Monday, May 27, 2013

Goosebumps Review: Monster Blood

It's a monster blood drive!
This is the first Goosebumps book I've been afraid to open. I must have read it a great load of times because it has a very well worn cover and pages. This book was one of my favorites of the original run of Goosebumps, and I regard it and its sequels very fondly. Actually throughout the first dozen or so books this was always my favorite. I love the premise, the characters, the writing, and what happens throughout. While never explicitly terrifying, the sci-fi and "magical" elements of the book are all really part of its appeal.

Monster Blood was released in September 1992, the same month of the release of the next book I'll review as well.

While the first book was a bit of a miss for me and the second was surprisingly good, this one hit the mark exactly. It is both very well done and never boring. Some elements of it could have been more concise and less hand-wavy, but the story works in general. I liked the idea of a mysterious substance ultimately ending up as both something harmful and truly unnerving. I mean, I can't even imagine what I would do or think if a substance I bought just starting growing and changing consistency without warning. I'd probably freak out and act much like these two kids did, plopping it into multiple containers and hoping for the best.

Anyway, the main characters are one of the strengths of this book. Andy and Evan are basically the stars of the book here and of the series as a whole. They pop back up in the next three sequels to Monster Blood, and are about as likable and amazing as protagonists can be in this series. They are believable as kids of twelve or so and work really well. Andy (Andrea) especially always worked well. The way all of what she's wearing is described every time she's shown really gave her a personality well beyond what any dialogue could. Sure, she's quirky and tomboyish and fun. And being able to give her that kind of character worked really well in establishing something about her beyond the mundane. Evan is also well established, being sarcastic and a little whiny, certainly not the perfect hero, but one who works in the book anyway. Kathryn, Sarabeth, the twins are also well done here even though they appear in none of the other books as far as I remember. Sarabeth works well as the villain without any reason or care. Kathryn, the great-aunt who doesn't care, is both intimidating and a question mark throughout the book. And the twins are the first real bullies we get to see in Goosebumps, a theme that will become more and more pronounced throughout the books.

I like that the protagonist is thrown into an awkward and foreign situation from the first page. I like how that leads to all of the problems. I guess I should tell the plot? I don't know. It's simple. So, Evan Ross is left with his great-aunt as his parents try to find a house in another state. Evan is alone with her, she's deaf and refuses to learn any real way of communication. Evan brings his dog Trigger as well. Eventually he meets Andy and they strike a friendship up. They go to an old toy store, buy some Monster Blood "SURPRISING MIRACLE SUBSTANCE," and begin playing around with it. It's just some bouncing goo at first, but after a day seems to become sticky and awful, growing and changing as time goes by. Evan's dog eats some of it, which can't be healthy, and starts growing himself too! Well, this can't do. Andy and Evan try to figure out what to do, only to learn that the Monster Blood is seemingly hungry as well, pulling things inside of it. As it grows, it finally gets out of its containment and goes after them, reaching a final confrontation where Evan's great-aunt's cat, Sarabeth, is the mastermind of a spell put on the Monster Blood and is looking to murder the children because "they know too much" even though they really don't know anything and probably wouldn't know a single thing if this cat-lady had just not been evil and ready to murder them. You know? Hospitality among cat-ladies is really awful today. Well, she ends up being eaten up by the Monster Blood and disappears for... reasons. And everything's good after that. Yup. Obviously there will never be a single sequel to this because it was all a spell by a lady who no longer exists. Right?



Well, we'll wait to answer that until book 18.

Specifically that book.

I wonder why...

So, yeah, the book works pretty well at being coherent and quick, but surprisingly well put together too. The characters are so good here and the plot isn't too shabby either. Out of the first three books this is easily my favorite. It explores heavy subjects as well, just like the first two tried to do. Moving seems to be a surprisingly common theme, mostly because there are certainly people who have to move around, and, for a child, it must be difficult to cope with those moves. The fear and terror of moving and dealing with it is kind of within the books as well, the plot basically reinterpreting what it means to move to somewhere new. Or maybe that's just me over-thinking things.

This book takes on the subtheme of bullying and what that means much like how Welcome to Dead House deals with what moving to a new town does to a young kid. Evan and his family are also moving, but the move to a new place is never important to Evan like it was to Amanda in Welcome to Dead House. Hell, he hardly mentions it at all besides stating that's what's going to happen. The bullying though is a pretty main theme, with the twins not only bullying and hurting Evan, but also doing the same to Andy, nearing concussing her against a sidewalk while they steal her bike for a joyride. There is something sickening about the characters of the twins. Their utter inhumanity and eventual cowardice really say a great deal about bullying in general. I think this subtheme is wonderful and really shows a clear difference between those who are picked on and those who do the picking. The most shocking thing is when Andy is hurt. But almost as shocking is Evan being beaten to a pulp by them. Yes, I know Monster Blood's main plot has literally nothing to do with this theme, but I think it's way too important not to discuss. The kids reading these books would almost surely identify with the victims (I may be profiling here, but seriously, I used to be one of those kids, I think I have a good idea about this.), and see the bullies as awful people. I guess I like how it's handled. I like how Evan deals with it. And I like how the bullies get their comeuppance.

Monster Blood. Well, I don't really know how four (five?) books are made about this substance. This could have been a standalone book, and I would have been fine with that. I hate to admit this, but my memory of the other Monster Blood books is pretty spotty. While I remember this book well, and perhaps the beginning of the second book too, none of the others have stuck in my mind at all. I assume because they are simply not as... uh... not as good as this one. Then again I might eat my words when I get to them. We'll see...

I liked this book a great deal as a kid. It was one of my favorites in general of the series, like I mentioned, but it also had some of the more memorable moments of the books. I really liked the characters, Evan's sense of abandonment, and the friendship between Andy and Evan. Those things all worked so well here, and Monster Blood makes other books pale in comparison to its absolute brilliance at times. There is a great deal to praise here, and I do wish that every book could be this good. Well, there are some things to mention, mostly small things, but...

Okay, so one of my big questions: Why does the old toy shop close up inexplicably? I'm not sure I understand that detail. It had obviously been open for a very long time, then suddenly the owner sells the Monster Blood to Evan and closes shop? Was he not doing a good business? Did he die? I mean, as far as we know the Monster Blood's properties were specifically created by Sarabeth because she's a witch or something. So, did she kill the proprietor because she wanted to trick Evan? Or am I seriously missing something here? I just have no real answer. I guess it could have been a coincidence, but in horror like this I don't believe in coincidences. So, it's a problem that doesn't wrap up nicely or easily.

This is also the first cover that really has nothing to do with the contents within. Look at that book cover by Tim Jacobus. That never happens in the book. I have no idea if any of the characters even wear glasses. I don't think any do. So, unlike Stay Out of the Basement where that scene could have happened because plant-dad did happen or Welcome to Dead House where the house did exist, this cover never actually happens. It always struck me as odd, but I know things like this happen all the time. I'll continue to pay attention to covers and talk details. None of the covers have been particularly striking yet, but some are certainly brilliant eventually (or really baffling), and I'll be sure to speak about them at length when they come.

So, the last thing I want to speak of is a relationship between characters. Evan and Andy seriously have one of the best relationships in any of the Goosebumps books or series. I have no idea why, but their friendship works incredibly well. I'm pretty sure back when I was twelve I might have acted similarly to girls I liked. Or liked if that should be highlighted. Anyway, I like their dynamics and am looking forward to the other books with them together.

This book gets a good rating from me. It's a great read for an older or younger person to read. It works well even if some questions are left lingering in your mind. It doesn't really easily set up a sequel, but I can understand how this book became popular enough to warrant some when only one other book in the first ten books of the series did (The Night of the Living Dummy) (I have no idea if there are other more recent sequels now though.). Anyway, I highly recommend this one, and I look forward to more.

The next book up is the sequel to the first Fear Street review I did, Cheerleaders: The Second Evil.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fear Street Review: Cheerleaders: The First Evil

When the cheers turn to screams...
"Give me a D-I-E!"

So, here we are at our first R. L. Stine teenage book released in August 1992 called Cheerleaders: The First Evil. Unlike the Goosebumps books these really weren't for kids at all. Now, that didn't stop me from reading them when I was very young, but it is a fact. These are pretty creepy even for an adult to read. They are not baby books for babies, but I don't think any of these R. L. Stine books are. They all have that little special piece of horror that most books, especially those made and written for kids and teenagers, seem to be missing. And how ballsy must it have been for R. L. Stine to actually write these books for teenagers at all? I mean, look at the teenage books that are popular today- supernatural romance, vampires, werewolves, supernatural romance, fantasy romance, romance, and maybe a little fantasy for the adventurous. But that's about it. You don't get horror books written for teenage audiences anymore, and certainly not horror books for teenage girls starring teenage girls! That's insane! That's just crazy!

And yet here it is- a book that involves no romance elements written for teenagers- specifically teenage girls- that is good in every way. Well, saying this book is good is underplaying the quality. It is an excellent book, standing up to my memory in every single way. I remember this being one of the best R. L. Stine books and series around, and it certainly didn't disappoint me thus far.

I know that a story centered around cheerleaders seems like it would probably make a pretty uninteresting book, but it really works amazingly well. One can relate to the characters, the situation therein, and the emotions. The horror, very vague for most of the book- more similar to paranoia and regular high school drama than actual horror- really hits a stride that I haven't seen equaled in many other horror books at all.

"When you jump up, everyone can see your underpants."

The story begins in such an innocuous way and goes to very dark places. It begins in an almost typical Goosebumps fashion- a prank set upon a younger sibling. The lead character, Bobbi, and her sister, Corky, set up a prank on their younger brother. They plan to scare him with a fake rat, succeed, and enjoy the evil of their deed. This works so well at establishing their characters. They become strong from the get-go, each with her own personality, and each with her own establishing moment. Corky is the younger one, in Bobbi's shadow more than likely, but not caring all that much about it. Bobbi is the perfect one, the more mischievous one, and the one who the story follows around. They are both new to the town of Shadyside (where the Fear Street books take place) and are looking to try out for the cheerleading squad even though it's a bit late in the season for that. But they're good, and it shows. They're given a chance, and the story kicks off.

Is it about cheerleading though? No, not really. You could substitute any high school activity into here and get the same results. Drama club, football, chess club, etc. It doesn't really matter since high school kids will be themselves in the end. The cheerleading squad works well though because of what they have to do, because of the trust they need to have, and because of the utterly non-horrific imagery associated with cheerleaders.

"Jennifer's startled scream was drowned out by the squeal of the skidding tires.
By the crunch of metal.
By the shatter of glass." 

The sisters are allowed onto the squad to their elation because of their obvious talent. The problem is that things go wrong quickly. Kimmy, one of the cheerleaders, does not like the sisters at all and seems bent on turning the other girls against them. Jennifer, the captain, seems able to keep everybody together- but then an accident. The bus they are traveling on to get to a game crashes, Jennifer gets hurt, so much so that she is thought dead, fallen on top of the tombstone of "SARAH FEAR." She awakens, but is paralyzed, and a new captain is to be chosen.

The book has a limited third person narration. It follows around certain characters' thoughts. Though it mostly focuses on Bobbi's own thoughts, Corky's, Kimmy's, and Jennifer's are also seen. While Bobbi is the main character, it becomes very obvious that the whole plot is much larger than her. Corky is largely forgotten in the background, just another girl in the shadows as Bobbi's teenage life goes through its moments. A boy, Chip (the football quarterback himself no less!), asks Bobbi out, she is chosen as the new cheerleading captain, and everything seems to be going her way.

And yet...

And yet.

"Everyone is watching me, Kimmy thought, forcing back the loud sobs that pushed at her throat. Everyone is feeling sorry for me."

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how right it gets the teenage mentality. Everything is in the moment. Each thought is hectic and pumped up and ultra-emotional. Both Bobbi and Kimmy act in emotional manners, both lashing out because of jealousy or anger or a million other little emotions that they cannot hide. This book gets it so right though. It hits that pitch-perfect feel of teenage and high school life. I can remember going to high school football games with my girlfriend at the time, watching the cheerleaders, feeling the charged atmosphere, and hearing the noise throughout the bleachers. And R. L. Stine captures that atmosphere perfectly, right down to every little description. The teenage life reminds me of those teenagers I used to know and those that are left behind in my memory- and it works- it works so well that it's scary.

I think that's the point really.

"He's dead, she thought.
It was so silent in the stadium. So unearthly silent.
We're all dead. All."

The narrative keeps going as Bobbi's new "boyfriend" freezes during a game. This comes back as she later freezes as well while trying (unsuccessfully) to catch a girl during a routine. And this all happens as her relationship is straining with the other girls on the squad, even her own sister. It seems like only Jennifer seems to have any time for Bobbi, but even that is- strange. Bobbi keeps seeing and sensing odd things. First some lockers seem to shut on their own, then she freezes and is completely unable to move, and then, finally, she sees a paralyzed Jennifer, in silhouette, seem to stride across her window.

This seems impossible, but she feels the need to believe her own senses. She tell Corky who thinks she's cracking, and they leave each other to sleep, both angry at the other.

"'Help me! I can't- breathe!'
She closed her eyes and covered her ears.
The roar didn't go away.
The pain didn't go away.
The roar grew louder.
Then all was silence."

The twist in this tale is that Bobbi, our lead, is the one to die. She dies, or is killed, in an incredibly gruesome fashion, drowning and being scalded to death all at once in the girl's locker room. This has always stuck in my mind as one of the creepiest and most descriptive deaths I read about in my early life. I can't say I enjoyed it, but the artistry and the writing are just so incredibly well done. To write a death that has stuck with me for well over a decade has to mean something. I always remembered this scene, was even looking forward to it in a sick kind of way.

I can't seem to remember a single other death in an R. L. Stine book, but this one sticks out so vividly, perhaps because of the twist that Bobbi was never the main character, she was never the one we were supposed to be following, and she was nothing more than a false protagonist. And something about that shattered the illusions that I had always known in my young mind. I no longer could trust the narrative or the author. I was tricked into a false sense of security. Surely nothing could happen to the lead character, nothing bad could befall that character, that would be silly.

And when something bad did befall Bobbi, I found myself a little shattered. I was shocked and upset. I didn't understand how this could happen. And I realized it could never be any better. In many ways this book introduced me to an adult narrative, a gave me a huge distrust of horror that has continued to this day.

"'Fear Street,' one of the policemen had said grimly, shaking his head. 'Fear Street...'" 

See, Corky figures it all out after Bobbi's death. She first thinks that Kimmy killed her after she noticed that she found Kimmy's pendant on the floor with Bobbi's stuff when she found Bobbi's body. but Kimmy had given the pendant to Jennifer, but poor paralyzed Jennifer couldn't-

Well, she could actually. She wasn't paralyzed. She wasn't anything. She had died in that bus accident and was possessed by the spirit of Sarah Fear... or something, it seems. Corky sees Jennifer walking, then driving, then dancing near Sarah's tomb. Corky confronts Jennifer, and after a few chapter long struggle, defeats her, leaving only a body of bones and dust behind, much to the confusion of literally everybody, police included. Although, it seems everybody knows something is wrong with Fear Street, but they're unable to do anything about it... 

The First Evil

Well, here we are, again through another R. L. Stine book. And what a great book this one is. It stood in my mind as a high point of horror in my young life, and it didn't disappoint. It is an excellent book from beginning to end. The characters are brilliant, each fleshed out in turn. The setting of the high school works well, and it is incredibly surprising just how right the details seem, even to me, who went to high school a decade after this book was released.

It is a horrifying book, one with creepy and incredibly descriptions. The deaths are so well detailed, and yet still left ambiguous, not gory exactly, but leaving a great deal to imagination. It still is a teen book, but the terror is a much older and thicker terror than that. It works so well that it has to be one of the very best R. L. Stine books out there. And I wouldn't be surprised if it is the best teenage horror book as well. 

I don't think this book will ever leave my mind. I've thought about it a lot in the years since the last time I read it, which was well over a decade ago. It is one of the few R. L. Stine books that comes back to me from time-to-time, and I have no clue why. Maybe it was because this was the first Fear Street book I read and therefore the first teen horror book I read as well? Maybe the descriptions were brilliant even to my much younger mind- or maybe it did truly scare me, and maybe it still does even today.

I can't help but recommend this book. It works so well at everything it does. It is incredibly well-written, well-paced, and well thought out. I can't think of a single negative- unless I include the slightly too quick ending and the lack of characterization of Corky. Then again... well, I know what's coming, so neither seem like huge flaws because of that.

Well, now I have a choice. Monster Blood and Cheerleaders: The Second Evil were both released in September 1992. I'm going to choose Monster Blood to review next to shake stuff up a bit, but realize that very soon we'll be hitting the sequel to the first Cheerleaders book...

Anyway, see you next time, readers.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Goosebumps Review: Stay Out of the Basement

Something's waiting in the dark...
Book number two of the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine is an interesting one and one that started a couple trends among these books. Stay out of the Basement was first published, like Welcome to Dead House, in July 1992. It was the first of many Goosebumps books that would feature a mad scientist and the first of many that would, in my opinion, act as a young adult homage to famous sci-fi or horror movies/books. In this case the movie this book most resembles is The Fly, either version of it, with the genetic splicing and monstrous results. Even the ending seems to pay homage to those movies, particularly the older one with Vincent Price from 1958. I'm reminded of the iconic, "Help me! Help me!" from that movie in the ending to this book.

My memories of this one are all over the place. While it was never one of my absolute favorites, my copy of this book is well read. I remember having a good time with this book even if I didn't understand the references to The Fly back when I first read it. It had a creepiness to it that not many of the Goosebumps books seemed to equal. The funny thing is, for whatever reason, I remember the television version of this book almost as much as I remember the book itself. It is quite possibly the only book I can say that about.

This book certainly hits a much higher mark than the first and improves upon almost everything from Welcome to Dead House. While it may not quite be as gory or repulsive as that book, it is quite creepy, showing a paranoia about one's parent that I have not often seen before in any other book or piece of fiction. It almost seems to have a message that could read, "If your parent is doing something really weird and creepy and wrong, maybe it really is weird and creepy and wrong."

I was always struck by the way the dad in the book acted towards his kids. And I was confused that not more was done by the kids to do something about their nearly absent parental figure. I don't know, but I kind of figure this book was trying to say something even if it never quite had the message absolutely picked out.

Reading it through today, I found it really well done. If I were scoring this one compared to last week's Welcome to Dead House this one is not only improved in almost every way- its narrative, characters, setting, situation, and creepiness- but it also drew me in much more than that first book, which was always a weak one in my memory and seemed even weaker as I read it back. While I wasn't exactly excited to read this book, it was one I knew I wouldn't have any issues with getting through. I knew it wouldn't be a slog and, mostly, I knew it wouldn't be Welcome to Dead House. Sorry, but that was a book I simply do not think is very good at all.

"The dirt was filled with dozens of moving insects. And long, brown earthworms. All crawling through the wet, black clumps that lined her father's bed."

The plot here is pretty simple. Two kids, Margaret (the lead) and Casey (her younger brother), become curious as to what their dad is doing int he basement. He had been laid off from his previous job as a university botanist and for weeks had been toiling in the basement to find a way to get his job back with some experiments with plants. Obviously he is a scientist MAD with SCIENCE. And somehow he makes a weird genetic electronic thing that splices genetic material between organisms. His DNA gets spliced into a plant and vice-versa, and the plot kicks off.

While the kids' mother is away, things start going awry with their father's experiments. He starts acting weird, seems to be becoming a plant, and warns them from going into the basement. The title is even thrown out in dialogue within the first chapter of the story, something which I have to giggle about.  Well, anyway, the kids obviously have to be curious and not listen to their dad. They snoop around, get into some trouble, suspect him of lying and being a creepy plant-man, and ultimately find out that a plant has been imitating their father- but to what end? That we don't know. A lingering question I have is why did he kidnap his boss, Mr. Martinez? And why wouldn't the police be around questioning him about the man's disappearance since it was the last known place he had been? It's a question that seems to be shrugged away, but I was wondering it as I read the book.

Anyway, the book ends with a confrontation between the kids, their two dads, and their mother to figure out which one is the real one. Plant-dad is axed down and all seems well with the world- except that a flower seems to be screaming to Margaret that he is her actual father...

Live Plants... Dead People?

I realize, too late now, that the book also seems to reference Little Shop of Horrors. Okay, I didn't realize it too late. It's an obvious reference, but the plot doesn't seem to follow that plot so much as the plot of The Fly. Again, I'm probably a little wrong for not mentioning this sooner, but it's so obvious that I realized it was a reference back when I was ten. The problem is, it's only a surface reference, with the main plot being very different indeed.

This book is creepy. No, it's not the scariest Gossebumps book I remember, but it has both aged well and works well even today, especially at bringing out the feelings of paranoia- and even more especially in regards to a parental figure. Something about that seems incredibly well done to me, and something, I suspect, that could not be done today in quite the same way, which saddens me. It's upsetting to see that fiction can be influenced by the way the world is, but it's absolutely true. This is a book that could only exist in the 1990s.

All of the characters are fleshed out. They all feel real, and seem like they could live in a real, albeit twisted, world. The kids act and seem like kids that age, both curious and a little hyperactive. The dad is a workaholic and the mother's expressions in the early parts of the book seem to say just as much about her tension as it does about what the kid's perceive. It almost hits on the idea that work could put a strain on a marriage or on a relationship- which is essentially what this book is about already. I find that both intellectually stimulating and that it is amazing these things existed in a horror book for kids. 

The setting- winter in a warm climate- worked well too, although I couldn't exactly say why. Something about a time that is supposed to be bleak being like summer creeps me out, possibly because I grew up and live in New England, where there's no such thing as a warm winter. I guess the whole humidity and warmth thing works well for me, it is exactly what a greenhouse would feel like, and it's also what this book reads like, if that makes any sense at all.

Anyway, while this is not one of the fondest remembered books of the Goosebumps library to me, it certainly works well now that I'm reading it as an adult. It is much better than Welcome to Dead House, and has excited me for more books. I mean, seriously, if a book I wasn't looking forward to made me this happy- then what will happen with the books I really am looking forward to?

So, the next book will be Goosebumps number 3-



No, actually, Monster Blood will not be next even if it will be the next Goosebumps review. See, I mentioned I was going to do R. L. Stine books in some kind of chronological order- and while I don't own all of the Fear Street books like I used to (I didn't like a good portion of them, and sold them off half a decade ago, a thing I still don't regret.), I still have some that I was incredibly fond of back when I was a younger. Actually I read them alongside of the Goosebumps  books, so I find the way I'm reviewing these appropriate.

So, instead of Monster Blood, the next review that you can expect from me will be a Fera Street book. In particular I'm going to start my Fear Street Review series (of the eleven books I'm planning on reviewing from that series) with August 1992's Cheerleaders: The First Evil.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Goosebumps Review: Welcome to Dead House

It will just kill you.
Hey! Saquarry here. So, I'm starting up a new review series where I plan to review every Goosebumps book and books kind of or semi associated with that series or R. L Stine in general. This is quite the endeavor, I hope you understand, but it's something I've been wanting to do for years. And now I finally have the energy and the resources to see it through to the end. And when I say end, I do mean even the current stuff- eventually.

I'm going to review these books chronologically when they were published, so it may seem all over the place at times, but that's what I would like to do. I also have some teen R. L. Stine books I'd like to talk about at some point, most notably some of my favorite of the actual Fear Street books. But we'll get there. I'm excited for the possibilities and the reviews. For the most part I haven't read any of these books in about twelve years or so, but I still have them all from the original run of the series. Now, I may have to buy a couple, most notably in the Ghosts of Fear Street books (especially the later books int hat series which were nearly impossible for me to find back then) as well as some of the short story collection if I decide to do them.

Anyway, this whole review series will involve everything with the Goosebumps name, even the Give Yourself Goosebumps choose your own adventure stories. And that's about it. I won't be touching any movies or television shows of Goosebumps though. I never watched them as a kid and have no real interest in them now. I guess I could talk about them at some point if interest is shown in this review series, but I'm not biting to do it.

I grew up reading these books, and they certainly have had a sizable impact on the person I am today. I probably wouldn't love horror half as much as I do without these books. They led me to many other avenues and other great books and movies as well, since a decent portion of these books play off of more famous actual horror or sci-fi movies, books, television shows, etc.

The series as a whole is fairly reminiscent of The Twilight Zone for kids, specifically the books with the crazy twists at the end. I will spoil these books as well, so read at your own risk. Since I'm sure people are terrified of having a twenty year old children's horror novel spoiled for them. I'm sure that keeps them up at night.

As for formatting, these reviews will come in two sections. The first will be what I recall of the book. I'll talk about my memories, whether I was fond of it or not, if it ever scared me, and how well the book stuck with me. Sometimes this section will be very long. Other times it may not exist at all. The second section will be my impressions and thoughts about the book now after reading it.

And that's about all I have. So, without further ado-

-let's go to Dark Falls.

"I'm surrounded by death, I thought."

Welcome to Dead House was published in 1992, the month of July. It was the first Goosebumps book released, and was numbered 1 in its original binding. It is the only book of the entire series that really felt like it was written for an older audience back when I first read it. The imagery, the nightmare that Amanda has, and the dog, Petey, dying in the book makes this one both memorable and slightly more intense than any other books in the series, in both my opinion and in my memory.

Now, for whatever reason this is probably the only book from the original series that ever scared me as a kid. I did not like some of the content, and the writing, to me back then, was so different than the other books of the series, that I tended to liken it much more to the older audience R. L. Stine books, like the Fear Street books or those Babysitter books. I didn't read this book very often, and tended to avoid rereading it unlike some of the others that I absolutely loved. It was probably one of my least favorites of the original series, but only because I felt that it was so different from the rest.

I have no real fond memories of it, and my memory of this book (not pleasant memories) was the biggest hurtle to actually starting these reviews in the first place. I tend to remember most of the other Goosebumps books having a lot of personality, but for whatever reason this one always struck me as very flat. The characters and the story barely seem to be able to work in a real world setting, and, in fact, the whole premise falls apart if you think on it too much. I did as a child, and I didn't like the answers my mind came up with.

I will say that the name Dark Falls was something I really enjoyed and remembered for years afterward. I would use the name to describe any town or area near me that had heavily shaded roads for miles around. Where I live has a ton of thick forests and trees that cover over the roads throughout the year. So, Dark Falls was a very real place to me, just not by that name.

Reading it again, I found this book interesting. It read better than I remembered, giving a ton of characterizations I simply didn't remember, mostly to Amanda, the main character and first person narrator. She starts a trend of R. L. Stine leaning (from my memory) to more female protagonists than males. Usually the protagonists are twelve and their sibling is ten. Their sibling is generally the opposite sex to them as well.

Amanda easily has the most characterization in the book, with her brother, Josh, a distant second as the annoying sibling who sometimes does useful things. The book moves slowly in the beginning, establishing the move in a long-winded way that grew tiresome. The slow build to the house being haunted was also flat, as nothing truly seemed to happen that wasn't also explained away. Nothing seemed scary exactly so much as slightly annoying. Even Amanda doesn't truly act scared. She seemed to think away most of the spooky elements so that nothing in the early part of the book really ever seemed ambiguous or actually creepy.

Once they're actually in Dead House and have met the other kids in town, that's when the story both picks up and grows much more interesting. I mean, it still largely falls flat around the edges, but it also starts having some personality. The set-pieces are well done, starting with Amanda's nightmare and the way she vividly describes it. Her not being able to move in the nightmare is a sticking point for me since that actually happens in real life, and it is legitimately terrifying. I know this from personal experience.

Petey's "death," or at least the kids finding him dead is also awful. I can't think of many other children's horror books (or adult horror books) that have the steel determination to actually do that and pull it off well. It's awful, but effective at being the turning point of the book.

Honestly, the second half is much better than the first at being an action piece, but the beginning is much better at having a creeping fear in the back of the mind. Both parts of the book undermine one another though, with neither coming off quite as effectively because of the other. The heavy characterizations of the first half are thrown out for action set-pieces in the second, whereas the action set-pieces are fun but are undermined by the slow-paced trudge of the first half. Many elements of the story never come back into play, for instance Kathy, Amanda's bets friend who she talks about at decent length in an early chapter, has no significance to the story besides showing up in her nightmare. The parents likewise have no real use to them, only showing up as damsels in distress at the end of the book, but having no real characterization besides that.

The cemetery, while a good set-piece, literally is never scary. There is never one moment that the cemetery is supposed to be scary. It is almost the most friendly and inviting part of the entire story, which should never be the case. It's a graveyard. They're supposed to be creepy and uninviting. Part of that is in the descriptions, which seem so strong for the nightmare and the skulls of the dead people, but seems very flat for the environments and locales. From my memory R. L. Stine fixes this very soon, but right here it's very evident that he had very odd priorities while writing this one. The transition from teenage horror and adult horror to kid horror must have been a difficult one, and this book hasn't seemed to quite hit the mark.

The story is pretty obvious. Parents and two kids move into a house supposedly left to them by a great-uncle. It's in a town called Dark Falls surrounded by shade. They meet some odd kids, see that the town is kind of dead, think that the house is haunted, and eventually are surprised when all their worst fears are realized. Their dog is killed because it can sense the dead people. And the family is ready to be put up as a sacrifice for the town, the newest dead people to enter and never leave, but Amanda and Josh save the day, the dead people are killed yet again, and they leave the house forever just as another family goes to check it out.

The twist at the end, with the question of whether or not everybody in the town is truly the at rest kind of dead, is a good one, but this town is not truly scary, and I never found investment in the story anyway.

This book is okay. It leads me to many questions about the logic of the story, but that's to be expected at times, especially with stories of this nature. I can't really use those problems as sticking points though. It would be as unfair as using cold hard logic against a Twilight Zone episode. It would unfair. And it would not be what the story was trying to do or say. Instead I focus on the parts of the Goosebumps books I used to like, and where I think this one didn't hit its marks. The characters are mostly very flat, the set-pieces, although good at times, are not consistent, and the goriness seems to be there for shock value but not really for good writing or storytelling. It's a quick, non-nonsense story that has little to offer beyond a little shock and awe and some dry characters.

As a kid, I didn't like it. As an adult, I'm not in love with it, but I see its value. It's not bad even if it has a ton of problems. The writing is mostly solid, and the issues there are seem more related to the nature of a kid's horror novel and what that means than to anything else. I think I appreciate this book slightly more now than I did as a kid, but I doubt I'd ever read it again. I don't really like it so much as tolerate it and understand its important as the first one. It's a weak book of the original series, but one worth starting out to read. They seriously can only get better from here.