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Posts Tagged ‘R.L. Stine’

The Girl Who Cried Monster

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 29, 2011


Lucy Dark loves to tell stories about monsters. She especially loves to frighten her little brother, Randy, with them. When she sees the librarian, Mr. Mortman, change into a real monster, no one believes her. Worst of all, Mr. Mortman might know that Lucy saw him. Will she convince her parents that she’s telling the truth, before it’s too late?

The Girl Who Cried Monster is the eighth book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Stine’s take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf, its protagonist, Lucy, will have a hard time convincing her parents that the librarian is a monster, before he can eat her up to silence her.

This book stands out as the first book where the protagonist’s parents actually have a reason not to believe her. Of course, they’re still useless, but at least they have an excuse.

Lucy’s task isn’t easy: when she convinces her friend, Aaron, to come along with her so he can corroborate her story, he ends up having an appointment with an orthodontist, so he can’t come; when she tries to take a picture of Mr. Mortman in his monstrous form, the photo comes out very clear–but without Mr. Mortman in it; when she goes to his house to spy on him, he actually catches her at it.

The twist at the end of this one is actually very unexpected–I only noted one passage that could have been foreshadowing it, and even that may be just my imagination. Usually, the ‘twist’ in a Goosebumps book is basically just “and it turns out that the problem wasn’t solved, after all!” Yeah, that’s a great twist. Never could have seen that coming. In The Girl Who Cried Monster the twist is not only unexpected, it actually fits into the story. A rare treat, in these books.

The Girl Who Cried Monster is a good entry in the Goosebumps series. It doesn’t appear to be available for the Kindle, so this is another one you’ll have to pick up a paper copy of. With the abundance of used Goosebumps books available, though, that’s no great hardship.

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Night of the Living Dummy

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 26, 2011


Kris and Lindy Powell are twin sisters. They share not only their birthday, but also their room, their clothes–just about everything. It’s a blessing and a curse–they’re very close, but they can really irritate each other, too.

One day, when looking around next door, where a house is being build, Lindy finds a ventriloquist’s dummy among the garbage, and names it Slappy. As she practices and gets skilled with the dummy, Kris becomes jealous, wanting her own dummy. Their father finds one at a pawn show, very cheap–the owner of the shop seemed to be glad to be rid of it. Kris names her dummy Mr. Wood, and sets to practicing.

However, strange things start to happen with the dummies. They seem to be moving around when no one is looking, fighting with each other. When Lindy tries to demonstrate to Kris how to move Mr. Wood, the dummy says cruel things, and Lindy claims that she isn’t doing it–that the dummy is speaking for himself. Is it all just a practical joke? Or could Mr. Wood be… alive?

The seventh book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Night of the Living Dummy explores the classic ‘evil dummy’ story. It’s undoubtedly one of the most famous Goosebumps books, though, for my money, the best ventriloquist and evil dummy are Batman‘s Arnold Wesker and Scarface.

For much of Night of the Living Dummy, Kris isn’t sure whether Mr. Wood is really alive, or if Lindy is just pulling a prank on her. For some of the book, Lindy isn’t sure whether Mr. Wood is really alive, or if Kris is just pulling a prank on her. For the rest of the book, both of them are very sure that the dummy is alive, and are terrified of it.

Mr. Wood insists that Kris and Lindy will be his slaves, and that they must obey him, for he has ‘powers.’ He certainly has the power to be resilient–the girls are unable to pull or cut his head off, and it ultimately takes a steamroller to put him down. Of course, just when they think they’ve won, Slappy asks them whether they’ve finally gotten rid of ‘that other guy.’ The nightmare may be just beginning…

I don’t like the characterization in this one very well. Some of the things that Kris and Lindy did and said just stood out to me as unrealistic. For example, when Kris, previously quite jealous of and unhappy with her sister, is told that they might share the dummy, Stine writes:

“I don’t mind sharing,” [Kris] said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea.

This is just out of line with the way her character had been developed thus far. I think that Kris wouldn’t have been satisfied with sharing, and anyway the meek acceptance of the suggestion to share the dummy in this line just doesn’t feel right.

It’s not just Kris, though. Neither girl is very fully characterized, but when Kris learns that Lindy has just been playing a joke on her, she says that “it was too mean to be just a joke.” I agree–Kris was, more than once, in tears, terrified, and Lindy thought it was all a great joke? I’m not sure that I can believe Lindy is so unfeeling. The sisters are close, we are told. It’s a quite a stretch to believe that for their whole lives, Kris has never realized that Lindy is a cruel monster until it was revealed in this moment.

Night of the Living Dummy isn’t bad, but it’s got poor characterization, even for a Goosebumps book. The story’s okay, though, and as usual it’s a quick read. It’s probably worth reading once, or rereading for the sake of nostalgia. It’s available for the Kindle as Classic Goosebumps #1, so those who want Goosebumps ebooks can pick it up that way, or else get one of the abundant used copies–the world is fairly drowning in used Goosebumps books.

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Let’s Get Invisible!

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 24, 2011


Max’s birthday party was supposed to be held outdoors, but the sudden rain kept everyone inside. When he, Erin, and April are exploring Max’s attic while waiting on Erin’s mom to come pick Erin and April up, they stumble across a hidden room containing an old mirror. When the light atop the mirror is turned on, whoever is standing in front of it vanishes–turned invisible!

That’s strange enough, but when Max has been invisible for too long, he starts to feel odd, like the mirror is pulling him in. Could there be more to this mirror than meets (or doesn’t meet) the eye?

The sixth book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Let’s Get Invisible! offers a much more fantastical story than the previous book, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Max is concerned about whether the mirror is really safe, but his friends only seem interested in competing to see who can stay invisible the longest, and his little brother, Lefty, only wants to use it to pull pranks.

Let’s Get Invisible! is at least as well written as the previous book in the series, with a more interesting story. The characters didn’t grab me as well as Gabe and Sari in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, but they’re not bad–though I admit it took me a few pages to realize that the girl nicknamed ‘Mouse’ wasn’t the shy one. That’s what I get for making assumptions.

The idea of a world made up of our reflections–our ‘cold’ sides–is interesting, though it seems like, in Let’s Get Invisible!, those reflections only came into being the first time the light on the mirror was turned on. It was pretty obvious that there was going to be some kind of going-through-the mirror happening–the emphasis on Zack’s haircut being asymmetrical, and the presence of a left-handed character called Lefty are dead giveaways that the left-right distinction is going to be important. Though, I wonder, if they laid the mirror on the floor and stood on it, would their reflections come out upside-down? Nah, that’d just be stupid.

Let’s Get Invisible! is a good book, with a different kind of horror than the usual monsters-and-danger kind. It doesn’t seem to be available for the Kindle, but it’s not hard to get it used, so you can still read it, if you like. Give it a try!

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The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 24, 2011


Gabe’s family is on vacation in Egypt, seeing the pyramids, when his parents are unexpectedly called away on business. Rather than go with them to Alexandria, Gabe elects to stay with his uncle Ben, and Ben’s daughter, Sari. Ben is an archaeologist studying the pyramids, so Gabe gets to go inside the pyramids. Maybe he’ll discover a mummy, or some hidden treasure. Or maybe… hidden danger!

The fifth book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb follows Gabe and Sari as they have an adventure in a pyramid. Sari is always trying to scare Gabe, and he’s always falling for it, but might there be something worth being scared of?

This book is a little unusual in that there is almost nothing supernatural in the whole book. The danger is of getting lost in the pyramid and of being caught by Ahmed, who’s determined to ensure that the curse of the priestess Khala, his ancestor, is carried out–by mummifying any intruders.

I liked the characterization a little better than usual in this book. I think that Stine improved as he wrote more books in the series–it’s my impression, thus far, that the characters feel more real, and the writing improves generally, as the series progresses.

Some of the foreshadowing is a bit heavy-handed, though I suspect that this is done in order to accommodate younger readers. It’s very obvious, for example, that Gabe is going to be separated from his uncle and cousin by stopping to tie his shoe (actually, it happens twice), and Ahmed is introduced as a ‘weird guy’ who stares silently at the children.

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb has much more adventure than the previous books in the series–Gabe and Sari explore the pyramid together (a little) and escape from Ahmed’s kidnapping attempt, and Gabe falls through the floor into a hidden room full of scorpions and mummies.

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb provides a good mix of suspense and adventure, with just a touch of the supernatural. It’s a fun, quick read, and is available on the Kindle, as Classic Goosebumps #6, for horror fans that prefer bytes to pages.

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Say Cheese and Die!

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 23, 2011

Greg and his friends, bored, decide to explore the old Coffman house. It’s been abandoned for as long as they remember, in general disrepair, and a weird looking homeless man they call Spidey hangs out there.

In the basement, Greg discovers a camera hidden behind a secret panel. Though he knows he shouldn’t, he takes it. When he takes a picture of his friend, Michael, the developed photo shows Michael falling through the air. Moments after the photo is taken, the railing Michael had been leaning against breaks, and he falls to the basement floor. Can the camera take pictures of the future?

The fourth book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Say Cheese and Die! is a little different from the first three. Rather than focusing on a pair of protagonists, Say Cheese and Die! has a group of four: Greg, Michael, Doug (who they call Bird), and Shari.

The camera shows horrible futures in each picture it takes: Greg’s father’s new station wagon, totalled; Bird, lying on the baseball field, unconscious and hurt; and Shari–vanished!

Each of these things come true. Greg’s father is hurt badly in a car wreck, Bird is hit in the head by a baseball, and Shari disappears from her birthday party, without a trace. The police are unable to find any clues to what happened to her. Angry and frightened, Greg tears up the photos he took of Shari, photos which just show a tree in an empty yard.

Two hours later, Shari calls him. She tells him that she appeared in front of her house, about two hours ago. The last thing she remembered was being at her birthday party.

Could the camera be actually causing these evil things to happen? Greg is determined to return the camera to where he found it, and he and Shari go back to the Coffman house to do so. When they’ve done it, they’re confronted by Spidey, who tells them that his real name is Dr. Fritz Fredericks. His lab partner had invented the camera, and he, out of greed, stole it. His lab partner, though, was an expert at the dark arts, and cursed the camera, so that he couldn’t profit from it. Because of the camera, he lost everything, and he resolved to keep the camera safe and hidden, so he’d put it in the Coffman house.

Greg and Shari know too much, now, and Dr. Fredericks will not let them leave. There’s a struggle, and his picture is taken by the camera, shocking him into letting them escape. When he doesn’t seem to be chasing them, Greg and Shari double back to see what happened. They find him, as the photograph shows, dead–frightened to death by what the picture might show.

They put the camera back, then return home and call the police, who determine that Dr. Fredericks died of heart failure. Only Greg and Shari know what really happened. Unbeknownst to them, however, two bullies, Joey Ferris and Mickey Ward, saw them hide the camera. They retrieve it, take a picture, and wait to see what develops…

In terms of story, I think that Say Cheese and Die! is the best Goosebumps book so far. The characters are a little flat, but the camera and the trouble it causes were interesting enough to keep that from detracting from my enjoyment of the book. It’s definitely worth a read.

This one’s also available on Kindle, as Classic Goosebumps #8, so if ebooks are more your style, you’re in luck. Enjoy!

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Monster Blood

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 21, 2011


Evan’s father has been transferred to Atlanta, so Evan has to stay with his great-aunt Kathryn, while his parents look for a new house. His great-aunt is completely deaf, refuses to learn sign language or to lip-read, and is, in his father’s words, a bit weird.

It’s not all bad, though. When he takes his dog, Trigger, for a walk, he meets Andrea–Andy. She’s twelve, like him, and they share a sense of humor, so they become fast friends. While looking around a toy store, they find a can of ‘Monster Blood.’ It’s cold, stretchy, green, bouncy, glows in the dark, and seems to be growing larger. After trigger eats some, he grows bigger, too. Soon, Evan has more Monster Blood than he can handle, and seems almost… hungry.

Monster Blood is the third entry in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, and is reminiscent of The Blob. It must have proved popular, because it was followed up by several sequels, including the sixty-second and final Goosebumps book, Monster Blood IV.

When Evan first gets a look at the Monster Blood in the can, he’s a little disappointed. He’s had other stuff like it before, he says, called ‘Alien Stuff’ or ‘Yucky Glop,’ or something like that. He’s in no hurry to be rid of it, though, and he and Andy play around with it, tossing balls of it back and forth. One goes astray, and, before they can stop him, Trigger eats it. Evan is worried that the Monster Blood might be poisonous, but Trigger doesn’t show any ill effects, at least at first.

Soon, though, Trigger begins to grow. He outgrows his collar, first, and soon he’s nearly doubled in size. Evan takes him to a vet, who runs some tests, but assures Evan that Trigger seems to be very healthy, if not a little large. He promises to get back to Evan when the blood test results come back, so Evan leaves. Amid all this, two bullies–twins–called Rick and Tony Beymer have decided that Evan is their new favorite punching bag, harassing him and eventually beating him up.

Eventually, the Monster Blood has grown so that it can nearly fill a bathtub, and Evan and Andy decide they’ll have to take it back to the toy store they bought it from. When they arrive, though, the toy store has closed, and they’re left with no options.

Finally, they try sealing it in a garbage can at Evan’s great-aunt Kathryn’s house, but it escapes and begins to chase Evan and Andy. The Beymer twins, who’d stumbled across Andy, were swallowed up by the Monster Blood, and when great-aunt Kathryn opens her door, it chases her inside, too. When Evan and Andy race inside, they find Kathryn, about to be swallowed by the Monster Blood, insisting that she’d created it, and so she must die for it.

Unexpectedly, Kathryn’s black cat, Sarabeth, turns into a young woman–a witch, as it turns out. For twenty years, she’d made Kathryn her slave, making her deaf and forbidding her to read lips or learn sign language. When Evan came, she was afraid that she’d be revealed, so she forced Kathryn to cast a spell on the Monster Blood in order to rid herself of him.

With the help of the now pony-sized Trigger, Sarabeth is forced into the Monster Blood, devoured by her own creation. At this, the Monster Blood begins to shrink, and Trigger returns to normal size, too. Great-aunt Kathryn can hear again, Sarabeth’s spell on her being broken, and even the Beymer twins escape any harm more serious than a good scare. When they look, though, the Monster Blood is nowhere to be found…

Monster Blood is fairly entertaining, and the twist at the end is better integrated into the story than in the previous two Goosebumps books. I think that the prose is better in Monster Blood, too. The story of an all-consuming blob is a fun bit of classic horror, repackaged for kids. This one’s also available for the Kindle, as Classic Goosebumps #3, so give it a try, whether you prefer paper or electronic books.

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Stay Out of the Basement

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 20, 2011


Margaret’s father is a botanist, and until recently, he worked at PolyTech in California. Margaret isn’t sure why, but he was fired, and now he spends all his time in the basement, working on his plants. Margaret’s friend Diane says he’s a mad scientist, but those only exist in movies… right?

The second book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Stay Out of the Basement has a bit of a science fiction feel to it. When Margaret Brewer and her brother Casey sneak down into the basement, they see plants everywhere, and a machine that looks like phone booth, with wires everywhere, attached to another similar device. As their father later explains, he’s been trying to integrate animal DNA into plants.

Does this device make anyone else think of The Fly? Any good scifi fan would know how dangerous this setup is. It’s a pity Dr. Brewer isn’t so well-informed. Margaret notices her father beginning to exhibit some unusual behavior, and when his baseball cap is knocked off, see that he has leaves growing out of his head. He claims that it’s harmless, merely a side effect of his work, but Margaret isn’t so sure.

In some ways, this is superior to Welcome to Dead House. There’s much more constant suspense in this book, and the scifi elements are fun. It might not occur to kids, but the book raises some interesting ethical questions, too. If we can create plants that are nearly indistinguishable from humans, including how they speak and act (except for some minor quirks, like eating plant food), then can we really just treat them as plants? Dr. Brewer thinks so, and destroys the semi-human plants apparently without any concern. I’m not so sure.

Like Welcome to Dead House, the protagonists in Stay Out of the Basement are a twelve year old girl and her eleven year old brother, although the story is told in the third person rather than the first person this time. It’s limited to Margaret, though, so I’ll call this one another children’s book with a female protagonist. I wonder how common this was in the Goosebumps series. The Girl Who Cried Monster also has a female protagonist, as, I think, do One Day at Horrorland and The Ghost Next Door. I’ll tally them up at the end of my review series.

Stay Out of the Basement spends quite a bit of time focusing on the characters’ emotions, which I think is fantastic. We see how Margaret’s mother is saddened by her husband’s recent inattention, how Casey is concerned about why their father would lose his job, and, more importantly, how Margaret comes to be frightened of her father, as the book progresses. At last, when her father is advancing on her with an axe, and she is desperately clinging to the hope that he’s not a monster, all this really pays off.

The resolution of that scene is a little facile, but it might have been seen as too much for kids, to leave them wondering if Margaret has killed her father. The final scene, with a small, yellow flower claiming that it is Margaret’s real father, and begging her to help it, is odd. I guess that maybe it’s supposed to be funny, but for me, it just raises the same ethical questions I mentioned before. If that flower really believes that it is Margaret’s father, then what a horrible fate it’s been condemned to. I think it’s safe to assume that the flower isn’t really her father, but as far as the poor flower is concerned, it’s (he’s) narrowly escaped being killed and having his corpse burned while his daughter watches. Much more horrifying than what was intended, I guess.

I think that, overall, Welcome to Dead House was the better book, but Stay Out of the Basement is a solid entry in the Goosebumps series. It’s also available on the Kindle, as Classic Goosebumps #22, so if you’re looking for a fun, quick read for kids, you might consider picking up a copy.

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Welcome to Dead House

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 18, 2011


Amanda’s new house is spooky. Curtains seem to move, even when there’s no wind, whispers come from empty rooms, and Amanda is sure she’s seen people in her house who vanish when she tries to look for them. The house in Dark Falls was left to her father in his great-uncle Charles’s will. Although, he doesn’t remember having an Uncle Charles…

It’s not just the house, though–the whole town is spooky. The streets always seem empty, and when the sun comes out, the kids all run home. Still, a free house is a free house. Amanda’s brother, Josh, seems set against the house, and their dog, Petey, doesn’t like it much, either.

One night, while Amanda and Jason are looking for Petey in a cemetery, they discover an amphitheatre nearby, and learn a terrible secret about the town of Dark Falls.

Welcome to Dead House is the first book in the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine. Back in the nineties, these books took the world of children’s literature by storm, selling four million copies a month. According to the American Library Association, Goosebumps books were the fifteenth most frequently challenged books during the nineties, a list headed by the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. The series spawned a television adaptation, several games, and numerous other spin-offs.

Welcome to Dead House doesn’t pull any punches–it’s pretty harsh, for a children’s book. The beloved family dog, oftentimes immune to serious harm, is killed, and moreover becomes one of the undead inhabitants of Dark Falls. Amanda’s parents are just about to be killed, when they are rescued. The children of Dark Falls are pretty creepy, too, switching from friendly to menacing and back, leaving Amanda wondering if she’s just imagining things. It’s also worth mentioning that there aren’t any ‘friendly ghosts’ who are willing to protect or aid Amanda and Josh–even the friendliest of them are fully prepared to kill them and their parents.

As usual, in these kinds of stories, Amanda’s parents aren’t interested in hearing her complaints that there seem to be people in their new house, or that strange things are happening. On the one hand, you can’t really expect them to assume that the undead are wandering around. On the other hand, if my twelve year old daughter told me that she had seen a person hanging about in the house I had just moved into and hadn’t fully explored, I think I’d take her a bit more seriously.

It’s worth noting (though it’s clear from the rest of my review) that the main protagonist and POV character in this book is Amanda, a twelve year old girl. There’s no particular lack of children’s books featuring female protagonists, but it’s interesting that the first book in the Goosebumps series is among them.

Welcome to Dead House is a fairly strong start for the Goosebumps series, so it’s worth reading for children interested in horror stories, or grown-up fans of the series looking for some nostalgia. There’s a Kindle edition of this one available, as number 13 in the Classic Goosebumps series, so you can pick it up (along with, it seems, the rest of the Classic Goosebumps series) as an ebook, if you like.

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