Thursday, 30 October 2008

Teacher's Pet - Richie Tankersley Cusick

So, are you ready for….Teacher’s Pet?

I took a bit longer with my second post than I would have liked to, I blame TV. Particularly Dead Set, which is bloody brilliant.

So, the first half of this book is not terribly exciting, and is basically clumsy exposition and set up. Kate goes to a writer’s camp with her teacher (coooollll.) Supposedly, Kate is really good at writing horror stories – it’s too bad Kate couldn’t give Richie Tankersely Cusick a helping hand.

Kate is meant to be attending a number of seminars held by a legendary horror author called William Drew – but Billy D hasn’t turned up and nowhere knows where he is. Nobody’s too worried though, by all accounts this guy is kind of a douchebag.

At camp, Kate meets a whole host lovely and vaguely threatening characters, so readers can play the fun game of spot-the-killer. Point Horror books with this kind of blatant set-up are not my favourites. To throw the reader off the scent, the writer has to give us about 5 incredibly creepy characters who commit at least one horribly deranged act apiece, but 4 out of these will turn out to be perfectly innocent. Now, just because those other 4 potential psychos haven’t killed yet, it doesn’t mean they never will. Umm, I feel that I’ve lost my thread here – point is, characters are unrealistic and over the top. And surely we all turn to Point Horror for gritty realism and breathtakingly lifelike characterisations.

Anyway, the Teacher’s Pet creep count includes (in order of introduction):

The wonderfully named Pearce Cronan. His eyes are piercing and “black as smoke.” Hmmm, last time I checked , smoke was kind of a see through dirty white colour. Oh well. He’s the camp caretaker, and his family were the caretakers for the Drew family. Caretaking's what the Cronan's do, yo. His parents died with the Drew parents in one big smooshy car accident. Everything he says is crammed with pregnant pauses and delivered in a vaguely threatening manner. If you were to ask him the time he’d probably say something like ‘perhaps… is time….for….the sand of time in you hourglass of life and time… run out of time…..’ and then slip away into the shadows. You know, poetic shit like that.

Denzil Doyle – Denzil looks 13 but is 18. He’s also something of a sex pest, and there’s something very shrill about his character. Every time he had a line I’d instinctively clap my hands over my ears to block him out. If he was a cartoon character he’d be Artie Zipp (or is it Ziff?) from the Simpsons (my references are nothing if not current. And also accurate. Very, very accurate.)

Tawney is a beautiful but rather simple-minded girl. She’s basically written as a retard, which is something the other characters are terribly un-empathetic about, and they spend their time making cuckoo symbols at her behind her back and making her the butt of jokes that she has too many extra chromosomes to be able to understand.

Giedon Drewe – is teaching his brother’s class for him….. OMFG, typing out the name Gideon has just reminded me of something incredible – to go completely off track, when I was a kid I read this HILARIOUS series of books about a goose detective called Gideon who solved fairy tale crimes, like who pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall but in a really snarky way? Anyone with me? Man, I wish I was reading those goose detective books instead of Teacher’s Pet. Oh well, back to work.

Gideon Drewe – is teaching his brother’s class for him Gideon hates his brother, and to prove he's sensitive, he says stuff like, ““I love autumn, I love children and animals, and kindnesses make me cry.” Yeah? Well guess what I love? Punching nerds like you in the face is what. Gideon Drewe is as creepy as Pearce. In fact, the readings that I'm getting from their creep-o-meters are so similar that I found it nearly impossible to distinguish them from each other, except by, you know, reading their names.

A cat – this is a cat that has a knack for furrowing out hunks of meat. At one point, it kindly delivers Kate the gift that keeps on giving – a severed hand in a glove. What does Kate do? She freaks out and runs away. Then brings her friends back to look. Natch, when they get back both the cat and the severed hand have vamoosed. Well, I’m not surprised that the poor little puss decide not to hang around if a shriek of disgust was all the thanks he was going to get. That’s humans for you I guess.

Enough with the shoddy characters, on with the highly derivative plot! Kate and Tawney go skinny dipping, and someone steals their clothes and ummm, hangs around in a shadow with an axe. What’s so bad about that? I’m just chillin’ with my axe, don't be hatin'. I think this scene is supposed to ratchet up the tension. It only succeeded in ratcheting up my headache. BOO YA! Take that, Tankersely Cusick!

Kate finds a creepy old house in the woods, and meets the delightful Rowena. Rowena’s emo-ing around dressed in a black veil and long black dress and has a kanck for writing poetry that is just....awful. Here’s an example of her poetry: “scream, scream , trapped in a dream.” “Kate, Kate, doomed to your fate.” This understandably freaks Kate out as she is a) confused and worried as to how Rowena could know her name and b) appalled at the poor quality of Rowena’s poetry. Rowena also mentions a man who talks about Kate. This makes Rowena jealous and angrym, and I have a sneaking suspicion that making Rowena jealous and angry would be a Very Bad Thing. Hmmm, what creepy men do we know of who’ve displayed an unhealthy interest in Kate’s lovely young flesh?

So, like, OMG, Kate totally has a crush on Gideon yeah? Even though he’s, like her teacher yeah? And he takes her for a walk in the woods and pervs all over her and they get it on. When I say they get it on, you need to bear in mind that this is a Point Horror book and is thus limited to a fairly chaste kiss.

OK, now we’re in the mood for romance, I’m going to put on some music, lower the lights, and take a little break from telling the story to hit you with an innuendo I’ve plucked from earlier in the book and I’ve just been saving up for the right moment :

“Denzil skewered a fat marshmallow onto the end of her stick and gave her a wink.”

Phew, is it just me or is it getting kind of hot in here?

Onwards! Tawney, Kate and Denzil go food shopping and spot Pearce:

“I think he's handsome,” Tawney sighed, “even if he does make me feel creepy.”

And there, ladies and gentleman, is Point Horror in a nutshell.

Anyway, there are a bunch of clues and shit that point to William Drewe being dead and Pearce being his murderer, but the clues and the manner in which they’re discovered are just so boring and contrived that I’ll spare you that. Have another innuendo instead:
“’You’ll have… to pull,’ his breath choked out. ‘You’ll have – to – pull hard.”

Someone leaves messages written in blood for Kate In her cabin, Writing in blood? For realz? Didn’t people stop doing that in, like, the 70s? For sure the Amityville films should have killed that off. Pearce arrives and acts a bit threatening.

Gideon sends Kate off into a ‘writing assignment’ into the woods. Yeeehhhhh, a writing assignment, I’ve heard that one before. Pearce does his usual creepy appearing out of nowhere trick but this time…something actually happens. He gets caught in a steel man trap trap. And yes, the innuendo above does come from this scene, well spotted. Kate and Pearce bond, and Pearce basically tells her that he knows this trap was meant for her and she’s in danger. Before the rescue party arrives, they kiss. Nothing hotter than some steel man trap action, baby.

Incapable of staying out of trouble, Kate later ventures back into the man-trap axe murderer woods in search of the creepy house where she met even creepier Rowena, to try to find creepiest Gideon.

Oh man, she finds the house and I find the winner of the highly sought after Innuendo of the Book award:

“she lifted her hand….curled her fingers around the knob…”

*Ahem*, so Kate opens the door and inside it’s all black and crappy and it looks like a funeral parlour. Gideon’s there and he’s none too pleased to see Kate breaking and entering into his home. He tells her that Rowena is his sister….but she died a year ago. Kate tells him all about her little encounter with his dearly departed sister, and Gideon seems more than a little shaken by her revelations, chucking Kate out of the house.

The next night, there’s a Horror Hunt scheduled…like a scavenger hunt but more…horrific, I guess. Kate goes to visit Pearce in hospital, and eavesdrops on a conversation between him and Gideon about Rowena. From this conversation, the discerning reader can infer that there was a fire about a year or so ago in which William was burned a leetle bit and Rowena was burned to death. Gideon speculates that Rowena’s ghost has returned and killed William. Pearce, sensibly, thinks that’s sort of stupid.

Kate asks Pearce about Rowena, and he tells her that she was beautiful, but weird. At this point the book starts getting boring again with Kate and her little friends playing detective, blah blah blah, skip to the end….

Gideon tells Kate that Rowena was Pearce’s adopted sister but they were in love, gross, incest, and William was really mean to them about the whole kind-of-but-not-technically-incest-thing, so Rowena set fire to the house, presumably to try to kill William but only succeeded in killing herself.

Pearce admits to Kate and Gideon that Rowena really is alive, but her face is, like, all burnt off. More home truths revealed: Rowena was actually Gideon’s biological twin….his INSANE biological twin. Yes! This book suddenly got a hell of a lot better, it only took 178 pages. And Rowena did kill William, she chopped him up good.

Big climax: Kate’s cabin is set on fire. Gideon appears wearing a veil and spouting crazy Rowena-style shit about how if she can’t have Pearace noone else can either. Double yes!!! Gideon is, in fact, a mentalist, and is all dressed up like Rowena and is totally trying to kill Kate. And THEN the actual Rowena appears!! WTF?! And her hand is all hideous and rotting. And the Rowena-thing kind of switches back and forth between being crazy Gideon and being a zombie ghost thing. Kate passes out, possibly from sheer confusion.

Kate wakes up and Rowena has her tied spread-eagled to a four poster bed, I’m not sure if it’s Zombie Rowena or cross-dressing Rowena at this point, but who cares, either one’s a winner right? Rowena’s motivation for all her hate for Kate is jealousy that Pearce fancies her.

Umm, OK, and then the zombie-Rowena thing becomes PEARCE under the veil. And my mind is officially blown. I don’t mean that as a compliment, I am actually terribly confused. And Pearce-Rowena starts spraying gasoline everywhere and has kind of a confessional moment in which he reveals that Pearce started the fire (“we didn’t light it, we tried to fight it.”) all those years ago to kill William, not realising that Rowena was locked in a room, thus accidentally killing his kind-of-sister-ladylove. Haven’t we all, Pearce, haven't we all.

Jesus Christ, then GIDEON comes into the room (in his normal clothes) with the REAL ROWENA all dressed in black kind of propped in front of him, and he stops Pearce lighting the fire with the threat that he’ll kill Rowena again if he does. Pearce cuts and runs, and it’s actually TAWNEY dressed up as Rowena. Phew. I think that’s the last of the oh –it’s –her-no-it’s-really-him-no-it’s-that-other-dude-moment. Gideon is a good guy! Yay! And he's saved Kate's life! Double yay!

I’m not entirely sure my description makes any sense. I hope it does, but it’s not really my fault if it is nonsense, I didn’t have great source material to work with. And I’m so very very tired.

The end: Pearce is in the loony bin, turns out accidentally killing your sister/lover is a surefire way to send you nuts. Kate and Gideon share a little kiss, and Kate heads back home from camp.

The moral of the story is: man-traps are the perfect setting for sharing a first kiss with your psychotic cross dressing murderous love interest.

Phew, I’m really glad that’s over. Teacher’s Pet is NOT my favourite. I will admit that it gets pretty awesome towards the end but the first 150 pages or so are just so tedious.

Let’s hear what an Amazon reader thinks:

“Buy this book for your child. Don’t subject them to the garbage that you find in the ‘Goosebumps’ collection. This will help them grow into a person who appreciates literacy of all kinds. It has a good storyline and I honestly believe that this could be the greatest book ever written when considering the demograph (sic)”

Ooooh, did you hear that R.L. Stine? Did ya? She just said that your ghost-writers write rubbish, that’s smack talk if I ever I heard it.

Also, I honestly believe that this could be the worst book ever written when considering the demograph(ic), but I’m happy to agree to disagree. It kind of scares me that this comment was written by somebody of child bearing age.

I’m not sure which Point Horror I’ll be delving into next time…it kinds of depends what’s available at my library. I love browsing the kids’ and teenagers’ sections like a simpleton.

So I’ll be back soon with a mystery book, stay spooky.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Journey Begins - Twins by Caroline B Cooney.

OK, when I was (a bit) younger, I genuinely loved Point Horror books. I spent a lot of my money on Point Horror books. And when I say a lot of my money, I obviously mean that I spent a lot of my parents money. So here, I am re-reading them and recapping them. Will they live up to my expectations? I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘no’. And I’m setting myself up for a pretty major fall considering I’m starting with my ALL TIME FAVOURITE Point Horror: Twins by Caroline B. Cooney.

The book’s tagline is Twice The Evil. This is a good start to the book because it makes absolutely zero sense in the context of the story as there is only ever one evil twin, which sets you up nicely for the insane and nonsensical plot the rest of the book will follow. Also, is it just me or does the cover girl look kind of like a jazzed up Anne Frank? The Anne Frank-alikeness is actually vaguely relevant as this weighty tome's theme obliquely refers to how atrocities such as the holocaust could be allowed to happen. More on that later, history fans.

So, Mary Lee and Madrigal are twins – sorry, BEAUTIFUL twins. We kick off with their parents telling them that they’ve decided to separate them, and pack Mary Lee off to boarding school whilst Madrigal will stay at home ‘under their supervision,’ and the only contact the sisters will be able to have is by writing each other letters. Mary Lee thinks this is a retarded idea but Madrigal is pretty stoked to be getting rid of her stupid cry-baby sister. Madrigal already seems like kind of a bitch. Can you see where this is going yet?

Mary Lee gets to boarding school and just kind of lumps around feeling sorry for herself and not talking to anyone. Her Christmas vacation is really crappy because she finds out that Madrigal has a boyfriend, the wonderfully named Jon Pear, whereas nobody loves dumb old Mary Lee and she basically just feels like a worthless sack of shit.

Back at school everything is terrible again blah blah, until Madrigal announces she’s going to sneak away from their parents and come visit Mary Lee. Mary Lee is pretty sure that people seeing her with her twin will make her popular again, because beautiful twins are so great and everyone normally fawns all over them because they are so BEAUTIFUL.

Of course everyone loves Madrigal but Mary Lee is still a total drag so Mary Lee feels even worse than she did before. Her feelings of inferiority and jealousy are only compounded when they all go skiing and Madrigal rocks a HAWT outfit:

“Madrigal’s ski outfit was stunning. Jacket and pants looked as if they had begun life as a taffeta Christmas ball gown: darkly striking crimson and green plaids with black velvet trim and black boots.”

Yeah, whatever floats your boat Mary Lee.

Madrigal has a totally AMAZING idea: her and Mary Lee will swap outfits and pretend to be each other. That way, when they reveal the truth to all the others that evening everyone will love Mary Lee. I mean, it sounds like a good plan, I certainly can’t see any way that it might go disastrously wrong.

Madrigal gets dressed up like Mary Lee and gets onto one of those ski lift cable things by herself. The cable breaks and Madrigal dies. Oh shit. Everyone thinks Mary Lee is Madrigal and that she just has some kind of PTSD when she keeps telling everyone she’s Mary Lee. Her parents arrive and even they think Mary Lee is Madrigal, so she’s all what the hell, I’ll just go along with this. Again, what could possibly go wrong?

Let me just break in with a quick interlude at the end of Act 1 here. One of the things that Pont Horror books excel at is metaphors and similes, they are truly brilliant. Check this one out, from when Mary Lee is in the hospital and her roommates visit her: “Bianca and Maddy crept into the room like great big fashionable mice.” I love this. I had to stop reading for a few minutes to compose myself and just imagine ginormous hipster mice decked out in like rayban wayfarers and skinny jeans.

Anyhoo, Mary Lee-as-Madrigal heads back home. And starts worrying about what she’s done, and feeling guilty about being kind of narked off with Madrigal just before she died. Another great quote coming your way:

“Am I some sort of mental murderer, pushing my sister out of the ski lift with the hands of my hopes?”

The hands of my hopes, so poetic.

Mary Lee goes to school and meets the famous Jon Pear for the first time. Jon Pear is really a jerk with a terrible dress sense. He wears a silk vest for Christ’s sake. He is also “a combination of sweet and rough that had neither age nor gender.” Hmm, sounds kind of like Jimmy Cranky to me. Jimmy Cranky in a silk vest.

Yeah, Id totally hit that.

As well as the incredible sartorial statement that is a silk vest, Jon Pear also wears a vial around his neck that he uses to catch tears with. He catches one of Mary Lee’s tears in it and is all, oh chill out, I’m your twin now. This reading of the book was actually the first time that I caught the amazing symbolism of his name: PEAR = PAIR. Like a twin, right? I know, it is pretty well hidden so I’m not that surprised I didn’t catch that in my first 500 readings of this masterpiece.

Oh, there’s also this brother and sister called Van and Scarlett at the school who Mary Lee digs big time but whenever she tries to talk to them they get all mad and scared, and hint that Madrigal did something terrible to Scarlett.

Mary Lee decide that enough is enough and she should come clean to her parents. Unfortunately, she overhears them having a cosy little chat about how happy they are that the right twin died, and how it’s for the best and other completely awful and unrealistic things a parent would say if one of their children died. Obviously this messes with Mary Lee’s head a bit and she decides not to rock the boat.

By this point, Jon Pear has been built up as REALLY evil. There have been hints that him and Madrigal played some kind of ‘game’ and that it is going to be something truly DREADFUL and SHOCKING. Logically, Mary Lee decides to go along with whatever the game is so she can stop Jon Pear and make everyone at the school like her again. Yeah, that’s definitely how it works.

So Jon Pear and Mary Lee go cruising and JP chooses a girl they are going to ‘play’ with. Are you ready to HAVE YOUR MIND BLOWN with how EVIL this game is going to be? OK….they drive into the…CITY…and they make this chick get OUT THE CAR!!!! I KNOW!! IN THE CITY!! How could they do that???!!!! I have to share with you a few choices descriptions of said city:

“the safe part – joke; this was not a city with safe parts – was contained in a very small area. People drive into the city only on the raised highway, keeping themselves a story higher than the human debris below.”

HAHAHAHA A JOKE!!! Oh, I’m laughing but only because I’m so scared, because they are in a CITY! And this city is all about garbage, graffiti and homeless people. God, I really hate homeless people. Anyway, they pull up in a nice little spot where “shadows moved of their own accord and fallen trash crawled with rats” and “a gang in leather chains moved out of the shadows to see what was entering their territory” and Jon Pear makes Katy get out the car. Although I think Jon Pear would have more to worry about from the leather gang than Katy would ifyouknowwhatImean.

Katy is totally freaking out, and Madrigal is too because what Jon Pear has done is SO EVIL. Jon Pear just finds it funny. I think I’m with Jon Pear on this one. It turns out they did this same thing to Scarlett and she ended up in a mental ward for two weeks getting rid of visions of rats. God, this bit of the book annoys me now. I remember reading this when I was younger and thinking it was soooo scary so I’m pretty disappointed by how lame the evil secret is, I mean nobody even gets hassled or raped by the gang or anything. I feel kind of dumb for being so haunted by this book.

Jon Pear makes Mary Lee get out the car as well, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. He loves to watch chicks freak out. Mary Lee has a spaz attack because one RAT follows her down the street. Yes, a single rat. Jesus, get over it, the poor rat’s probably more scared of you than you are of it. The penny FINALLY drops for Mary Lee and she realises that Madrigal was probably a bit evil and that she should have the confidence to be herself blah blah.

Jon Pear lets both the girls back in the car and drives them back to school. We have a big expositional chat with Jon Pear where he reveals that he never actually DOES stuff, he’s all about the evil of just letting things happen, and to return to my Holocaust theme, I see some pretty nice parallels with the rise of Hitler and people standing by and letting terrible things happen and stuff here, but whatever, this whole theme is pretty shoehorned in to be honest and I doubt many of the books target readers got that. (Apart from me because I am a genius and I am also better than a twelve year old. No offence, twelve year olds, but you know it’s true.)

Next they end up back at the school and a bunch of kids are still there, and there’s some huge dramatic scene where Mary Lee reveals she really is Mary Lee and hates on Jon Pear and everyone is really glad that it was actually Madrigal who died (nice.)

So now Mary Lee tells her parents what really happened, and GUESS WHAT??!!! They knew Madrigal was evil all along, and they sent Mary Lee away to try to SAVE her!! LOL!!! And they knew it was really Madrigal who died anyway, like DUH!! But they just went along with it because they figured that after your identical twin dies, the best thing for your psyche would be to pretend to be said dead twin and then have to listen to your parents having whispered conversations about how glad they are you are dead!!!11!!! LOL!!111!! This is so dumb it actually makes my eye twitch. I remember being bothered by this even when I was just a stupid twelve year old kid. I mean, I am totally into suspension of disbelief and all that jazz, but it’s one thing when you apply that to big tentacle monsters living underneath a school and quite another when you look at the way the twins' parents behaved. Seriously, they should actually be locked up. I wish they would stop being fictional characters and come to life just so I could give them a stern telling off or something.

Oh, and then at the end there’s some winter fair thing with an ice rink and Jon Pear talks about how he and Madrigal once watched someone drown. Yeah, we get it Jon Pear, you love to watch. There are websites for that you know. A bunch of the high school kids decide to attack Jon Pear with icicles and then drown him. Mary Lee votes no to the ruthless murder, astutely pointing out that that would pretty much make them as bad as him. But then she gets distracted by a shiny button or something and Jon Pear is gone and there’s some kind of bloody mess under the ice. Mary Lee is kind of annoyed that her friends may have killed him, but then she’s all oh, whatever, at least I voted no. And then it ends. I’m not sure what the moral is here. Don’t be a twin? That’s probably pretty good advice, because if you are a twin, one of you is definitely going to be evil.

Honestly, I still love this book even though it is incredibly lame. It’s very creepy the whole way through and it reads pretty bleak, which is what I want from a teen horror book.

As a postscript, I was kind of curious to find out what other people though of Twins. One eager reviewer on Amazon describes it as “the best book of the century.” I have a funny feeling that somebody has only read one book this century. Another sharp minded reader comments that Carline B Cooney “makes a point of leaving a few issues unresolved at the end, which is an interesting concept for a book in my oppinion (sic), but i did like it and would recommend it.” Yeah, I’m really glad that Caroline B Cooney invented that amazing literary device of leaving a few issues unresolved. What would happen if this guy read, like, The Magus or something? I think his brain would actually explode.

Stick around, and if you're good I'll recap Teacher's Pet....."look what the cat dragged in..."