in for cocoa.

Mrs. Spooner serves them the hot chocolate in huge cups and when Marsha asks for some marshmallows, Mrs. Spooner mysteriously tells her that they're coming. The kids finish their cocoa and one of them casually mentions that they'd like the recipe. Mrs. Spooner reveals that the recipe is a secret. Then she starts listing off the horrible things the three kids have done to her and her house. Broken windows, trespassing, that time they slowed down while walking by the house to look at the house-- all horrible offenses. The kids urge Mrs. Spooner to let them leave, but Mrs. Spooner has a surprise for the kids. The marshmallows they were promised? Well, see, the secret part of the recipe is that it turns whoever drinks the cocoa into marshmallows. Mrs. Spooner tells the kids that they can expect their bones to melt. Read that sentence again and then maybe you'll understand why this is the best Goosebumps book ever.
If you're still not convinced, well, then start dealing with this:

Marsha tells Mrs. Spooner that she really should have let her and her brothers go. The three kids start baying at the moon and open their mouths to reveal fangs. The old woman cries out, "You are werewolves!" This is simply amazing, because this revelation has no relation to anything else that happened in the short story, and doesn't even kind of make sense. The kids were being taught a lesson about being rude to an elderly woman, so they retaliate by teaching the old woman that all kids are werewolves.

Naughty or Nice? Idiotic to the point that I can't even be upset with it, the short story builds a great mood and menace, threatens children with being melted and eaten alive, and then ends with werewolves. How could it not be Nice?

Monster On the Ice
Max's younger sister Jessica insists on swiping clothes from his closet and putting them on the family dog, a german shepherd named Stinker. Max doesn't want the family dog to wear his hockey jersey and he puts a kibosh on the whole plan. What a shame, because

Christmas morning rolls around and Max gets an awesome gift: Monster Skates! They're just normal skates with the word "Monster" on them, but they still elicit a wild response in Max. He rushes out to start a hockey game with his pals. The new skates allow him to move faster than ever before but he finds himself becoming more aggressive towards his opponents. Wait, an aggressive hockey player? Social commentary.

Max starts growling at everyone else playing the game and starts to grow fur. Holy smokes, seriously? Two werewolf stories in a row? Max takes off the skates and turns back into a non-wolf monster. He runs home and hides the skates in his closet, then runs back to the ice rink to apologize for his behavior. His friends are like, "Hey no big, people turn into wolves when they put on magic monster skates all the time."

Max arrives back home. He hears a din coming from his closet. He's terrified that Jessica has put on the skates and rushes into the room. Jessica calmly greets him and tells him that she didn't put his skates on. Max breathes a sigh of relief. Jessica tells him that she put the skates on Stinker. The monster-dog pounces out of the closet.

Naughty or Nice? There's a cap of one werewolf per short story collection, so I'm afraid I have to relegate this story to Naughty.

the Double-Dip Horror
Twin sisters Rachel and Wynona have arrived at the Ice Cream Cone Ski Lodge for a week. They were hired to be junior instructors, with the deal being that they teach for six days and on the seventh day they get to ski for free. The twin sisters, realizing that no one has seen both of them, formulate a plan. They'll both take shifts being only Rachel. When one twin is being Rachel and teaching lessons, the other twin will be skiing for free. The plan works generally well, except for a red-haired kid named Bobby Judd, who keeps making trouble for the Rachels whenever they try to teach the class. The other students ignore his antics and the Rachels do their best to follow suit. Bobby Judd acts up but is actually a very good skater and keeps begging the Rachels for a private lesson.

One of the twins comes up with the perfect plan. They'll show Bobby Judd up by agreeing to a lesson. Then they'll take turns skiing down the same mountain, always coming out ahead of Bobby no matter what. Bobby Judd won't be able to beat them because they'll be able to cheat and trade places and he'll finally be put in his place. Bobby agrees to the plan, but insists on meeting them on a black diamond course, the Double-Dip. The real Rachel starts the race and Wynona waits for Bobby to show up so she can slide ahead, but he never does. Finally she goes looking for Rachel and both sisters discover that neither has seen Bobby. Worried that he might be lost, Wynona agrees to ski down to the lodge to see if anyone has heard from Bobby while Rachel waits on the slope.

At the lodge, Wynona asks Margot, the head ski instructor, if she's seen Bobby. Margot thinking Wynona is Rachel, tells her there is no student named Bobby. Wynona insists that there is a Bobby Judd and describes him. Margot gets very serious and tell her that Bobby Judd was the son of a ski instructor who died on a ski course. He haunts the lodge and tries to lure kids into racing with him. Apparently a murdering ghost is something you causally forget to mention to potential junior ski instructors. Wynona tells Margot that they have to do something, as her friend is up on the course, waiting to race the ghost. Margot tells her not to worry, the ghost only tries to murder identical twins.

Naughy or Nice? Nice.

Santa's Helpers
Well, here's another character named Beth. Really, there's only ten stories here, did they really run out of names by the ninth story? Beth and her brother Spenser are playing a game of checkers and teasing their six-year old sister, Diane. Diane apparently doesn't look like anyone else in the family, and this leads her siblings to constantly tease her. Luckily for their mom they don't say, "Hey you look like the mailman," but they do say things like "You're not really our sister," "You're not even from Earth," etc. Despite all this abuse, Diane still wants to tag along with Beth and Spenser when they trek out to go sledding.

On the way to the hill, Spenser and Beth tell her that Santa Claus doesn't exist. They meet up with a friend who mocks Beth and Spenser's coats. The bright red and green fur coats were on sale, so they've been forced to wear them when playing outdoors. The siblings' mother comes out to collect Diane but tells the older kids they can stay out a little longer.

Beth and Spenser wipe out on their sled and find themselves trapped in a net. Four small men come out of the bushes and hoist them into a sack. These four men are elves who deposit the children at the North Pole. Santa chides the two runaway elves. The kids keep insisting they're not elves, but Santa grows furious and sentences them to work 18-hour shifts for the next five years as punishment for escaping. The kids keep protesting, but Santa forgets Occam's Razor and points out that they're dressed like elves. Eventually they are given one chance to prove they're not elves. The other elves escort Beth and Spenser to their house. The elves don't believe that they live there though, so Spenser and Beth knock on the door. Diane answers and when asked by an actual elf if she's Beth and Spenser sister, she tells them that no, that the two are always very clear that she's not their sister. As the elves drag the two kids back to the North Pole, the little girl reminds them to tell Santa she's been good this year.

Naughty or Nice? Nice.

Attack of the Christmas Present
Well, we've had back-to-back werewolves and back-to-back Sams, why not back-to-back games of checkers? Jack is playing checkers with his older brother Doug when their Uncle Billy arrives. Uncle Billy is the resident Hep Cat Uncle and Jack is over the moon about him spending Christmas with the family.

Christmas morning arrives and the family digs into their presents. Jack's pretty excited because he receives a video game called Troll's Bane. Now, I'm admittedly not much for video games, but if I had to pick two words that, when put together, comprise the least-appealing video game title imaginable, I could do no better than "Troll" and "Bane."

However, Jack and Doug are both underwhelmed by Uncle Billy's presents. Jack is given a spooky tribal mask and Doug gets a Japanese toy called "Robot Tag." After Billy leaves, the two kids switch gifts. Upstairs in his room, Jack examines Robot Tag. It's a 20 inch humanoid figure with chains across the chest, sharp teeth, and a pointy rhino horn. Jack leaves the robot on the floor and drifts off to sleep, only to hear the toy moving. The sounds get closer and closer until finally the robot appears at the foot of his bed. Too scared to do anything, Jack finally drifts off to sleep. When he awakes, the robot is on the dresser. Spooked, Jack throws the robot in the closet and goes down for breakfast. Upon returning to his room he discovers the robot waiting for him in the middle of his room. Jack runs out and shuts the door behind him, but suddenly he hears a whirring sound. The robot has drilled through the door and is continuing the pursuit. Jack tries to fight the robot with a hockey stick but the robot easily snaps it into splinters.

Jack runs downstairs and the robot slides down the banister and greets hum at the foot of the stairs. Panicked and trapped, the robot inches closer, its rhino horn whirring. Jack grimaces and braces himself when... the robot accosts him and chirps, "You're it!"

Naughty or Nice? Saw it coming from a mile away, but still, Nice, and infinitely more exciting than the Michael Bay movie with the similar plot. Of course I'm referring to Bad Boys II.

More & More & More Tales to Give You Goosebumps was clearly a karmic Christmas gift from life to me: a Goosebumps book that was actually good. It doesn't translate well via these summaries, but all of these stories, even the weaker ones like the ice skates or Gronk episodes, are written in a manner seemingly alien to the series. The stories themselves are genuinely imaginative and the events that unfold are portrayed with wit and good humor, and where appropriate, palpable menace. It seems like Scholastic knew hardly anyone would be reading this collection and as such they let whoever ghostwrote these get away with a lot without being watered down. Stories like the brilliant A Holly Jolly Christmas are intentionally funny, and in a drier way than Stine's yuk-yuk brand of comedy-- this is the major reason why I know he had nothing to do with this. Well, that and because all of the stories are well-written. Coming to this after the stale, interminable Camp Jellyjam book is a revelation. If the books could always be this good, why weren't they more often?

This is Monday's update, only early. Monday is Christmas Eve and I'll be busy eating cookies and watching Holly Jolly Holiday with my family, so enjoy getting to open your present early. See you on New Years Eve, dearie.

Monday, December 17, 2007

#33 the Horror at Camp Jellyjam

#33 the Horror at Camp Jellyjam

Front Tagline: Tennis...Ping-Pong...Monsters, anyone?
Back Tagline: It's Not Whether you Win Or Lose -- It's How You Stay Alive!

Official Book Description:
Swimming, basketball, archery. King Jellyjame's sports camp has it all. Too bad Wendy isn't a total sports freak like her brother, Elliot. But how excited can you get over a game of softball. It's just a game, right?
Because Camp Jellyjam is no ordinary sports camp. And Wendy's about to find out why. Why the counselors seem a little too happy. A little too obsessed with winning. And why the ground is always rumbling late at night...

Brief Synopsis:
The Horror at Camp Jellyjam takes a long, long time to approach any event or scenario that could be skewed even slightly towards "horror." It does however immediately capture the excitement of a four hour drive through farmlands. Wendy and her younger brother Elliot are en route to a family vacation with their parents. The Wyoming countryside does very little to excite the two kids, so Wendy suggests that maybe they could ride in the trailer hitched behind to their car. Because what's boring in a car becomes thrilling in a smaller car? Once inside the trailer, the two kids merrily pass the time as the trailer accelerates down the highway. Wendy thinks they're going awfully fast but then figures that maybe her mom is driving. Wow, sticking it to women drivers? Cross your fingers that before the book's over, we'll hear Stine's take on how the red man likes to drink.

The trailer races off the road and finally tumbles to a stop on the outskirts of a campground. The two kids are unscathed, and Elliot cheerfully declares that the experience was "better than Space Mountain!" Granted, even walking through a sliding glass door is more fun than Space Mountain, but there's a little blurb in the book that came with the Goosebumps pogs wherein Stine reveals that his favorite place on Earth is Disney World. Can you imagine how upset Stine was when he read the dig the ghostwriter included-- Assuming of course that the trivia from the pog book wasn't also ghostwritten.

They hear a knock at the door of the trailer and assume it's their parents. However, upon opening the door, they are greeted by a smiling blonde man dressed all in white. His t-shirt is tucked into his shorts, so already there's trouble here. He introduces himself as Buddy and directs their attention to the camp banner above their heads: King Jellyjam's Sports Camp. He cheerfully tells the kids that they can wait for their parents in the camp! This works out perfect for the kids because they've always wanted to be murdered by a stranger.

Buddy informs the kids that he's Head Counselor of the camp. Wendy asks what the little cartoon purple glob on the banner is supposed to be and Buddy tells her that's the mascot, King Jellyjam. You can tell he's the king because he's wearing a crown and is purple. Buddy shows them the campgrounds. There are two long, two-story white dorms on either side. In between are various courts and sports diamonds and two swimming pools. Wendy and Elliot are excited about the prospect of playing sports, killing the last chance any kid reading this book had of relating to the characters. As Buddy leads the way through the camp, a little redhead girl pops out from behind a treetrunk and tells Wendy to run away, then disappears.

The camp's slogan, "Only The Best," is slapped everywhere around the grounds, appearing right below the blobby face of King Jellyjam. Numerous cheerful counselors roam the grounds, including one named Scooter, who welcomes Elliot to the boys dorm. No, I'm not entirely sure that this isn't slash fiction.

Wendy makes small talk with Buddy on the way to the girls dorm, casually asking him where he's from. Buddy can't remember. Don't worry, as they walk, they pass a lot of kids playing a lot of sports. There are so many sports in this book. There are kids bowling in outdoor bowling lanes and marble tournaments and gymnastics and croquet. We get it. But just in case, there's also chess and baseball and biking and swimming. Sports, sports, sports.

Wendy's new female counselor, Holly, greets her. Sporting purple lipstick and fingernails, she asks if Wendy's ready for to play some sports. Wendy says she is and Holly shows her to her room, which might be a sport. The room is decorated with nothing but some bunk-beds and a framed photo of King Jellyjam. Holly tells her that her new roommate, Deirdre, is busy playing sports. Holly leaves Wendy by herself in the room. Wendy wonders where she's supposed to go next (I have a guess: To go play sports?). Before she can give it too much thought, she hears several hushed voices outside her door. The voices cry out, "Let's get her!" Three preteen girls bust into the room giggling. They were just joking. I guess it's one of those "You had to be there" jokes. Wendy is a good sport however and doesn't just roll her eyes like I did while reading that particular chapter break.

The three girls are Ivy, Jan, and Deirdre. One of the girls massages her calf muscles while Deirdre gives Wendy one of her swimsuits so she can participate in the four-lap race. When Wendy tells the girls that she's not interested in competing, they get very irate and repeat the camp slogan, "Only The Best."

Wendy and about a dozen other girls stand on the cusp of the Olympic-size swimming pool. Deirdre tells Wendy that she should have tied her hair back so it won't slow her down in the water. Once the race begins, Wendy is actually on her way to winning when she sees Deirdre working really hard to come in first. Since Wendy doesn't care, she lets her win. Deirdre is awarded a gold King Coin for coming in first. Apparently when a camper accumulates six King Coins, they get to walk in the Winners Walk. Deirdre is very excited, as she only needs one more King Coin to achieve this goal.

Holly runs up to Wendy and scolds her for not following the camp slogan. Wendy pretends she didn't throw the race but Holly knows better and tells her that the slogan is a threat, not a promise, and warns her against doing it again. Looks like Holly just won a King Coin for the sport of Threatening Children!

Elliot shows up and invites Wendy to watch him play ping pong in a ping pong tournament. Now, ping pong is boring to play. It's boring to watch. And yes, you'd better believe it's boring to read about. Elliot really wants to win and gets very worked up. In the past when he gets overexcited, Wendy performs a special whistle to alert him to calm down. She is forced to use the whistle on Elliot during the tournament. He gives her a big thumbs up. Elliot wins the ping pong tournament and hopes to win another King Coin before the night's over.

The ground starts to shake and Wendy freaks out, thinking it's an earthquake. But no one else in the camp even seems to notice. Buddy tells her that the ground shakes so often that everyone just gets used to it and to not worry.

Wendy is getting concerned that her parents might be worried about her and her brother. She decides to call their home answering machine and leave a message for them. Before she does though, Deirdre shows up with her sixth King Coin: She'll be in the Winners Walk that night! Wendy gets very excited about Deirdre's excitement and decides she is going to try to win a King Coin of her own. She gets so excited that she forgets to make the phone call. Everything is so exciting!

That night, Wendy, Ivy, and Jan watch the Winners Walk ceremony outside in the dimly lit evening. The counselors really go all out for this ceremony, and Wendy is told it is a big deal. Two counselors come out holding torches and the kids who won their sixth coin follow them single file into the darkness as marching band music plays from the loudspeaker. Well, now I can see why everyone is so motivated to be a part of the Winners Walk.

The girls scrounge up some snacks for Deirdre's celebration party back in their dorm room. Ivy and Jan and Wendy pass around a bag of tortilla chips and share a can of Diet Coke while they wait for Deirdre to show up to her own party. When she never arrives, the girls decide to break the camp's curfew and go out looking for her.

The three girls wander around in the dark for a while. Some bats show up to drink from the swimming pools and pad the page count. Suddenly, the girls hear a cry for help-- it's the little redhead girl from earlier. She tells the girls that her name is Alicia and she followed the counselors to see where they go. What she saw was so horrible that she insists they all must to leave the camp while they still can. Then the little girl disappears again.

Safely back inside the dormitory, the girls discover all of Deirdre's belongings have been removed. The next morning at breakfast, Wendy accosts Buddy, who tells her that Deirdre left, as did Alicia. She tries to tell Jan and Ivy, but they're rushing off to play more sports. Thank God the book has returned to the promise of more scenes of sports! Wendy reattempts her foiled phone call to her parents, but is shocked to discover that the pay phones are not functional. Readers of the blog however are not, because they've already read the classic entry on Welcome to Camp Nightmare. Buddy watches her from afar and then approaches to tell her that she must find a sport to participate in. Since she's not a self-starter he's lined up an itinerary for her. First tennis, then softball.

Scholastic: Write us a book with some sports in it.
RL Stine: What kind of sport?
Scholastic: Every sport!

Wendy loses her tennis game to a girl who wins her sixth King Coin. After tennis she is hustled down to the softball diamond. She practices her swings with the bat and accidentally slams the bat right into Buddy's chest. The bat hit has no effect on him, despite it making a sound "like eggs breaking." Buddy cheerfully recommends she try another, lighter bat.

That night, another Winners Circle ceremony. The next morning, another revelation that the winners have disappeared. Wendy tells her brother that they have to run away from the camp that night, but Elliot's in no rush: he's won his fifth King Coin and wants to acquire the sixth so he can march in line behind a torch.

Wendy covertly follows the counselors after nightfall after she notices all of them heading towards the woods. In the woods, positioned in a clearing, she finds a small white domed building. She enters the igloo-like structure.

Inside the building she finds a small theatre. Wendy ducks into a broom closet and watches as Buddy hypnotizes the rest of the counselors and himself. He tells the counselors that they must always serve The Master.

Wendy uses the brief pause in Buddy's ceremony to sneeze loudly twice. Panic-stricken, she discovers that she's not hiding in a broom closet but a passageway and escapes. She hoofs her way downstairs, noticing a foul stench rising up the stairwell.

Well, once below the ground, Wendy sees dozens of kids working hard. All of the Winner Circle champions and Alicia are moving furiously with mops and hoses around an enormous purple gelatinous creature. Wendy spots Deirdre and runs over to her. Deirdre explains that only the best workers get to be King Jellyjam's slaves. The creature can't stand his own stench so he makes the kids constantly rinse and mop him clean. Small things fall from the heights of his being onto the kids: snails. The creature sweats snails. The creatures face is covered in snot and its wearing a gold crown. When it belches, the ground shakes. This is disgusting beyond all redemption.

Deirdre tries to get Wendy to flee, because King Jellyjam had already eaten three kids that day. Wait, three kids really got murdered in a Goosebumps book? By purple snot?

Wendy runs out of the igloo and sneaks into the woods, where she falls asleep. When she wakes up she hears the sound of the track meet. Elliot was going for his sixth King Coin! Wendy has to stop him so she tries the whistle, but he ignores her. So she simply tackles him to the ground just as he approaches the finish line. He grasps that she's desperate and agrees to follow her down to see the horrible creature. Once beneath the ground again, Wendy reveals that she has a plan. She tells all of the slaves to get down on the floor. Wendy watches as the creature flails and tries to pick up the children to eat them. Her "plan" is working, except that from her position on the stairwell, she isn't laying flat on the ground. The creature picks her up and lowers her towards its gaping maw. However, the monster quickly begins to melt. Wendy's plan was to stop washing the creature, making it choke on its own stench. The creature melts down to purple goo.

The kids rush out of the igloo and face a group of the counselors, who are about to attack when-- the police show up. Apparently the stench was so bad that the cops came to investigate.

But the Twist is:
Wendy and Elliot are reunited with their parents. Two weeks after the events of the camp, Buddy knocks on their door. He gives Elliot his sixth King Coin, telling him he earned it. Wendy is nervous about Elliot accepting his sixth coin. Suddenly, a foul odor fills the room-- but it's not a monster but mom's terrible cooking. Haha women can't drive or cook! Take that, Diane Fuss!

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Wendy and the recreational activity of sports, which never ever disappears from this godawful novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Wendy's parents took at least a week to make a connection between the trailer in front of the camp and the camp itself in the search for their missing children.

Minority Alert:
Wendy plays tennis against Rose, an African-American girl. Rose has a deep guttural laugh and wears a single hoop earring. You can't see me but I'm shaking my head in mortified disbelief.
I'd like to make a public wager for readers of the blog. If RL Stine ever presents a black character who is not reducible to a stereotype, I will donate $100 to the NAACP in Stine's name.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Denim short-shorts, Slurm, sports.

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:

Foreshadowing Alert:

California Elementary School Student's Full Report On the Book, With Illustration:
Horror at Camp JellyJam is the story of summer camp horrors.
If you like a scary story, this is a good book for you.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 12:
'"What could happen?"
I didn't know it. But the answer to the question was: A LOT!'

Great Prose Alert:
I've got a real good imagination when it comes to bats.

More like The Horrible of Camp Jellyjam.

Monday, December 10, 2007

#51 Beware, the Snowman

#51 Beware, the Snowman

Front Tagline: He's got a heart of cold!
Back Tagline: No Melting Allowed!

Official Book Description:
Jaclyn used to lived with her aunt Greta in Chicago. But not anymore. They've moved to a place called Sherpia. It's a tiny village on the edge of the Arctic Circle.
Jaclyn can't believe she's stuck out in Nowheresville. No movie theaters. No malls. No nothing. Plus, there's something really odd about the village.
At night there are strange howling noises. And in front of every house there's a snowman. A creepy snowman with a red scarf. A deep scar on his face. And a really evil smile...
(Sometimes I wonder how many readers of the blog bother to look at the Official Book Description, which is transcribed from the back of the book. If you don't usually, treat yourself for this book. It contains two amazing errors, which will be revealed at the end of the entry.)

Brief Synopsis:
Well, in what has to be a first, the book opens with a poem. Jaclyn DeForest is reciting a little ditty about a snowman, one slightly less disturbing than the Burl Ives song. The rhyme warns against the snowman, as he brings the cold. I thought that was Jack Frost, but I guess that's another book (Note to RL Stine: Please don't write that book):

When the snows blow wild
And the day grows old,
Beware, the snowman, my child.
Beware, the snowman.
He brings the cold.

Jaclyn is a Goosebumps character, so naturally she's just moved. Aunt Greta, Jaclyn's legal guardian, decided that they needed a change from the blistery winter of Chicago, so they moved to the Arctic Circle. Being that Greta is her only living relative (her mother passed away when she was four and her father has mysteriously disappeared), she has no say in the matter and so she finds herself making the lateral move to the small arctic village of Sherpia. While driving into the village, Jaclyn notices that every yard features an identical snowman, one with a crimson scarf, twisted branches for arms, and a mysterious scar carved into its face.

They pull up to their new home, a small, modest building with a flat roof. Now, I'm no architect (no no, it's true), but it's my understanding that in climates where you expect a lot of snow or rainfall, the houses have sloped roofs. This allows for the snow/rain to drain off, rather than accumulate, thereby preventing a horrible roof cave-in. But I guess in a village in the Arctic Circle doesn't get much snow.

Jaclyn looks out at all the snow covering the village. Her new bedroom is actually the attic, and the ceiling is so low that she can't stand up inside. But, she does have that window. After looking outside for a while, she gets antsy and goes back downstairs.

Jaclyn wonders what her friends are doing back in Chicago. She imagines they're at a Bulls game. Hey, maybe they're also watching a White Sox game, eating a hot dog, performing in a titular musical, riding the El, releasing an album on Drag City, and watching a Cubs game, all while standing in front of a big poster that says "Chicago" on it.

Jaclyn offers to help her aunt unpack but Greta insists she go out and investigate her new neighborhood. Jaclyn already saw most of what the town had to offer driving up to their shack: a church the size of a garage, a schoolhouse the size of a garage, a general store the size of a garage, a garage. She decides to investigate the other side of the village, the side with the enormous mountain at the end. As she treks through the thick, heavy snow towards the mountain, she notices more snowmen identical to the one in her front yard. Red scarf, gnarled branches, facial scar. Jaclyn treks a little deeper towards the outskirts of the village when she meets the Edward Burtynskys responsible for these creations: The preteen sibling duo of-- Lord, give me strength-- Rolonda and Eli Browning. And before you think I posted this information in the wrong section of the blog, they both have blue eyes, so wrap your head around that one.

The kids are very friendly until Jaclyn presses them about why they make all of the snowmen look alike. They get even unfriendlier when she tells them she's going to climb the mountain at the end of the village. They try to dissuade her from ascending the snow-covered peak by half-joking about how cold it gets, but Jaclyn suspects there's another reason for their apprehension. Jaclyn stays to talk a little longer with the kids, who remain mostly friendly, then heads off to continue her investigation of the far-side of the village. As she leaves she reassures the siblings that she is not going to climb the mountain.

She starts climbing the mountain. After walking for some time and leaving behind the other houses of the village, she happens upon a little shack nestled within the woods near the bottom of the mountain. The door is ajar and she peeks her head inside. Suddenly, a ferocious white wolf attacks her. A voice cries out, "Down Wolfbane!" Wolfbane.

In the scariest moment of the book, the wolf's white-bearded owner is revealed to be wearing a denim shirt. The lanky man, who has long gray hair tied in a ponytail behind his back, accuses Jaclyn of breaking into his shack. She gets spooked and runs away, towards the mountain. The old man gives chase and shouts at her "Beware, the snowman!" She stops and they face each other from opposite sides of an icy road. He tells her that she can't climb the mountain because she will not want to meet the snowman who lives in a cave on the top of the mountain. If she meets the snowman, she will never return. Please meet the snowman, please meet the snowman, please meet the snowman.

Jaclyn does what she waaaaants and turns to head towards the mountain again. So the old man sics his wolf on her. Jaclyn runs as fast as she can up the icy, winding mountain road. But apparently it's a bad idea to run on ice. Thumpety thump thump, thumpety thump thump, look at Jaclyn skid into a jagged culvert! After she gets her bearings and makes her way back to the road, she sees that Wolfbane has stopped his pursuit. Jaclyn eases her way back to the village, picking up pace and running through the neighborhood until she arrives at her house.

Rolonda catches up with Jaclyn and asks her why she so rudely ran past her house without saying hello. Jaclyn tells her about what the old man said and Rolonda tells her that his name is Conrad. I miss the days when a Goosebumps character was just named Hannah. Rolonda quietly reveals that he might work for the snowman. Jaclyn asks her to repeat that, presumably so she can mock her properly. Rolonda refuses, as her younger brother Eli is within hearing range and might get spooked. She tells Jaclyn to meet her at church (!) the following afternoon.

Once safely inside her new home, Jaclyn asks her aunt if she'd ever heard anything about an evil snowman who lived on top of the mountain. Wow, look at that sentence I just wrote. Aunt Greta acts nervous but tells her niece no. Jaclyn then sings the entire refrain from the beginning of the book again for her aunt, to see if she recognizes it. She will repeat this song in full several times throughout the course of the book, probably for the same reason a college student would use block quotes in an essay: There's simply not 112 pages worth of material here.

Later that night. Jaclyn is having trouble sleeping so she decides to take a small walk outside in the snow. She spies one of the many identical snowmen in the yard. It slowly nods his head towards her until it falls off-- it was just the wind! She hears a wolf howl and gets spooked, so she decides to retreat back inside, only she's locked herself out. So she climbs back in through the window and decides to go through her boxes of unpacked books to see if she can find the poetry book the snowman rhyme came from, as she is convinced there is a second verse. Greta hears her making a racket. She scolds her Jaclyn for going outside at night and insists she go back to bed. It's a miserable life for nieces. The next morning, Jaclyn's poetry book is nowhere to be found.

Now, I've been doing this blog coming up on two years now, and as such there are certain words I expect to not find in a Goosebumps book... "Church" would certainly be one. After scaring herself for what has to be the tenth time by mistaking one of the identical snowmen for a horrible monster, Jaclyn joins Rolonda inside the church. They sit in a lonely pew and Rolonda tells Jaclyn the history of the village. Marvel as the book goes from zero to stupid in record time:

"Years ago, two sorcerers lived in this village. A man and a woman. Everyone knew they were sorcerers. But everyone left them alone."
"Were they evil sorcerers?" I interrupted.

There are also words I'd hope to never read in a Goosebumps book... "Sorcerer" is high on that list, falling just below "leprechaun." One day, the two sorcerers were playing around in the snow. For fun they brought a snowman to life. Only once they did, they couldn't control the snowman. And also the snowman was evil. So everyone in the village chased the snowman up the mountain where he still lives in an ice cave. Conrad moved his shack to the bottom of the mountain and no one knows if he's there to protect the village against the snowman or to work for the snowman. Oh and the reason why there are all those identical snowmen is because everyone in the village is afraid of when the evil snowman comes down at night to wander the village, so they made the copycat snowmen to serve as a tribute, hoping he'll be honored and not harm them. As soon as Rolonda finishes the story, Jaclyn bursts out laughing. Rolonda gets upset but I think there's an unspoken contract that whenever you mention "sorcerers" in conversation, you're going to be laughed at. Rolonda insists it's true and says goodnight.

As Jaclyn exits the church, Eli shows up to tell her about why he's so scared of the snowman. Turns out he not only saw the snowman but the snowman saw him. At first I thought the kid was cracking wise but then he keeps talking. He and some of his friends snuck up to the ice cave, went inside, saw the snowman, were chased by the snowman, ran away to safety. Eli hasn't told his sister about it because it's simply too terrifying.

Speaking of terrifying, that night Jaclyn dreams about dozens of cute kittens with blue eyes and fluffy white hair. That's not a dream, that's a Lisa Frank folder. Then suddenly the kittens grow red scarves and turn evil, hissing and clawing at each other. If the scarves were purple it'd still be a Lisa Frank folder though. Upon waking, she decides to sneak away and climb the mountain. Even though she had promised her aunt the night before that she wouldn't go near the ice cave, she simply has to see for herself. But Aunt Greta keeps Jaclyn inside for most of the day. When she finally gets to leave the house, she runs into Rolonda and Eli, who are there to help her build her safety snowman. They get very upset when she tells them her plan to visit the ice cave.

Jaclyn strikes a deal with them: If she agrees to build a safety snowman for her house, they agree to come with her and keep Conrad busy while she sneaks up to the top of the mountain. The siblings reluctantly agree.

The plan works and while Rolonda and Eli distract Conrad by running up the mountain in the opposite direction, Jaclyn ascends the peak and makes it inside the ice cave. She manages to get a few feet in when she sees a large white mass moving towards her: it's the snowman! No, really, it is the snowman. She backs away from the cave and falls off the cliff, but manages to grab onto the icy ledge. As she hangs from the mountain, the snowman yells at her, demanding she identify herself. She does and the snowman informs her that he's her father.

Safely back inside the ice cave, the snowman explains what really happened. Ten years ago, her mother turned her father into a snowman. Her mother tried to reverse the spell but couldn't. Now Greta has come back because-- Well, not only is Jaclyn's mother a sorcerer, but so is her aunt! The spell wears off every ten years so Greta has to return to renew the spell. The snowman tells his daughter that there is only one way to cure him, but he can't tell her what that way is. If he tells her how to reverse the spell, then the magic actually gets stronger and lasts longer. But he can give her a hint. He then recites the song from the beginning of the book. Jaclyn had her doubts but now that he also knew that rhyme, she knows he's telling the truth, and she also knows what will reverse the spell: the second verse! She races out of the cave to find her poetry book, only to run into Greta. Greta is very angry with Jaclyn for coming up to the ice cave, but Jaclyn figures that since her aunt is responsible for imprisoning her father in snow, she loses this argument.

Greta insists that she's done not a sorceress and produces Jaclyn's poetry book. Jaclyn begs for the book so she can free her father, but Greta laughs, telling her that the snowman isn't her father at all, but is actually a monster. This is followed by one of the better exchanges in the book:

"We ran to save you from the monster's horrible evil!"
"YOU ARE A LIAR!" the snowman raged.

Jaclyn doesn't believe her, but that hardly matters because Greta tears out the page with the poem on it and throws it over the ledge. However, the wind picks up and blows it right into Jaclyn's hands. The snowman encourages her to read it aloud. She gets almost all the way through when Greta advances and rips the poem out of her hands, tearing it to shreds. She tells her niece that she can't have her freeing the snowman. Luckily for Jaclyn, she already saw and memorized the last line of the poem. She recites in whole the final verse of the poem while Greta shrieks in anger:

When the snows melt
And the warm sun is with thee,
Beware, the snowman--
For the snowman shall go free!

Jaclyn watches as the snowman begins to melt, revealing...

But the Twist is:
...not her father, but a horrible monster! Whoops. The red-scaled beast cackles and heaves the poetry book off the cliff. Its yellow eyes gleam as it prepares to throw the Jaclyn to her death. She pleads with the monster, reminding him that she freed him. "Is that my reward?" she asks, and I guess monsters don't get rhetorical questions because he agrees, that is her reward. He clutches her and her aunt in each hand and holds them over the cliff. However, he quickly throws them back into the cave as his attention turns to the activity outside the ice cave.

A parade of snowmen line the entrance to the cave, extending all the way down the mountainside. One by one they march inside the cave, pushing the monster back further into the cave. Dozens of the snowmen pile up inside until they pull back, revealing the red monster has been safely frozen inside the wall of the cave.

Jaclyn wonders who cast a spell on the snowmen if Greta wasn't a sorceress. Why, it was Conrad who cast the spell! He pokes his head into the ice cave and reveals that... he's Jaclyn's father. He had stayed behind to keep an eye on the snowman out of guilt, but was very glad to finally be reunited with his daughter. Their reunion hug is interrupted by the cadre of snowmen still lining the entrance. One of the snowmen angrily speaks. He asks if they can go back down to the village, it's too cold on top of the mountain. Wokka-Wokka.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Jaclyn DeForest pals up mostly with Rolonda, which is of course not a Boy-Girl relationship. She does disappear halfway through the novel though, so we'll call this round a draw.

Questionable Parenting:
Why did her father wait ten years to cast the Snowmen Pushing The Monster Into The Ice Spell? Also, way to abandon your daughter for a wolf, a shack, and a snowman.

Questionable Grammar:
Pencils down:
01 "used to lived" (should be "used to live")
02 "No nothing." (should be "No anything.")
I don't want to turn this into another meeting of the Internet Gaffe Squad, but by book 51, apparently Scholastic had even stopped reading the back of the books.

Questionable Grammer Parent:

Religion Alert:
An important scene takes place in a church, though it lacks all identifiable aspects of a church save the wooden pews. Make your own Parson Brown joke here, because this entry certainly does not need a third Frosty reference.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Jack Frost, Jack Frost,

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Kids love poetry.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 6/7:
Jaclyn watches as Wolfbane approaches her. Well, to clarify, she watches as Wolfbane does not approach her.

Great Prose Alert:
The cave is cut in ice. Everyone calls it the ice cave.

Beware, the Snowman is so bad that I feel embarrassed for the book. Try typing some of the plot out and see how ridiculous you feel.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

the State of Things

ONE So, slightly new look to the ol' blog. I've always been pretty insistent that Blogger Beware keep everything very low-rent, but the hits have been going up and I figured it couldn't hurt to jazz it up a bit-- Fool all these new readers into thinking we're as upscale as an apartment in a Woody Allen movie.

TWO I have successfully obtained a small stock of Goosebumps 2000 books, ensuring this blog will last well-through the new year. I'm thinking I'll work my way through the rest of the "actual" Goosebumps books and "special" editions first, then do some sort of "wrap up" (best endings, worst prose, etc) on the series-proper, then go through the Series 2000 books in order. Following that, if I dare, I'll hit up those new new forthcoming Goosebumps books Stine is threatening consumers with... unless anyone wants to make a convincing argument otherwise.

THREE There will probably be a few updates sprinkled throughout dealing more generally with the rest of RL Stine's oeuvre, mainly so I can have a chance to read this

which looks like it should be adapted and airing on Cinemax at 2AM.

FOUR Speaking of updates, by popular demand, January will be Monster Blood Month! Get the word out.

I'm not allowing comments on this post, but you can talk about these things in the comments for tomorrow's update-- or not, I'm not telling you what to do.

Monday, December 03, 2007

#20 the Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

#20 the Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

Front Tagline: It's a field of screams!
Back Tagline: They're Alive!

Official Book Description:
Jodie loves visiting her grandparents' farm. Okay, so it's not the most exciting place in the world. Still, Grandpa tells great scary stories. And Grandma's chocolate chip pancakes are the best.
But this summer the farm has really changed. The cornfrields are sparse. Grandma and Grandpa seem worn out. And the single scarecrow has been replaced by twelve evil-looking ones.
Then one night Jodie sees something really odd. The scarecrows seem to be moving. Twitching on their stakes. Coming alive...

Brief Synopsis:
Siblings Jodie and Mark have arrived at the train station for their annual month-long visit to their grandparents' farm. Stanley, the hired help, is a forty-something man described around the edges as being slightly mentally retarded, and naturally he's the one you send in a truck to drive the kids home. Stanley makes some small talk about people who have died and then drops the novel's titular line into conversation.

Pulling into the farm, Jodie notices a lot of new scarecrows lining the fields. Upon arrival, Grandpa Kurt and Grandma Miriam greet their grandkids sort of half-heartedly. Grandma Miriam serves some sandwiches to the famished kids, although there is the promise of corn with dinner. Given the acres of corn fields encircling the farm, I imagine that promise is going to lose its novelty pretty quickly.

Jodie and Mark readjust to life on the farm. Stanley shows the kids the scarecrows, which he made by following the instructions in his special superstition book. Oh The Bible, you are a book of a million uses! He also drops the titular line again, in case the reader forgot the incredibly subtle first time that Stanley said it for no reason. Stanley sees that the corn in the field is covered in some sort of fungus and freaks out, as apparently his superstition book had warned him about corn growth. Stanley tells the kids that he also made the scarecrows walk with the help of his book. Then a scarecrow comes to life. Oh wait, it's actually Sticks, Stanley's teenage son, playing a prank on the kids! Sticks, who carries on in the book like Goth Huck Finn, has a good laugh. The book then takes a turn for the erotic as Sticks shoves a corncob down Mark's pants.

After dinner, Jodie and her brother wait anxiously in the living room, hoping Grandpa Kurt will tell another one of his scary stories. But, much like the book in which he appears, Kurt provides no scary stories, opting instead to go to bed early. Jodie turns away from the 8-ft stuffed bear in the corner of living room to share a private moment with the reader. A lot of things seem different to Jodie on the farm, and she has become suspicious. Her sleuthing skills have shown her that her grandparents seem less energetic and more tired than last year's visit. Hey Veronica Mars, it's called aging.

The next morning, Instead of finding ways to help their beloved relatives ease into their golden years, Jodie and her brother whine about not getting served chocolate chip pancakes. Grandma Miriam tells the kids that she no longer makes pancakes, as they are too fattening-- even though she served fried chicken and butter-smeared corn for dinner last night. She sets down a bowl of corn flakes in front of Jodie as Stanley pours himself a second bowl of the cereal. The night before, Jodie and her brother had seen the scarecrows moving in unison. She tells Grandpa Kurt about this astonishing occurrence but Stanley immediately insists that it was only the wind. Jodie tries to press the issue but her grandparents swiftly change the subject and suggest that Stanley take the kids fishing after breakfast.

Stanley leads the way towards yonder fishing hole, but before they get very far, he makes the kids circle the barn three times for good luck, as mandated by his book. Once they finally get to the pond, Jodie spots a scarecrow spying on them and tells Stanley. Stanley gets very worried and runs off, leaving the kids behind. Jodie tries to run after him but he ignores her. Jodie decides to tell Grandpa Kurt, but when she goes to look for him inside the silo, a scarecrow closes the door behind her, locking her inside. She climbs up to the loft and leaps out of the building, spotting a scarecrow perched outside, watching her. She runs into Sticks and accuses him of setting all of the scarecrows up to scare her. When Sticks hears that his father got spooked, he immediately runs off to find Stanley.

Before dinner that night, Stanley comes up to Jodie, his superstition book under his arm, and asks her not to tell her Grandfather about the scarecrows, that he'll take care of them. At the dinner table, Stanley slowly reads from his book to himself between bites. More sleuthing from Jodie at dessert reveals that while apple pie is Grandpa Kurt's favorite, Grandma Miriam is instead serving cherry pie, which Stanley happily announces is his favorite.

That night, Jodie is awakened in the middle of the night by Grandpa Kurt, who climbs in through her bedroom window and reveals himself to be a scarecrow. Jodie runs away and bumps into Grandma Miriam, who is also revealed to be, yep, you guessed it, a dog or something. Jodie wakes up from the dream sequence, one which was insultingly bad, even by Goosebumps standards, and heads down for another bland breakfast. Grandma Miriam tells the kids that everyone else has gone into town, but they saddled up some horses in case they wanted to ride after eating. Feast your peepers on the level of literary craftsmanship at work in this book:

Grandpa Kurt always called Betsy and Maggie the "old gray mares." I guess because they were both old and they were both gray.

The kids take the horses down the trail along the corn fields when suddenly a scarecrow jumps in front of the horses. They get spooked and knock both kids to the ground. Stanley runs over and helps the kids up. He thinks Mark's wrist might be broken and tells Jodie he saw the scarecrow that caused the trouble. They debate keeping their promise not to tell their grandparents about the scarecrows, as Jodie is convinced that somehow Sticks is still behind these pranks. When they finally spill it to Grandpa Kurt, he and his wife just laugh it off as no big deal, arguing that Sticks "loves his jokes."

Jodie hears the truck pull into the guest house's driveway and goes out to confront Sticks. She peeks her head inside a barn near the guest house and spots a pile of scarecrow clothes, a stack of unlit torches, and a bottle of kerosene. Sticks shows up and shoos her away from the supplies, insisting that he's not trying to scare her. Jodie has had enough and decides that she's going to scare Sticks in retribution.

Jodie's plan is to dress Mark up as a scarecrow and have him hang from a pole with the other scarecrows in the field. Jodie will lead Sticks to the field and then Mark will "come to life," scaring Sticks. Jodie gets one of the costumes from the barn and dresses Mark, then sets off to get Sticks. As she's walking through the cornfield though, she sees that Mark is following behind her. She's confused as to why he's left his post when it dawns on her that this scarecrow is just Sticks in disguise. She yells out his name, only to see him appear on the stoop of the guest house. Sticks runs over and pummels the scarecrow. It was an actual scarecrow that followed her!

Sticks explains just what the h-e-double-hockey-his-name is going on. A few weeks before Jodie and her brother arrived, Stanley read an ancient spell from his book and brought the scarecrows to an awakened life. This terrified Jodie's grandparents and they made Stanley promise to undo his spell. He agreed, but on the condition that they adjust their life to doing the things he likes and making the food he enjoys. Stanley recanted the incantation but can't account for what's occurred: some of the scarecrows never went back to sleep! Sticks has been keeping it a secret from his father though because he doesn't want Stanley to recast the spell, thus re-waking all of the scarecrows. Stanley of course bursts out of the house, having heard bits of their conversation. He prepares to recite the spell so that he can exert authority over the legion of scarecrows, but Sticks talks him out of it, telling him that no more scarecrows are awake. Cue Mark coming off his pole in the scarecrow costume.

Stanley flips and runs off with his book to bring the scarecrows back to life. Sticks gives quick chase and the two kids bring up the rear. Jodie spots Stanley and Sticks standing in front of a pair of scarecrows. Sticks, frozen in fear, remains motionless as his father brings the scarecrows to life. Sticks snaps out of it and yells at the kids to run and tell their grandparents what Stanley has done. As the kids run towards the farmhouse, they see a wave of scarecrows making their way out of the fields.

The adults had heard the screaming of the kids and were waiting for them in the backyard. Grandma Miriam buys her grandkids a pair of first class tickets for a guilt trip, wailing that they did everything they could to make Stanley happy and now it's all ruined. They hear screaming as Stanley and Sticks run towards the house. Stanley hollers, "They won't obey me!" as they pull up to meet with the others. Stanley is panicked and can't figure out how to stop the coming onslaught as dozens of scarecrows encircle the family.

Jodie gets too close to Mark in his scarecrow costume and sneezes, causing him to jump up. The approaching scarecrows also jump. Jodie tests her theory by having him raise his right arm. All the scarecrows raise their right arm. Well, this is a pretty great premise for the spookiest Simon Says game ever but how does this solve anything? Jodie thinks quick and tells Mark to pull off his mask. He does and then all the other scarecrows follow suit, their heads dropping to the dusty ground. But this doesn't stop them, in fact it only causes them to advance quicker, as Mark no longer resembles one of them. Way to not use your head! LOL OMGZ BURND BY WIT !~~!!!~!~

As Jodie prepares to be murdered by walking straw dolls, she notices Sticks is no longer in the victim circle. Suddenly a bright flash appears from behind the line of advancing scarecrows: It's Sticks, and he's got lit torches. Well that's great, after he takes care of those scarecrows, he can chase Frankenstein and go to a lynching. Sticks wields the torches like baseball bats and burns every scarecrow to ashes. Never again, says Stanley.

But the Twist is:
Ever again, says Stanley. Jodie is sitting alone in the living room, relaxing, as she hears Stanley reading quietly in the other room. The stuffed bear in the corner moves its paws and licks its lips as it moves towards her.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Jodie and her brother Mark, whose wrist flexibility disappears halfway through the novel.

Questionable Grandparenting:
Did it never occur to these two that maybe they should not invite their grandkids to the farm in the midst of Stanley's dangerous spells?

Get Off the Stage! Alert:
"I like to watch the tall stalks of corn, all swaying together in the wind.
Corny, huh?"

Early 90s Cultural References:
Walkmen, cassette tapes, Gameboys, Nirvana t-shirts, scarecrows

Politics Alert:
As if we haven't already heard enough about straw poles this election season. Cross-posted in Get Off the Stage! Alert

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 6/7:
Jodie realizes why Grandma Miriam doesn't want to talk about the scarecrows: Her hands are made of straw! Oh wait, she's just holding a broom.
Look, I know that's stupid, but only one chapter later,
Ch. 7/8:
A straw scarecrow hand has grabbed Jodie's ankle at the fishing hole! Except it's only some weeds. It's only some weeds.
You lose again, human race.

Great Prose Alert:
"That was a killer bear," Grandpa Kurt remembered, rocking slowly, his eyes on the angry-looking beast.

Fun fact: I read this book a year and a half ago for the blog and was so bored that I never even bothered to write the update. Sixteen months later, I hope you enjoyed this "Lost" Entry. Something something straw that broke the camel's back.

Starting... now, the Goosebumps Blog is updated every Monday. See you next week!