Monday, February 25, 2008

#17 Why I'm Afraid of Bees

#17 Why I'm Afraid of Bees

Front Tagline: He's no ordinary human bee-ing...
Back Tagline: Right Brain. Wrong Body.

Official Book Description:
Gary Lutz needs a vacation...from himself. Bullies are constantly beating him up. His only friend is his computer. Even his little sister doesn't like him.
But now Gary's dream is about to come true. He's going to exchange bodies with another kid for a whole week.
Gary can't wait to get a new body. Until something horrible happens. And Gary finds out his new body isn't exactly human....

Brief Synopsis:
For those of you who enjoyed last night's "hilarious" bee montage on the Academy Awards telecast, good news, here's an entry all about bees! For the other 100% of you, bad news, here's an entry all about bees! The book opens with a warning that the novel will contain a lot of bees. Similarly, this entry will contain a lot of bee puns, some of which will bee unbeelievably bad. You've been warned.

Our protagonist Gary Lutz is enjoying a summer afternoon by himself, reading comics. He has no friends and is so clumsy that everyone at school refers to him as Lutz the Klutz. Despite the appealing rhyme scheme, based on my memories of middle school, I suspect his classmates actually called him far worse than that.

So Gary spends the July afternoon like most kids his age, spying on his next door neighbor. Is it a pretty girl he's peeping? No, it's the middle aged bee farmer and his bee hives. Because bee farmers often do their bee farming in a suburban backyard. Gary gets worried when he sees the bees overwhelm the bee farmer, Mr. Andretti. Mr. Andretti calls out, "Mama-Mia, Imma poorly-conceived angry Italian stereotype constructed by a sheltered white man for white children to read about! Also, the bees, they are a'attacking me! Run!" Gary does run and then Mr. Andretti mocks him for falling for his joke. Hey, aren't jokes supposed to bee funny?

The novel seems to bee in a race to emasculate Gary, as this is followed by Gary getting picked last in softball. They make a special rule for him that he can get four strikes beefore he's out and sure enough, he justifies the need for special rules. He then runs home crying, only to run into a trio of bullies who beeat him up. Upon arriving home, his younger sister Krissy also makes fun of him, with his mother chiming in to laugh at her daughter's scoring points off her son. Guys, it's pretty subtle, but in case you hadn't figured it out: this kid sucks. Gary makes Evan Ross look like Zack Morris.

Gary is doing no better in love either. He has a crush on the beeautiful Judy and thinks she's cuter than Amy Adams at the Oscars last night (as if such a thing were possible), so to impress her he starts hot-dogging on his bike. Unless she is the sort of girl who gets impressed by nerds who almost get hit by a car and spill-out into the street, his plan fails.

Back at home, Gary seeks solace on the internet-- Now I understand why the book is so popular. Reading an online bulletin board, he spies a message from a local business advertising a bizarre vacation. Clearly not a cautionary tale about internet dangers, Gary goes unescorted to the address in the ad. The shabbee building houses an office that reminds Gary of a dentist's, only with slightly better odds of not beeing anesthetized and molested inside. Inside a woman speaks to him via a microphone from beehind one of those protective glass shields found in banks and gas stations. For some reason, Gary still thinks it's a good idea to go into the back office. The director of the space-age vacation business, Ms. Karmen, explains that kids who sign up switch places, literally. The book gets more questionable as he's shown a binder of pictures of kids and asked who he'd like to put himself inside.

Ms. Karmen takes Gary's photo and the novel basically becomes that Gordon Jump episode of Diff'rent Strokes. A few days later, Ms. Karmen calls Gary at home and asks if she can come over. Gary thinks this is a great idea beecause his parents and sister are out of the house. Oh no. Ms. Karmen arrives and Gary tells her he'll bee right down, he just has to finish drying his hair. Ms. Karmen enjoys a cookie in the kitchen when

"So, did you have any trouble finding the place?"

But srsly folks, Ms. Karmen tells Gary that she's found a muscular skateboarder named Dirk Davis who wants to get inside Gary to get good at math. False sexual entendres aside, let's think about this: The premise of the program is that kids switch minds and live in another body for a week, so how is Dirk in Gary's body going to bee any different than Dirk in Dirk's body as far as math prowess goes? A bee flies into the living room as Ms. Karmen sets up her equipment. Ms. Karmen activates the switching process and Gary has switched places all right: he's switched places with a bee that flew into the room. Yet it's Dirk Davis in Gary's body.

What follows in the book is about seventy pages of bee adventures. I literally just read the book and can barely remember any of them. There's a scene where Claus the cat reaches up and grabs Gary the bee with one single paw, which is impossible but still more possible than Gary becoming a bee. The book mainly indulges in passages that smell suspiciously like learning, as Gary remembers back to a book on bees he read and applies his knowledge to his current situation. Applying knowledge from what you've read is a great skill and one I endorse. I'll never forget that time I was taking piano lesson that were simply murder on my hands and I thought back to what I'd read and remembered that RL Stine is a horrible writer.

Yet for all the book's beeguiling attempts at teaching science, I guess Stine skipped the chapter on how bees don't have voices, as Gary flies into the vacation offices and, utilizing the microphone, pleads for the receptionist to make Dirk give him back his body. The receptionist tells him to go back to the hive and wait. God, even in books for kids, receptionists are just the worst.

Gary spies Dirk's address and goes to see the Human-Dirk, who has of course been occupied by the bee Gary is occupying. Gary spots Bee-In-Dirk in Dirk's backyard, trying to lick the pollen from flowers. Bee-In-Dirk tries to kill Gary the bee and something something I am just so tired of this book.

Gary takes matters into his own hands, first by typing a message onto his computer. When that doesn't work, he flies into Dirk-In-Gary's ear and pleads for Dirk to give him back his body. It turns out Dirk-In-Gary can hear Gary just fine as some of the bee cells combined with DNA during the switch. Wow that is not even close to how science works. Dirk-In-Gary tells him to buzz off, as he's having the time of his life turning Gary from a pussy to a pussy magnet. Dirk-In-Gary reveals that he has even been giving skateboarding lessons to Judy and her friends down at the park. I've seen Kids and I know what that means. He has also beat up the three stooges who were always beating him up and befriended Claus the cat.

Gary is so frustrated that he flies back to the hive, rounds up all the bees, and leads a swarm into Dirk-In-Gary's bedroom. Dirk-In-Gary doesn't freak out like Gary wants him to so Gary makes the ultimate sacrifice by stinging Dirk-In-Gary on the nose. As soon as he does it, he remembers that bees die after using their stinger. Gary the bee falls to the floor and fades to black.

When Gary awakes he looks down at his body and sees his human form. As if the book weren't insulting enough, apparently when you die you return to your original form? It's not explained, though Gary does look up Dirk and he apologizes for hogging Gary's body. So I guess via the program you can just switch bodies with someone, kill them, and then you'll bee returned to your original body? Well, even then Person-To-Person Vacation's method is still a slightly better business model than AmWay.

But the Twist is:
Gary is adjusting to all the positive changes Dirk imprinted in his life, but he still takes time to stop and smell and taste the flowers with his tongue. Beecause he's still like a bee or something? Jesus, this book.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:

Questionable Parenting:
When her son can't unscrew a jar of peanut butter, she quips, "I guess you forgot to eat your oat bran this morning!" Zing?

Early 90s Cultural References:
Taco chips, MTV Buzz Bin, Buzz Beamer, Buzz Lightyear, Buzz McCalister


Minority Alert:
While bees may frighten, Stine still embraces WASPs.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 19/20:
Gary the bee grimaces as a dragonfly bites him in half. Well, actually, the dragonfly doesn't bite him in two, Gary the bee jumped to conclusions. Oh great, even the insects in these novels have an overactive imagination-- everyone but Stine apparently.

Great Prose Alert:
(Which is great beecause why did the bee include periods when typing the above?)

The book ends with Gary-In-Gary calmly releasing the swarm of bees from his bedroom, begging the question: Why isn't the book called Why I'm Not Afraid of Bees? Though an even better title might bee Don't Read Me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stop Clicking Refresh

I'm taking a well-deserved Goosebumps vacation this week. Bee sure to check in next Monday though for one of the most-requested titles-- you will all live to regret pestering me about that one.

Oh, and I hope you've all cleared you schedules next month so you can spend Spring Break With Slappy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Triple Header: Book 2

Goosebumps Triple Header: Book 2Back Tagline: It's One, Two, Three Times The Scares!
(Judges? *buzzer sound*)

Official Book Description:
It's the story of a fortune-teller and a magic spell so dangerous it will make you fear the future....
It's the story of two rotting Egyptian mummies with faces meant to scare you to death....
It's the story of a strange school filled with students who have monstrous appetites....

Brief Synopsis:
This book is structured very strangely. The three novellas, which each run around 50-55 pages in length, are preceded by excruciatingly unfunny intros given by a three-headed beast, the titular "Triple Header." Though written in play-script, no one is going to confuse this for Noel Coward with lines that are about as rib-tickling as an episode of Yes Dear:

SLIM: You're ugly and you smell bad.
RIGHTY: I know by good qualities. I asked you what's wrong with me!
LEFTY: Hey-- I smell a lot worse than he does!

Though the interstitial material is awful, it's of course the novellas that are of primary interest. Oh but don't worry, they suck too. But don't take my word for it, take my word for it:

Ghoul School
Liam Erdman is starting his first day at a new school. As he walks towards his desk, he can't help but notice that the other kids are a little different. His first hint is when one kid has solid green eyes. Then the girl in front of her starts licking the wall. Another kid eats and then regurgitates a stick of chalk. I'm not going to make the "He obviously walked into the Special Ed Classroom" joke, so don't bother waiting for it. His teacher, Ms. Barker, however seems normal, with her horrifying trait merely being a mousy disposition and schoolmarm-looks.

At lunch, Liam sits with a kid who outside of wearing a dog collar seems normal, until he starts barking like a -- yep, you guessed it, like a seal. Liam runs back to the Room 5 classroom and asks Ms. Barker why he's not popular enough to sit at the ghoul kids table. She calmly tells him that it's because his classmates are monsters. After all, Liam is enrolled in Ghoul School! Ms. Barker insists that Liam's parents were quite insistent that Liam be enrolled in this school and that if Liam wants to survive, he should not let on that he's not a monster. Ms. Barker then shoos Liam out of her classroom so she can finish her ham sandwich in peace.

Out in the recess yard, Liam briefly tries to mingle with the kids and almost gets his arm bitten off. He retreats back inside and tries to sneak back into the classroom, only to discover that he misheard Ms. Barker. She's not enjoying a ham sandwich, she's enjoying a hand sandwich.

After somehow surviving the rest of the school day, Liam tries to reason with his parents, but they insist that they specifically wanted him enrolled in that school because it was closer to the house. Liam's dad, an undercover cop, gives Liam a special silver "panic button" which he is use only in an emergency.

Back on the school-grounds the next morning, the ghouls crowd around Liam and force him to prove he's a monster by eating dirt. This makes Peanuts so much more terrifying now. Since he won't eat dirt, the kids insist he transform into his monster form. He musters up all his effort and:

The kids are incredulous to his portrayal and it looks like curtains for Liam until a wild-haired girl named Marnie breaks up the angry mob by dragging the boy away from the rest. Marnie tells the angry crowd that she's seen Liam's monster-form and that it was an award-winning transformation:

See, Marnie explains that Liam can't show his monster-form at will as he only transforms when the moon is full. Holy smokes, another werewolf!

Marnie arranges for everyone to meet the next day at midnight on the playground, when the moon will be full. Liam tries to get out of the engagement by arguing that he has an existing conflict at midnight, as that's when the scarecrow walks. One of the ghoul-kids tells Liam that if he doesn't show up, the rest of the ghouls are going to throw a party and eat his entire family. Liam is relieved that he won't have to go grocery shopping for the party but is obviously still a little uneasy about the rest. Marnie tells him that she thinks he's just like her, which he takes to mean another normal human.

During a science lecture, Liam gets passed a note from Marnie, telling him to meet her after class outside the grocery store. Liam sighs, as now there's no upside to the promised family-eating party.

Luckily, Marnie only asked him to meet her there because she lives in an apartment above the grocery store. She runs upstairs and comes back with a box of halloween costume parts. Liam spends the next day practicing applying the werewolf disguise and gets the process down to seven seconds.

Marnie meets him at the playground at midnight. Liam tries to keep his distance so he can turn around and chance, but the ghoul kids run after him and he attempts to apply his costume while running. He drops half of his parts and all that's left is a wig he puts on backwards and plastic fangs. The other kids laugh at him and then transform into horrible monsters with tentacles and wings. Liam figures this probably constitutes an emergency and pushes the panic button. Suddenly he hears the sound of a police siren. Dozens of cops swarm the monsters and begin shooting them with darts. As the cops haul the monster kids into the police vans, Liam's dad explains that the silver button was actually a microphone. Liam's dad secretly works for PUMS, the Police Undercover Monster Squad and thanks to Liam, the cops can finally shut down the monster school. Oh, now the story makes complete sense-- ON OPPOSITE DAY.

But the Twist is:
Liam stops an officer from handcuffing Marnie and Liam walks her back to her apartment. Once inside, Marnie stops to eat a fly and explains that she's like Liam in that she's shy. Marnie advances on Liam and the story ends with the strongest implication of impending underage sex I'm comfortable reading in a Goosebumps book.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Liam Erdman and Marnie, who appears halfway thru the novella.

Questionable Parenting:
Liam's dad sends his son unarmed into a school of monsters. It's not the school of monsters I object to, it's him sending his son to a place that doesn't and could never exist.

Early 90s Cultural References:

Great Prose Alert:
Rachel slimed my sneakers when I walked by her desk.

This is exactly why I should save judgments like "Least plausible Goosebumps book ever" for when I really need them.

the Revenge
Amelia and her friend Isaac are playing with her dog Fluffy, tossing a glow-in-the-dark ball back and forth. Cory Calder, the improbably-named school bully, breaks up the fun by accusing Amelia of squealing on him. He calls her "A-Squealia," but wait, that's not the most crushing blow he'll land. Cory picks up the dog's ball and throws it into the busiest street in town, leaving Amelia to watch in horror as her dog rushes towards the busy intersection. Holy

Fluffy survives and Amelia vows revenge. Amelia briefly thinks about telling the police-- why is it that characters in these books only think about calling the police when there's a dog involved? She eventually remembers that Isaac (Or "I-Sick" as Cory calls him-- this bully really needs some tutoring on his phonetics) told her about a fortune teller he had met who promised that for $100, she could teach anyone the secrets of astral-projection. Remember that list with "church" and "sorcerer" on it? Time to mark off "astral-projection." Amelia withdraws the contents of her savings account, which just happens to be $100, and heads to Madam Margo's.

Isaac waits for her outside while she trudges up to see the fortune teller. Margo greets her at the door. An enormously obese figure, the woman struggles to take a seat across a table from Amelia. After getting every prediction about her wrong, Margo finally guesses that she wants to learn the secret of astral-projection. Margo explains that Amelia can only use astral-projection for a sum total of one hour. Aw man, but Amelia is a big Van Morrison fan and wanted to go for a couple of weeks! Margo warns that if she stays out of her body for longer than an hour, she'll be trapped in the spirit world forever. However, she can split up the hour how ever she wants. Margo suggests six ten minute trips, the exact time needed to make one pass of an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Margot says a strange chant, counts Amelia's money and then kicks her out. Outside the fortune teller's, Cory hits Amelia with his bike, bloodying both her knees. He then runs over Isaac's foot while shouting, "Death to all white sneakers!" Who is this kid, George Wallace's nephew?

The next day at school, Amelia puts her plan into action. She hides in the janitor's closet and floats out of her body. Her ultimate revenge? She floats into Cory's science lab and messes with his dissection frog, flinging it at the teacher and then dropping it down the back of his shirt. I guess Amelia and I have different concepts of what $100 is worth.

Back in her body she sees that she still has 46 minutes left to torture Cory. After school, Cory is preparing to play The Big Basketball Game, so Amelia locks herself in a toilet stall and goes out to wreak some more havoc. Amelia has a pretty heavy task ahead of her: how can she top that excellent frog revenge? By tying Cory's shoelaces together! That's about even with him trying to kill her dog. She's having so much fun that she doesn't notice that her astral-wristwatch has astral-stopped working. Amelia rushes back into the bathroom and astral-glides back into her body. Out in the hall after the game, Amelia is disappointed that her revenges haven't rehabilitated Cory, as he beats Isaac up again. Gee, I can't imagine how that whole "Piss off the already pissed-off bully" plan failed.

That night, Amelia sneaks out of the house and crouches below Cory's bedroom window. Amelia only has ten more astral-minutes left, so she has to use them wisely. The way her revenges are going, I sure hope she can get the shallow bowl of warm water ready in that time. She decides that since she's already sort of like a ghost in astral-form, she'll pretend to be a ghost and scare Cory. Man, pretending to be a ghost, that's gotta stop him from being a bully! Before she can leave her body she's stopped by Fluffy, who followed her all the way to Cory's-- dogs in these books either disappear, bark at ghosts, or follow the protagonist so they can disappear or bark at a ghost. She hugs the dog then astral-ogies into Cory's bedroom. She tries to scare him awake but discovers nothing works. Unexpectedly he feels a hand grab her astral-wrist: It's Cory!

Cory tells her that his Aunt Margo told him about her visit and that he plans to keep her in his bedroom until it's too late for her to return to her body. I'll give Astral-Cory credit, he is truly the biggest asshole in Goosebumps history.

As Amelia counts down the last minute, Cory suddenly loosens his grip and howls out in pain. What's attacking Cory? Why, it's Astral-Fluffy. Amelia recalls that she was hugging Fluffy when she made like a Lynnfield Pioneer and ascended to the astral-plane. The dog distracts Cory long enough for her to jump back into her body just in the nick of time. Unfortunately for Fluffy, she never makes it back to her body, but it all works out okay. Cory doesn't bother Amelia or Isaac anymore since Astral-Fluffy keeps him in line.

But the Twist is:
No twist, astral or otherwise.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Amelia and Isaac, who disappears halfway thru the novella.

Questionable Teaching:
Cory's science teacher Mr. Stockwell lost an eye while in the military. I assume he calls in sick for the peripheral vision lesson.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Isaac and Amelia love a movie called Ghost Patrol, which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist, so, Imagination.

Great Prose Alert:
"Your name. It's coming to me. It starts with the letter 'B,' no 'S.'"

This derivative blend of Be Careful What You Wish For... and How I Learned to Fly is slight but cute-- I mean, if you're going to rip-off other Goosebumps books, you might as well steal from two of the best.

the Mummy With My Face
No. Not another Egypt story. Please "RL Stine," give us a continuation of anything else. A Shocker on the Street Over From Shock Street. Chicken Chicken Chicken. The Legend of The Legend of the Lost Legend. The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena Goes To Camp.

Eleven-year-old (!) Norm and his older sister Claire are on a super-boring tour of an Egyptian pyramid. Wait, Egypt, boring? Suspension of disbelief granted.

Their parents are in Egypt on business, leaving the two kids to wander Egypt by themselves. Naturally they get separated from the rest of the tour and meet up with a bearded Middle Eastern man wearing a long white robe. He introduces himself as Ari and invites the kids to another, much cooler pyramid. Both kids agree that this is a fine idea with a lot of merit, so they go off alone with the strange man into an empty dark building.

Ari tells them some stuff about the pyramid that sounds awfully close to the back story from Return of the Mummy, with ancient curses and the like. Once inside the dark of the pyramid, Ari disappears, leaving the kids to fend for themselves armed only with a torch. The kids walk into a room where a mummy comes to life and then they pull a secret lever and fall down a sloped shaft into another room with more mummies.

In the second room they spy a framed photo on the wall of the tomb, showing Norm's picture. The caption identifies Norm as the late boy king entombed within the pyramid. Then there's some more mummies and they find another room, this time with Claire's framed photo identifying her as an Egyptian princess. Neither kid bothers to question why an Egyptian family would create picture frames thousands of years before pictures existed, probably because they soon find themselves under attack from more mummies. Norm takes out his father's cell phone (!!), which was given to him in case of emergencies. He figures he's got nothing left to lose and sends the text message "LOVE" to 74456 to see who his soul mate is.

He's unable to get a signal but as soon as he flips opens the cell phone and tries dialing, the mummies halt their advance. With no other course of action left, Norm confuses mummies with bears and tells his sister to lay down on the ground and play dead.

Now comes one of the craziest literary smash cuts ever, as we're taken inside a control room within the pyramid, where Dr. Martez watches a video monitor quizzically as the two kids lie down. He asks Ari why they're behaving that way and he shrugs his shoulder. Suddenly a wave of mummies attacks the control room.

Cut back to the kids in the pyramid who are attacked by some more mummies and then the mummies stop.

Cut now to outside the pyramid as Ari and Dr. Martinez are being led away in handcuffs. It is revealed that their plan for an Egyptian-themed amusement park called Mummyland has failed. I can't imagine why, especially since so many amusement parks are found in a desert inside a pyramid and contain no rides or attractions or concession stands and also depend on robot mummies whose mechanisms get scrambled by cell phone signals. Also how and why did these two get photos of the kids to frame inside the pyramid?

The story ends as The Hardy Boys Claire and Norm have a good wholesome laugh about their adventure with their parents.

But the Twist is:
None, unless you count the horrifying realization that there exists a mummy-related Goosebumps 2000 book.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Siblings Norm and Claire, whose tour guide Ari disappears halfway into the novella.

Questionable Parenting:
Norm and Claire's parents obviously never taught their children any life skills. If a guy drove up in a van offering free candy to find his lost puppy, these two would be like, "Here, maybe it'd help to take off our clothes!"

Great Prose Alert:
"After this pyramid adventure, I need something totally boring!"
(I have just the cure, Norm: remember your pyramid adventure)

This is exactly why I should save judgments like "Least plausible Goosebumps book ever" for when I really need them.

Can you believe this is the 50th Goosebumps book I've written an entry for? Here's to 50 more-- but hopefully not much more than that.

Monday, February 04, 2008

#49 Vampire Breath

#49 Vampire Breath

Front Tagline: Open wide and say...mouthwash!
Back Tagline: He's a dentist's nightmare...

Official Book Description:
Tough. That's Freddy Martinez and his friend, Cara. They're not aftaid of anything. But that was before they went exploring in Freddy's basement. Before they found the secret room. Before they found the bottle of Vampire Breath.
Poor Freddy and Cara. They should have never opened that bottle of Vampire Breath. Because now there's a vampire in Freddy's basement. And he's very, very thirsty....

Brief Synopsis:
I'm not sure why by this point I thought it wouldn't, but this book about vampires begins with werewolves. Freddy is babysitting his neighbor Tyler and telling him a spooky story about how werewolves will come up behind you and breathe down your neck. Oh I get the subtext. Freddy climaxes his horrifying story by ruthlessly tickling the poor kid, which is weird enough if it wasn't for him following that action by turning to tickle his female best friend, Cara, who came over to keep Freddy company. The two wrestle around and then Freddy talks some more about how creepy werewolves are-- needless to say, he does not recap the events of the Werewolf of Fever Swamp to achieve this. As Freddy talks about the soft thud of the werewolf's feet, the kids hear a soft thud of footsteps from within the house. Is it a werewolf?!? Yes! The End.

But the Twist is:
It's not really a werewolf at all, but Tyler's parents, who narrowly miss their son's molestation at the hands of the babysitter.

Back at Freddy's house, he and Cara pass the time by playing some air hockey in the basement. Air hockey is not usually considered a full-contact sport, but someone forgot to tell these two and the game quickly devolves into an actual hockey match as the two kids punch and shove each other around the small room. Freddy pushes Cara into the wall and the two playfully wrestle each other for more pages than I was really comfortable reading. Eventually Cara accidently knocks over the large china cabinet, revealing a hidden door. Behind the door the two kids discover a dark tunnel. Reasoning that if you find a secret door leading to a secret tunnel in your basement, you're required to investigate where it leads, the two kids grab some flashlights and make their way down the damp stone tunnel.

At the end of the tunnel they find a small room holding an empty coffin. The coffin is lined in purple velvet and the kids figure they've found Prince's clubhouse. Freddy picks up a small glass bottle inside the coffin and the two kids struggle to read the label on the bottle: "Vampire Breath." The two kids fight over opening the glass bottle, leading them to drop the container. The bottle spills open, spewing out noxious smoke. Oh man, they busted Prince's bong!

As the smoke clears, the two kids spy a form inside the coffin: an old man! The bald ghoul blinks his eyes awake and slowly climbs out of the coffin. He announces that he's Count Nightwing, a prominent vampire, and he very thirsty. Oh man, Prince has resorted to roofie-ing old men now? How the mighty have fallen. The vampire chases the two kids down the tunnel, trapping them at the end when the entry door swings shut. Freddy figures ladies first and lets Count Nightwing attack his friend first, but Nightwing quickly recoils from Cara's neck after he realizes he doesn't have his fangs. Cara tells him not to worry, it happens to a lot of guys, but Count Nightwing gets furious and makes the kids help him look for the bottle of Vampire Breath they opened.

The Vampire Breath is a magical potion that brought Count Nightwing into the future from his own time, and if the kids help him find the bottle, he'll go back to his time and leave them alone. Yes, trusting the evil vampire, that's the right course of action kids. Eventually they find and open the bottle, but the two kids are more than a little miffed to discover that they've been brought back in time with Count Nightwing. Once the fumes fade away, Cara and Freddy find themselves in a large room inside what appears to be a castle. At the top of the high ceiling, yellow moonlight pours in, revealing dozens of coffins. Freddy and Cara hide in the shadows as dozens of vampires emerge from their coffins, turn into bats, and then fly out through the open windows.

The two kids try to escape, only to run into Count Nightwing, who is awfully sorry about transporting them back to his time. He tells the kids he'd be happy to help them by turning them into vampires. Freddy and Cara decline the generous offer, but Count Nightwing is insistent that the two help him find his bottle of Vampire Breath. See, the empty bottle was empty in 1996, but in 1896, it's full of Vampire Breath. Stephen Hawking, don't read this book.

Count Nightwing explains that every vampire must supplement their diet of blood with daily doses of Vampire Breath. A vampire's private dose of Vampire Breath is highly guarded and kept hidden from the other vampires, only Count Nightwing can't remember where he hid his bottle or his fangs. The count forces the kids to help him look around the castle for the potion. Freddy and Cara split from the count and reason that if they find his bottle of Vampire Breath first, they can use it to zap themselves Back To the Future-- hey, that reminds me of a certain 80's movie classic!

Cara has an even better idea: get the hell out of the vampire castle. Unfortunately, all of the windows are either too high or outfitted with black bars to prevent burglars from stealing valuable vampires. As the two kids walk through a vast dining room covered in dust, Cara gets an idea, and in what might be a first, it's actually fairly clever. Cara figures that since the vampires don't eat, they'd have no need for the kitchen, so they can hide out there and figure out their next move. Cara is quite insistent on not becoming a vampire:

"I'm only twelve," Cara moaned. "I'm not ready to die and then live forever!"

Which is also pretty clever-- this book's actually a lot better than it probably sounds in this summary.

Inside the kitchen, they spot a window without bars! Freddy jumps up on the ledge and prepares to jump out when he notices his feet are not making contact with the ground. He looks down and sees that the castle is built high atop a cliff. I know children have been taught to look both ways before crossing the street and not to take candy from strangers, but I think that we as a society have failed if our children need to be taught to look before jumping out of a window. Freddy is saved from falling to his death by a giant bat, who swoops him up back into the kitchen. The goddamn man bat transforms back into Count Nightwing, who chides the children on trying to escape and tells them to get back to work looking for his bottle. I'm sure all the kids of alcoholic parents got more scares out of this book than usual.

The kids keep checking room after room in the cavernous castle. Finally they come across another mausoleum lined with empty coffins-- except for one with its lid clamped firmly shut. Inside a hidden pocket in the coffin they find the bottle of Vampire Breath. A quick question here: Why are these magical glass bottles labeled at all?

Before they can make their escape, the two are stopped by a twelve-year-old girl with curly blonde hair. She introduces herself as Gwendolyn and explains that Count Nightwing and the other vampires keep her prisoner in the castle, forcing her to clean their coffins under the threat of turning her into a vampire. Gwendolyn leads the kids down a secret passageway in the castle so they can escape and be spared her ordeal. Once she gets the kids deep within the castle walls, the blonde girl reveals her fangs and attempts to feast on the two friends. Oh, she's like Kirsten Dunst in that movie, Marie Antoinette.

Before Gwendolyn can sink her teeth into Freddy's neck, Count Nightwing, the master of convenient timing, shows up and in one of the best scenes to ever happen in one of these books, the 12-year-old vampire girl and the old man vampire duke it out. Freddy and Cara quietly slink out of the passageway and find themselves in a supply closet loaded with empty bottles of Vampire Breath. Count Nightwing shows up (see?) and thanks the kids for reminding him where he hid his full bottle: among the empties in the closet. As Nightwing furiously searches for his bottle among the spent vessels, the two kids prove 2 fast 2 furious and find it first. But then Count Nightwing swipes it. But then Cara swipes it back and the two kids play Monkey in the Middle with the vampire. Their game goes back and forth over the vampire's head until Count Nightwing simply floats up in the air and grabs the bottle. Only that bottle too is empty, as Freddy made a switch.

Freddy opens the bottle of Vampire Breath and is relieved to see his air hockey table through the thinning smoke. He and Cara are however not relieved to see Count Nightwing came back with them. Nightwing pouts around the basement and complains that he still doesn't have his fangs and he'll starve to death without them. Just then, Freddy's parents barge down the basement stairs. Freddy tells them the old man is a real-life vampire. Before they can alert Pitchfork that they've indeed had quite the Vampire Weekend, Freddy's mom tells him to go upstairs to make a sandwich for himself and Cara, because

But the Twist is:
The vampire Count Nightwing is Freddy's grandfather, who was taking a nap. Freddy's mom tells the old man that his fangs are safe, floating in a glass in the secret basement bathroom-- how many secret rooms can one basement hide? Freddy is surprised that not only does he have a grandfather he never knew about, he has a vampire grandfather that his parents kept buried in a secret passageway behind the china cabinet.

But Apparently That Twist Wasn't Enough, Because the Next Twist is:
Freddy and Cara sneak off to the hidden basement bathroom and lock themselves inside. Before the reader is treated to more long, uncomfortable passages of the two wrestling and tickling each other, Cara discovers a bottle marked "Werewolf Sweat"-- Oh Lord, you just knew one werewolf passage wasn't going to be enough. Cara spills the bottle over the both of them and they begin to loudly growl, not unlike the sound I made after having what was a surprisingly good book spoiled by a completely ridiculous finale.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Cara and Freddy, who disappears out a window halfway through the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
I don't know what's worse: Hiding a vampire grandparent in a hidden chamber, or keeping the knowledge of another bathroom a secret in a crowded family house.

Minority Alert:
Our main characters are named Freddy Martinez and Cara Simonetti... the book's both well-written and features minorities? And to think people still question whether some of these titles were ghostwritten!

Alert the Authorities Alert:
"I'm a very good babysitter. I always know when to stop tickling."

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 12/13
Nothing came out of the bottle. All together now: Something came out of the bottle.

Great Prose Alert:
"Give me a break," the werewolf said.

Vampire Breath is without question the best-written book in this series in terms of prose, and the story itself isn't half bad either. I am convinced of two things: RL Stine didn't write this, and whoever did write this had their original ending replaced with the astonishingly inept finale recounted above. The ending to this book is almost obscenely at odds with what came before it. I feel sorry for whoever the poor writer was who had this taken away from them, but they can rest easy knowing that at least their name isn't associated with it. What are RL Stine's thoughts on the matter? He's very sorry but he can't come to the phone right now, he's too busy drinking orange juice on the deck of his yacht.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

And There Was Much Rejoicing

Blogger Beware now has a full set of Goosebumps 2000 books.
Take that, eBay.