Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Snowman – RL Stine

I chose The Snowman thinking it would be an extravaganza of Christmassy good cheer ...boy was I wrong. And I think this is one of the more popular Point Horrors but I’m almost certain I’ve never read it before, what can I say, I don’t follow the herd, I beat to the sound of my own drum and I am definitely not a sheeple (sheeple are the worst.)

Our illustrious heroine is Heather, an orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle. Heather absolutely HATES her uncle, in fact the book opens with Heather having a little fantasy about killing him. Of course, you think it’s real and you’re all, wow , there’s something actually happening in the first chapter, but then Stine does his usual thing and opens the next chapter with ‘oh, but it was just a dream.’ ANYWAY, this doesn’t exactly give me a great first impression of Heather. Although to be fair, her uncle is incredibly mean.

You know you’re just gagging to find out what Heather looks like, right? I aim to please:

“She knew she was pretty. Wither her golden hair, which she usually swept straight back into an off-centred ponytail, her creamy, pale skin and high cheekbones and her dark blue, almost violet eyes”

Hmm, sounds like Heather has a real boner for herself. Also, off centred ponytail??? That’s just a fancy way of saying SIDE PONY Right? Heather also just knows that she could be really popular if she wasn’t so shy and if her uncle let her do more stuff. And if she wasn’t such a miserable whining douche bag. OK, I made that last one up, but you know it makes sense yo.

Obviously, Heather has a boyfriend who adores her (Ben) and a less attractive best friend (Kim). As well as having a “horse, squeaky voice” (?!), Kim is “short and a little chunky” Every time Heather talks to Kim she has to make mention of her weird voice, eg: “her hoarse, scratchy voice sounded even more comical so early in the morning.” This hoarse voice business had better turn out to be highly relevant. I’m going to stake a guess right here that Kim is the killer and she was in some horrific accident/fire that damaged her vocal cords and was all Heather’s fault. She’s poss even a man in disguise? Haha, also Kim is always visiting Heather at work, where her boss is called...Mel. Well, I think we all know who RL Stine’s favourite sassy 80s pop twosome is now.

At work, Heather meets a boy who has pure white hair, hey, remember Eerie Inidana? I couldn’t find a picture of the grey haired kid but I’m sure some of you are with me on this one...right...anybody?

Anyway, this guy is imaginatively called Snowman, and “he had the most adorable cleft in his chin.” Chin cleft huh. Hey guys, remember chin clefts? You don’t really see chin clefts anymore do you. Anyway, despite the fact that Heather was making out with her boyfriend Ben like ten minutes ago and thinking about how much she loved him, she’s instantly all over this handsome white haired, be-clefted stranger and even agrees to go out with him on a date.

Of course, Heather doesn’t tell Ben about her hot date on Saturday night. She makes up some lame excuse, I quote “’We..uh…have to go visit these people.” That’s gold dust, I’m going to remember that one for myself.

I normally strongly veto irrelevant dream sequences from my recaps, but I have to include this one. Heather has a super creepy dream about going sledding with her uncle, and he’s all clinging on to her waist and they’re speeding through this “wet and ice hard snow”, speeding out of CONTROL, man, and I am flipping through my Lil Book of Freudiansisms in an absolute frenzy, this shit is HOT and oh, the dream climaxes with Heather killing her uncle. Phew. Did I mention Heather really hates her uncle?

Uncle James gives Heather shit about going on her date on Saturday but she doesn’t really care. Uncle James meets Snowman before the date and is ridiculously rude to him. Hehe, sweet old Uncle James, he’s so grouchy! He calls Snowman an albino and a mutt and basically laughs in his face. Snowman tells Heather that his dad is dead, but he was like Uncle James, only a lot worse.

On the date, Snowman freaks out in the car thinking that they’re being followed. But they’re not. That sure was exciting though. I think RL Stine is running out of ideas for suspenseful chapter breaks and he’s resorted to basically lying.

Oh, clumsy plot device alert: Heather has a good luck charm that her father left her. It’s a lighter. Hmmm, and this ‘novel’ is called The Snowman,. I wonder if this lighter will turn out to be an incredibly important clumsy plot device.

Snowman tells Heather how poor he is, so she agrees to pay for half the date. This guy is such a skeeze. The date is soooooooo amazing though and they like totally connect.

Monday morning at school Heather tries to find snowman at school but nobody has heard of him. And Ben has found out about Heather and Snowman because Uncle James told him, which okay I admit that is a pretty dickish thing to do. Heather’s really angry because she didn’t want Ben to find out, and she was only planning on going on one date with Snowman. Okay, I guess you could argue that that is equally dickish, being a dick probably runs in this family.

A sidenote, if you will forgive me. Heather kind of reminds me of Lauren Conrad (yes, I will happily admits to being disgustingly addicted to The Hills even though it’s no Laguna Beach), all Heather does is huff around feeling sorry for herself and listing the ways people have wronged her and all her conversations are about all the ‘drama’ in her life, she really couldn't give two hoots about anyone else.

So, Heather calls Ben and tells him she wants to go out with him AND Snowman, like he should be grateful, luckily Ben calls her on her bullshit and hangs up, way to go Heather.

Heather goes to meet Snowman at Swan Park and on her way, some mystery car starts following her again...she can’t see the driver, but Ben’s car is missing from his driveway. Gah, get over yourself Heather (people should use the word ‘gah’ more often)

Its super snowy at Swan Park and they build a snowman. Snowman takes Heather to a ‘secret place’. Why is there ALWAYS a secret place????!!!!!1111 This time, it’s a secluded clearing in a forest, what no haunted shack? Heather feels someone watching them. Heather and Snowman kiss ‘hungrily’.

Heather has Snowman round for dinner and Uncle James makes a bunch of digs at how much Snowman is eating. Like, this dude doesn’t even bother to pretend to be polite. I sorta like him. This is Uncle James’s big crescendo...

“Don’t get any serious ideas about her...because Heather is going to come into a great deal of money someday...And believe me , Burt or Bill, or whatever your name is, sh’es going to end up with someone from her own class. Not some white-haired freak whose mother can’t even put dinner on the table.”

Awww, hes protective, how sweet.

This is enough to make Snowman leave and Heather runs out after him. Snowman’s pretty calm, and he’s all chill out, it’s just words. Snowman says he has other problems – his little brother’s sick and needs an operation but they can’t afford the two thousand dollars. UH OH, looks like Uncle James was right. It starts out innocently enough with a plate of french fries here and splitting the bill on a date there but where does it all end. Naturally, Heather offers to lend him the money. Oh, Heather. Snowman protests etc etc but eventually he accepts it even though he acts all embarrassed and upset.

Ben visits Heather because he misses her (why) . Heather thinks about how she hasn’t seen or heard from Snowman in weeks and she doesn’t even have his telephone number, AND she’s never seen him in school. Oh honey, if you only had a brain.

Although, after work that day though, Snowman is waiting for her. He’s all happy and jubilant and when Heather asks why he’s like, ‘you did me a favour, I do you a favour, I killed your uncle for you.’ And Heather’s all UmmmMmmMMMm WTF. And I’m all, ‘FINALLY!! SOME MURDER.’

Snowman implies that he’s done quite a lot of murders in his time, and explains that he killed Uncle James by strangling him with the red scarf that he is now wearing, saying it will look like a heart attack. Yeah, because the police always get strangulations mixed up with heart attacks. Boy, you sure can tell that this book was written pre-CSI.

At home, sure enough there’s an ambulance parked outside and her dead uncle is lying on a gurney. Sure enough, the ambulance people think Uncle James had a heart attack. Umm, does he not have like massive strangly marks all over his neck or something?

Snowman acts all concerned to her aunt whilst secretly winking and nudging at Heather and Heather’s being all LC about it and just freaking out in her head but not saying anything out loud. I bet she’s letting one perfectly angled tear run down her cheek as we speak. I’d totally be like fuck it and just go all Mallory Knox and go on a killing spree, slaughtering innocent people with Woody Harrellson.

Heather angrily whispers to Snowman that he won’t get away with killing her uncle. You know what you could do instead Heather? Just call the police, I hear they’re pretty good at this sort of stuff. Being a Grade A psycho, Snowman genuinely doesn’t see that he did anything wrong. And he tells Heather that she totally can’t call the cops because he has the check she wrote him for two thousand dollars so it will look like she paid him for a hit. Of course he doesn’t really have a sick brother, so he isn’t going to cash the check but keep it as evidence. Mmmm, that isn’t exactly concrete evidence, I reckon I’d still take my chances with the police. Also, why on earth has Snowman bothered to set up this elaborate plan to kill Uncle James? I guess that’s just what psychos do.

Remember that car that was following Heather and Snowman? It pulls up into her driveway, and out jumps...the FBI! Of course they do. They question Heather about Snowman. Like an IDIOT she pretends not to know him beyond a passing encounter in her diner, even though she knows that the FBI car has been following them together. This is because she’s still scared he’ll use that stupid check as evidence. The big end chapter cliff-hanger is that they are looking for Snowman for murder...he killed his father....which would probably be more tense if it hadn’t been so heavily signposted throughout.

Now that Uncle James is dead, Heather has control over her money so she quits her job. Only, Snowman shows up. Sigh, that Snowman. He wants money, two thousand smackeroos will do. Heather stupidly gives him a check. (This book sure is full of checks...hey guys, remember checks? I don’t). Snowman whines a bit about how his dad used to beat him with a bicycle chain, gee this guy has a real chip on his shoulder.

Heather gets back together with Ben, at least until the next blackmailing psychopathic con man shows up I guess.

As a lovely surprise, Aunt Belle invites Snowman round for dinner. Heather is less than thrilled. Snowman wants more money, he promises to DEFINTELY disappear after getting the money this time – five thousand big ones in cash. They arrange to meet the next day by the bank. (hey guys, remember banks? I don’t).

Heather gives him the money and she’s all ‘phew, now he’s out of my hair forever’ although if I were Heather I wouldn’t be speaking too soon. Getting home, Heather discovers that Aunt Belle has rented the spare room out in the garage to...Snowman. Now that’s a DOH moment if ever I saw one.

Heather tells Ben the whole sorry story. Ben decides that they need to steal the un cashed check that Heather wrote out to the Snowman, so Heather will be free to go to the police/FBI without fear of being arrested*rolls eyes.*

So they creep into Snowman’s room together. Snowman’s there lying in wait for them with an iron tire jack (hey guys, remember iron tire jacks...oh, never mind) in his hand and wallops Ben before grabbing Heather and forcing her into his car. He takes her to Swan Park, to their ‘secret spot.’

Heather wakes up all tied together and wrapped up inside something hard and cold- A SNOWMAN!!! Yay, the end, Merry Christmas everyone!

Oh wait, there’s still a few more pages left, sigh.

This piece of prose struck me as particularly tense and thrilling:

“I’m a living mummy. A living snow mummy.
But not for long. Soon the air will be gone. Soon I’ll be a dead snow mummy.”

For some reason I had to type that out like six times because I kept writing money instead of mummy.

Oh yeah, remember that lighter that I guessed would turn out to be an important plot device? Well, what is more useful than your dead dad’s heirloom lighter when you’re trapped inside a snowman?! NOTHING you idiot, that’s the whole point! Heather burns her way through....and the real Snowman is standing there waiting for her. So Heather sets him on fire. Because he’s poor, his coat is probs made of some nasty super flammable synthetic material.

The police arrive and rescue Heather and put Snowman out, all thanks to Ben, who admits that he DID follow Heather on her date with Snowman, oh Ben you silly little stalker. Also, the check that was in Snowman’s shirt has luckily been burned up from Heather setting him on fire (I’m going to remember that one for the next time somebody tries to blackmail me.) Heather says she was cold with hatred but now she’s thawing?!?!?!? And this time it really IS the end.

Initial reaction: crushing disappointment that my speculation about Heather’s best friend Kim turning out to be the killer was wildly unfounded as Kim failed to even be a vaguely interesting or important character beyond her weird hoarse voice. But Snowman as the villain in a book called The Snowman just seemed..too obvious somehow, more fool me. Oh, also, I hate Heather. And I still don't really get why Snowman bothered to kill Uncle James in this first place.

But who cares about me, what do my lovely friends over at Amazon think?

"There are some good descriptions such as 'his dazzling white hair'. This makes you think about a snowman."

I can't disagree with that. Althoug to be fair, the reviewer does go on to suggest that perhaps Stine should hire a good ghost writer to 'help him along.' Hah, couldn't put it better myself.

Next time...I'm away for New Year in the back of beyond with no internet or phone access so I'll be back with you again in two weeks...have a spooky Christmas and a spine tingling New Year...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Yearbook - Peter Lerangis

I have massively mixed feelings about The Yearbook. I remember it as being absolutely insanely awesome, and it kind of is, but it also left me feeling sorta…empty. Maybe it’s because the front cover pretty much gives away everything of note that happens in the book:

I could just let you feast your eyes on the lovingly depicted tentacle monster and leave it there. But I won’t. That would be cruel.

The Yearbook holds the privileged distinction of being entirely narrated from a male point of view. I don’t know about you guys but I can’t think of any other Point Horror written from a guy’s point of view? It’s also contains little gems like this: “I saw Ariana beside me, flailing, borne on one thick, oozing tentacle.” Cough, cough.

Anyway, David Kallas lives in a town called Wetherby, and he’s our narrator, as well as being a genuine genius. Except he’s a really lame kind of genius who isn’t particularly good at anything. Perhaps solving tentacle monster based mysteries will be his forte? Fingers crossed!

Sex is mentioned directly on page 4. I guess that’s what you get when you let a seventeen year old guy take the lead position in a Point Horror book. David has a major hard on for a girl called Ariana Maas, who he’s working on the yearbook with. Sadly, Ariana has a boyfriend called Smut who’s also on the yearbook team, so David isn’t involved in any of the sex himself. What he is involved in is finding putrid corpses in a river next to a pipeline and not telling anybody about it.

Next day at school, everyone is buzzing with the news that some kid called Rick Arnold is missing and David spills about his gruesome corpsey find to Chief Hayes. Chief Hayes is, like, this big black dude who gets all teary eyed and tells the story of back in high school when him and his best friend Reggie Borden got bullied by racists, and then Reggie went missing. And then a bunch of other kids went missing and their corpses turned up, but not ol’ Reggie’s. Chief Hayes mentions some weird secret society that used to meet in the school’s basement and his suspicion that it was some sort of Klu Klax Klan thing (pretty heavy for a PH).

Sooooooo, who wants to hear some backstory? Sure you do! So, David and Ariana met when she saved him from a falling tree branch during a small earthquake (seriously). The last earthquake to hit Wetherby was 50 years ago – right around the time all those other kids went missing. Hmmmm.

Also – the yearbook team is advised by a teacher called Mr DeWaart, who is described thusly:

“Mr DeWaart was weird. No question. His nickname was Wartface, because of his last name and two large moles on his right cheek and left hand.”

RL Stine, are you READING this?? I hope you’re on the phone to your lawyers like, right NOW.

Anyway, Mr DeWaart holds a little party at his house (inappropriate much) and the students start competitively twisting cherry stems into knots with their tongues, and it is meant to be totally HOT when Ariana does it. I remember spending ages trying to teach myself how to do that when I was like eleven, now I guess I know where it came from. Thanks for the memories, Point Horror.

Anyhow, it’s David’s job to proofread the yearbook but he doesn’t really do it right, and all these nasty pictures of Rick Arnold’s corpse make their way into the book in place of the kids who didn’t show to have their pictures taken. Oh, and a bunch of the students also get crappy yet creepy poems written under their names basically warning them that they’re about to die. This is my favourite of the poems:

”Ed Lynan
Hates rhymin’
See ya, Ed.

Very beat.

Rick Arnold also has one of these very poems under his name, and, lest we forget, he is very much D.E.A.D. There’s an uproar, etc etc, the scene is set for some murder and I'm rubbing my grubby little hands together in delight.

Oh well, Rick Arnold is pretty much forgotten about as we move on (sorry, Rick). Mr DeWaald, and Smut, together with a few other elite students have a little club called The Delphic Society and they get together to have philosophical chats about things. It’s all very hush hush. Ariana isn’t too keen on it because some girl called Monique Flores is in the club and she has a crush on Smut. With a name like Monique Flores she certainly sounds like trouble. Kinda brings to mind this little minx:

David decides to find the Delphic Club’s top secret location and catch Smut and Monique macking so Ariana will be all his. He sees Smut with his arm around Monique and he’s all ‘yesssss, now I know for sure Smut is a cheat.’ Umm, David? I’m pretty sure that putting your arm around someone doesn’t count as cheating . Anyway, David then finds the club’s secret meeting place by going through a revolving bookcase thingamajig in the basement (how very Addams Family). There have been rumours about underground societies operating out of the basement circulating since at least the 50s, and this looks like a likely location for them.

Things start getting weird. There’s a crack in the floor of the secret room, and smoke’s billowing out and David suddenly starts chuckling without knowing why, and feeling weirdly powerful and like he wants to stay in this room forever and stuff. Then he blacks out, as usual.

Whilst blacked out, he has this weird dream about some kid called Mark who lives with his grandma because his parents were sick and now they’re missing, presumed dead.

Ariana finds David passed out. (what a turn on for her). She’s all hysterical, because she’s just found a corpse of her very own, stuffed into a pipe in some nearby construction works. The pair bond over their corpse finding abilities, and David thinks the following:

“I was already feeling better, until I started to laugh, which was like inviting Arnold Schwarzenegger to sit on my head.”

How 90s.

So, Ariana and David kiss until David goes and ruins everything by telling her about Smut and Monique. Ariana runs away in an angry tizzy, upset that David is basically spying on her life. Bah.

This time, David reports the corpse right away, It turns out it’s John. I haven’t bothered to mention him, so you’ll have to take my word for it that David and John were pretty tight, and David is upset by his death for at least a page or two. Chief Hayes tells David that this could be the work of a serial killer.

David and Ariana decide to put aside their argument and work together to figure out what’s going on. They go down to the secret room and find some kid called Jason trapped by this giant tentacle monster that’s emerging from the smoky crack, which incidentally has widened to the size of a ‘gash.’ (hee hee)

Yeah, I know, it happens completely out of the blue. They just…they just suddenly see this monster. I kind of feel like I haven’t given you enough of a build up or something, but then again that’s pretty much how I felt reading the book so I guess you’ll have to live with it or die trying.

David jumps in to try to save Jason, and there’s a really weird sequence where David’s in the hole and three old fashioned disembodied voices are talking to him, telling him that it isn’t yet ‘his time.’ He needs to ‘find out who we are’ first. The voices also tell him that he is ‘inside the Omphalos’ When he emerges from the hole, David’s hair is turned white by the experience, I guess that Peter Lerangis wrote that in so that he wouldn’t have to show David having any kind of emotional response to what’s happening.

OK, and before Jason died, David saw him with some tall black dude with a lumyp face who was supposedly called George Derbin. Putting his credentials as a genius to good use, David figures out that George Derbin must actually be – gasp – Reggie Borden. This is because George Derbin is an anagram of Reggie Borden, and ummm, they were both young, black and very tall. Good old anagram puzzles and racial profiling, working hand in hand to solve murders since ’94.

Since emerging from the hole, David has this weird lump on his head. Chief Hayes has a similar lump on his ankle from a strange encounter he once had with a singing group in the secret room, and he describes it as a calcium bump. Matching calcium bumps, how sweet, now I know what to ask for for Christmas. And George Derbin/Reggie Borden also has a lumpy face, which is another link between him and the tentacle business in the hole.

At home, David just happens to flick through some honeymoon pics of his mom and (dead) dad, and just happens to find a picture of them in Greece at the site of some ruin labelled as The Omphalos. His mom tells him it means belly button – the centre.

David dreams of that Mark kid again – this time Mark is 17 and he’s identifying his grandmas body in a morgue. His parents are still missing, so he’s going to have to be sent to be looked after by a foster family. We also get the big reveal in this dream that it’s 2016, whoaaaaa, it’s a FLASHFORWARD dream, I half expect the twist to be that the corpse he's indentifying actually belongs to John Locke ("Don't tell me what I can't do!".)

But it doesn't. And Mark’s going to be sent to Wetherby, to live with a guy called Walter Ojeda, a widower – UH OH, I don’t know about you but that name sure sounds like an anagram to me! An anagram of…murder. Oh wait, that totally doesn’t work, forget I said anything. Oh, and check this out, in a flashy example of the hi-tech future awaiting us, the police officer ‘faxes’ Mark a ‘holo’ of Walter. To recap, that’s a hologram picture sent by fax, nice one Lerangis, where can I purchase my shiny new holo-fax from?

David decides to figure out who two other crack voices are (with Reggie Borden being the third). So off he trots to the library to have a leaf through this book that basically documents everything that’s happened in Wetherby since 1683 or something, what a terribly useful book. He figures out they belong to Jonas Lyte, who went missing in 1862 and Anabelle Spicer, who was burned at the stake as a witch in 1686. Being a genius, David naturally also figures out that the dates follow a pattern – a pattern that is constantly halving itself. Gasp! And the tentacles monster is killing students based on their student numbers. Wow, I’ve never met a tentacle monster who loves maths as much as this one does. According to David’s calculations, the next victim will be – Ariana!

Are you still with me? Phew, the nonsensical nature of this book sure does make it difficult to recap. But I’ll struggle on, just for you, because you’re looking so pretty today. Have you lost weight? Your hair looks lovely by the way. And you smell divine.

David runs off in search of Ariana, but she’s gone to head off the Delphic Club… *sigh*, walking right into the trap. The Delphic Club are in the secret room chanting and wearing crazy Polyphonic Spree style robes, they also appear to be under some kind of spell. Mr. DeWaart is leading from the front, and David realises those aren’t warts at all..but..calcium lumps! WTF. And Mr. DeWaart admits that he works for the tentacle monster. My head hurts so much.

Ariana is in the crevice, trapped between some tentacles. David rushes over to save her, and blacks out once again, I can't exactly claim to be surprised.

In David’s dream world, Mark has moved to Walter’s house, and taken all his parents’ old boxes with him, he’s reading their papers for the first time. Both his parents had been very sick, and covered in tumours (or LUMPS) that weren’t cancerous but were out of control. If you don’t see where this is going yet then I really do worry for you.

David wakes up from his Mark dream, he’s on some weird yellowy floor beneath a column/tree trunk thing with three people sitting on one branch each – an older white man, a young white woman, and a teenage black man, all wearing special robes. It turns out he has worked out all their identities correctly as well. They call themselves priests and they’re pretty jokey and flippant, man the tone of this book is WEIRD.

David figures out that the tentacle monster wasn’t always in America, it originates from ancient Greece, and was the oracle at Delphi. Well, I must interject here to say I’m pretty well versed on my classics and before now I’ve never come across anything to suggest that the oracle at Delphi might be a giant tentacle monster. So bravo, Peter Lerangis, for your brave dedication to history, and to the truth.

The priests tell David and Ariana that they can only make one of them into a priest, the other has to be sacrificed, and they need to choose which one. But the little lovebirds refuse to let go of each other. It gets more smokey and things start exploding, and Jonas says that when the pain gets too great, and the growths become too much to endure, they’ll be back, because only the tentacle monster will be able to save them. But for now they’re free, I guess because love saved the day or some other nonsense.

Ariana and David are both covered in lumps all over their faces. The ledge comes into view, and Chief Hayes is there with the janitor, Mr Sarro, who’s drinking a can of coke. Accidentally spilling a drop of coke onto the monster wall, a chunk of the wall sizzles away. Don’t worry, this whole coke thing isn’t quite as clumsy as you think, Lerangis was at great pains to mention that Mr. Sarro is ALWAYS drinking a can of coke earlier in the book, so that’s OK then.

Since the monster feeds on calcium or is made of calcium or Jesus Christ who cares, and coke dissolves calcium then ummmm….hang on a minute, is it just me or am I LEARNING stuff here? If there’s one thing I hate it’s being tricked into learning stuff.

The gang stock up on coke (AND pepsi, just to be fair to all the major corporations I guess.) They spray it all over the tentacle beast and stuff like this happens:

“At the top of the tripod, the three priest were gyrating. Their movements were jerky and involuntary, as if cockroaches had crawled into their robes. Their eyes bulged, and their mouths seemed to be peeling backward, stretching across their faces.”

I know what you’re thinking – “wow, that sure sounds like a weird thing to happen, I wonder what our beloved characters reaction to it was?” Well, you’re in luck:

“Chief Hayes and Mr Sarro looked as if they were competing for widest mouth of the year.”

Then Chief Hayes covers it in gasoline and sets it on fire. David and Ariana run up onto a hill and watch Wetherby BURN, and they’re all, OMG, I hope some people survived.

That’s it for David, in the final chapter of the book we’re with Mark again. And he has just finished reading the very same book as us! Yes, Ariana and David are his parents. And Walter Odeja is actually Mr. DeWaart! Oh, Wartface! I’m sooo maddddd at you right now!

Mark quickly goes and finds the tentacle monster thing, and…his parents are there! They’re alive, he isn’t an orphan after all! Also there are Chief Hayes and Mr Sarro. And umm, they all hold hands to fight the monster, because it can only be destroyed, by like, love...or solidarity, or pepsi or something. The end.

Conclusion: What the hell just happened? I don’t think I can really say anything more than that. I guess that this book makes me feel like I’ve just suffered a major trauma to my head with a blunt instrument, but in a really good way.

Next time: The Snowman, by none other than old Wartface himself, RL 'I take all major credit cards’ Stine.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Trick Or Treat - Richie Tankersley Cusick

I’m being festive this week and going with Trick or Treat by RTC. Whaddya mean it’s not Halloween anymore? Chez Babysitter, it’s Halloween every day of the year.

Meet our heroine Martha. Martha likes sobbing and whining. Martha gets scared easily. Martha’s kind of a dickhead.

Martha’s dad has just married Connor’s mom, and Connor is just one year older than Martha. Connor is consistently lovely to Martha, and Martha consistently acts like a spoiled baby and treats him like shit because she thinks he’s a bit too thoughtful and weird. There’s also some weird sexual undercurrents bubbling under with these two, although that’s probably just me being mucky. I feel very protective of Connor.

Anyway, the whole happy family have just moved to a new town and a new house together, ‘The Old Bedford Place.’ Uh oh, you know when a house has a name like that that some bad shit has probably gone down there. Anyway, Martha hates the house because it’s scary and drafty and cold – like GHOSTLY cold, and she gets some weird vibes from it.

Within about five minutes of moving in, Martha’s dad and Sally swan off to Hawaii on honeymoon, leaving Martha and Connor home alone together. Nice parenting skills there.

On the first night, the ringing phone wakes Martha. The caller has a raspy voice (of course he does) and he’s all “look outside….Trick or Treat.” Outside her window is a hanging corpse with a big fat carving knife through its head. Umm, overkill much?
Oh, except it’s not a corpse. Shirtless Connor comes a –running to Martha’s screams and points out it’s just a scarecrow. Must be “kids” playing “pranks.” Kids eh? Those crazy murdering psychopath kids with their highly disturbing pranks, all a bit of harmless fun.

Martha and Connor drive into town together to buy picture hooks. In the hardware store, they meet a girl called Wynn and a guy called Blake, who are cousins. When Blake first sees Martha he looks pretty startled…almost as if he’d seen a ghost (hint hint). And when he hears that she’s living at ‘The Old Bedford Place,’ he’s double startled. Martha instantly has a crush on Blake, and once he has got over his initial reaction, the two flirt up a storm. Blake is like the school star, he’s amazing at everything and everybody loves him.

That night Martha goes for a walk in the houses’ grounds (which also includes a family cemetery bbs) and hears some crying and heavy breathing or something and gets scared, who cares.

At school the next day, Martha meets Greg – who is another cousin of Blake and Wynn. He’s also Martha’s creative writing teacher, and he looks soooooo similar to Blake that you know Martha’s a little hot for him. Oh sweet Jesus, does RTC actually have more than one plot line? If he also turns out to be an undercover police officer I’m going to kill myself.

Martha discovers that there was a murder at The Old Bedford Place, and together Connor and Martha discover the Bedford family mausoleum, which unsurprisingly, Martha isn’t too enamoured with. Later that night, Connor wakes Martha up to tell her that he can smell smoke – ohmigod mohmigod there’s a fire there’s a fire there’s a – tea towel on fire. And now Connor’s put it out. Oh. Well, that was exciting.

At school, Martha and Blake have lunch together. Blake tells Martha all about The Old Bedford Place. Turns out there was a murder there a year ago – almost EXACTLY a year ago, in fact, on Halloween. And the victim was one Elizabeth Bedford – Wynn’s best friend. Wynn even found the corpse (or what was left of it – frenzied stabbing attack, anyone?) in its bedroom – which is now Martha’s bedroom. The murderer was named Dennis, and he was Elizabeth’s ex boyfriend. In the months between their break up and Elizabeth’s death, he did all the usual stalker stuff, like make creepy phone calls, start small house fires etc. One more thing – Dennis himself has never been found. Gasp! They found his car and the knife but not a trace of Dennis.

That night, Connor and Martha discuss all this new information. Connor is a sweetie and even offers to switch bedrooms with Martha so she doesn’t have to sleep in the chamber of horrors. The phone rings again, and stupid old Martha answers it again. It’s the raspy voice again, this time it’s upped it’s game, saying “you’re dead Elizabeth. Trick or Treat.’ Umm, I'd choose treat I guess?

Martha hangs up and….the phone rings again. Relax, this time it’s Blake, and he invites her out for pizza with the ‘gang’: him, Wynn and Greg. Umm, I guess it’s cool for cousins to be close and all but isn’t it a weensy bit inappropriate for a teacher to be constantly hanging out with his students? Also, this is an example of the kind of thing that Greg says to Martha: “Martha, my newest and prettiest student, how’s life treating you at dear old Bedford?” And then he winks at her. Yeah yeah, put it back in your pants granddad. This guy kinda makes me want to wash in bleach.

They have a fine old time at the pizza place- and the guys reveal that they only didn’t invite Connor because Wynn has a maHOOsive crush on him and she refused to go along if he went. Martha reveals her absolute ignorance about the lovely Connor when she has to find out from Blake, who’s in his classes, that Connor is a genius, a regular walking encyclopaedia.

Back at home, before Connor lets her in Martha sees the shadow of someone moving about in her bedroom, yikes. Natch, when they go to check it out there’s nobody there.

Next day – Wynn confides in Martha that she can’t remember much from the (Halloween) night that Martha died – although she is convinced that Dennis didn’t do it, that there’s no way he was capable of murder. Also, Blake dated Elizabeth after she broke up with Dennis, which isn’t something Blake himself has ever mentioned to Martha. To make matters worse, supposedly Martha bears a strong resemblance to poor old dead Lizzie, hmmmm, and she just happens to also live in this girl’s bedroom, what a very strange coincidence. Why, if I wasn’t more trusting in RTC’s powers as an author, I’d say that sounds positively contrived.

Anyhoo, Martha has a crappy day at school and she ends up cutting class with Blake. He needs to go to a nearby town to gather decorations for the big Halloween dance – y’know the same Halloween dance that Elizabeth was brutally murdered directly after last year. Oh dear, anniversaries are never a good omen ion point horror books, ESPECIALLY if they happen to fall on Halloween. Things don’t look great for Martha.

So Blake takes Martha to a giant hay pile and it’s really romantic or something. They have this deep chat, Blake saying that he’s desperate to get away from the town and a basketball scholarship is his one big hope. Hmmm, you know who his one big rival for that scholarship was? Dennis. The Dennis who’s now missing after supposedly killing Blake’s girlfriend (my spell-check tells me that that ‘who’ should be a ‘whom’ but I REFUSE. Sorry, spell-check, it’s just against everything I believe in, I’m a strong advocate for poor grammar and syntax)

Blake’s about to kiss her but Martha goes and ruins it by mentioning his dead looky-likey girlfriend. Way to go, Martha. He pushes her away then denies that Martha really reminds him of Elizabeth beyond an initial superficial similarity. Everything is A-OK though, they make out again, and then gather the hay and pumpkins they need to take back to Bedford to use as decorations at the Halloween dance.

Back at the house, lovely Connor isn’t in. Martha sees something ‘floaty’ on the stairs and a silhouette inside her closet and gets herself all worked up, so worked up that she falls fast asleep. Once again, she is woken by a ringing phone. Once again, it’s the raspy voiced creep, who once again calls Martha ‘Elizabeth’ and once again signs off with ‘Trick or Treat.’ Okay, this raspy voiced guy needs to call me, I’m sure I could help him come up with some fresher material. I mean, I know serial killers and stalkers have certain rules of consistency they need to stick to, but that’s not to say they can’t spice things up a bit every now and again.

So, Connor finally arrives home, he had car trouble. He tries to calm Martha down but she’s a total bitch to him as usual. I really don’t get what her problem with Connor is. He even offered to swap rooms with her and take the horrible murder room for himself for God’s sake! Oy, won’t I have egg on my face if he turns out to to be the killer after all.

Martha finishes being a bitch and goes back to her room…and her closet door slowly creaks open…and Connor is standing there! Haha, go Connor! He figured out there’s a secret passageway running into Martha’s closet ( I guess she’s back in the murder room now. There’s a lot of dull bedroom yo-yoing but let’s just assume she’s always in the murder room) Martha kicks Connor in the shin and tells him she hates him. She also accuses him of being behind all the weird stuff that’s happened. In reply, Connor tells Martha that she knows nothing about him, and he totally shames her with all the stuff he knows about her. He totally called you out, Martha!

They kind of bond, Martha tells him all her fears. Connor tells her he feels the strange vibes in the house as well. He didn’t say anything before out of kindness, he didn’t want to make life any harder for Martha. I’m actually a little bit in love with Connor.

The next day, at school Wynn invites herself round to The Old Bedford Place for a study date- she feels like she needs to see the house where she found her best friend's corpse again. Really?! Is that absolutely necessary? Wynn hopes that going to the house will trigger her memories so she can know for sure that Dennis didn’t do it. All she remembers is the body and the blood.

Later, in the evening, Martha has to nip back into school to pick up a book before Connor picks her up. It’s deserted…but then…she hears a footstep. All the lights go out and the footsteps get louder and closer, “Martha’s eyes, wild with terror, were totally useless to her now.” I don’t know why I included that line, it just made me laugh but whatdoiknow.

Martha hides under some desks in a classroom, the footsteps guy follows her in, “her hand grappled with the knob” (hehehe) as she manages to run past him and escape, falling into Connor’s arms outside. The police don’t find anyone in the building, but Martha is pretty sure that somebody is trying to kill her.

Next night, Wynn comes to the murder house for a fun trip down memory lane. She tells Martha and Connor that the house has loads and loads of hidden tunnels. According to her, Dennis and Blake are also both aware of thse tunnels. Here’s what she remembers from the fateful Halloween one year ago: It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times (not really). The gist of it is – Blake and Elizabeth had an argument and Elizabeth went off with Dennis for a ‘chat.’ When Elizabeth hadn’t returned after an hour, Wynn, Greg and Blake went looking for her, and found her all smooshed up with a knife. Well, that was certainly worth it.

Night of the Halloween party (I’m sorta surprised they didn’t cancel it out of respect to the murdered but whatever) . Connor can’t go because he has the flu, but Martha is totally going even though she’s convinced there’s a killer on the loose who has a knife with her name on it. She dresses up like a gypsy. Blake picks her up and he’s death (how portentous), Greg is an executioner (double portentous) and Wynn is a witch (ummm).

Martha is loving the Halloween dance, until Wynn comes running up all panicky to tell Martha that she has just seen Dennis! Arggh! And then Martha gets a creepy (payphone) call again: “there’s no one home Elizabeth, it’s Halloween and they’re all dead” . Oh no, please don’t let Connor be hurt, what if Dennis reallly is alive and he's murdered him, arrrgghhh my tingly left arm and my clutchy heart. Oh, and the caller also throws in a ‘trick or treat.’

Martha, Wynn, Blake and Greg go racing back to Martha’s place to check on Connor. He’s fine. Not for long though. The lights go out and somehow everyone gets separated and Martha and Connor end up in Martha’s bedroom alone together being chased by someone with a swooshy knife that they keep swooshing around. Martha and Connor positively LEAP into the closet and run down the tunnel until they come to a storage closet. Their attacker starts a leetle fire outside the door and there’s nowhere to run (umm, not sure why they can’t just go back the way they came?). Luckily, Martha finds an extra secret double hidden tunnel behind some shelves and the pair follow it…ending up in….the mausoleum…dun dun dun. I totally guessed they would end up in the mausoleum as I was reading this, I award myself one hundred Awesome Points.

In the mausoleum, there’s a big ol’ altar shrine set up, complete with burning candles and decomposing corpse of Dennis. A tall black figure dressed as Death comes in and starts slashing at Connor, cutting him in the shoulder. Et tu, Blake? Only…it’s not Blake. We know this because Blake himself comes running in and tackles Death, who is actually…Wynn! Nice fake-out, RTC, I’ve certainly never seen you employ that device before.

Turns out Wynn really killed Elizabeth, and did all those creepy things in the months before her death. Reason? She was totally in love with Dennis. Wynn also accidentally killed Dennis, ooopsie daisy, she only meant to knock him out but I guess she doesn’t know her own strength. Oh well, these things happen, she shouldn’t beat herself up about it.

Wynn makes one more lunge for Martha with the knife but the police rock up and save the day. Connor’s going to be okay, and Martha even refers to him as her brother, aww, how sweet, all it took for Martha to like him was for Connor to sustain a near fatal injury whilst trying to save Martha’s life. Martha and Blake kiss in the mausoleum, of course they do. The end.

I’m left with a lot of questions at the end of this book. Like, are Martha and Connor’s parents ever going to come back? I have a sneaky suspicion that they have in fact run away to start a new life alone together. Also, I’m not sure if Wynn really had forgotten murdering Elizabeth or if that was just a fake out. This book was OK though, I just wish it had had some ghosts in it. It’s funny, you can really see the difference between the early ones (such as this), and the later ones where standards slipped and the writing became shoddier and shoddier. But it's weird, as the actual writing gets shoddier the books become more interesting as the writers are forced to dream up ever more implausible scenarios.

This book has got quite the following on Amazon, with particular praise being lavished on the ‘romance.’ Well, I guess this one really does have it all: undertones of incest, hay bale-based sexual tension and some potential hot student/teacher action (although sadly that promise was never realised - RTC, you’ve let me down, you’ve let your readers down, but most of all you’ve let yourself down.) A lot of people agreed with me and fell in love with Connor (hands off, he’s MINE), and at least one reader LUVED the book :

“i LUVED this book!!!! i was upset cuz she didnt like conor at all. i thoght it was really SWEET of conor(the nightmare part)i was dissappointed though cuz she still didnt like him after that. i luved conor.. he always tried to protect Martha..even wen he was close to dying. i read this book a bizzilion times n i still luv it. i'm glad that she went out w/blake...he was so sweet. i was soo surprised st the ending . this book got my heart pumping..its like i was Martha and i was experiencing the school part.. man i LUVED the book.”

This next review disturbs me slightly. A) because the reader is disproportionately angry at anybody who potentially dislikes the book, B) because I’m not sure that I like being called a crazy half wit and C) because there's something creepy about using then royal 'we' in a point horror book review.

“This book was a turn the page thriller! It was an on the edge of your seat til the finish kind of book. I don't know what some other people think, but if you dislike this book you must be crazy. It was full of suspense and mystery, and gave you that eerie felling that you are the person in the book. Any half wit can see that this book could have a high point in her career. This book has been written by the absolute master of suspense, horror and mystery in our books. We have read together 20 of her books. Just recently, Silent Stalker and Overdue. In our books she ranks number one, and her book deserves 5 stars and the honorable gold star”

Next time: I haven't settled on which book to do next, it's all up in the air and I have a couple to choose from. So I'll see you next time with a mystery recap, unless you die from the suspense first. (please don't die, I already have enough blood on my hands. )