Book Review: The Colorado Kid (Stephen King, 2005)

DSC_0438Year: 2005 (2019 Illustrated Edition reviewed)
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hard Case Crime/Titan Books
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
ISBN: 978-1-78909-155-7

On an island off the coast of Maine, a man is found dead. There’s no identification on the body. Only the dogged work of a pair of local newspapermen and a graduate student in forensics turns up any clues, and it’s more than a year before the man is identified.

And that’s just the beginning of the mystery. Because the more they learn about the man and the baffling circumstances of his death, the less they understand. Was it an impossible crime? Or something stranger still…?

I missed The Colorado Kid the first time around and according to the introduction by Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai, it’s no wonder. The book was apparently out of print for a decade or more prior to this fresh 2019 Illustrated Edition. Out of interest, I took a look on ebay for one of the original editions and for a used paperback, they’re pretty expensive. And listed as “RARE”…of course.

Anyway, this is going to have to be a short review because The Colorado Kid is one of those stories that is difficult to talk about without spoiling but I will do my best. It’s a mystery story centred on the strange, unexplained death of a man in 1980. His body is found slumped against a bin on Hammock Beach, on the small island of Moose-Lookit, just off the Maine coast. There are no witnesses and nobody knows who he is. A probable cause of death IS established but beyond that, a lot of unanswered questions remained. Who was he? Why did he come to Moose-Lookit?

Fast-forward to the present day and twenty-two year-old Stephanie McCann is working a newspaper internship at The Weekly Islander, Moose-Lookit’s tiny paper company. The company is ran by just two men: Vince Teague, 90, and Dave Bowie, 65. As well as running the island’s sole newspaper, the men were also involved in investigating the msyterious death of the “Colorado Kid” back in ’80. You see, once a likely cause of death had been estblished, the authorities weren’t very interested in digging any deeper so Vince and Dave took it upon themselves to try and solve the confounding mystery.

This story is recounted to Stephanie by Vince and Dave and that’s essentially what The Colorado Kid is – these three main characters sitting in The Weekly Islander’s office and talking. If that sounds dull then just remember which author’s name is emblazoned on the book’s cover. Despite the fact that there is no action, danger or shift of location, I still found myself enjoying the company of Vince, Dave and Steffie. It’s one of those books that immediately feels warming and homely and I think it’s impossible not to feel like you’re sitting in with friends as Vince and Dave share the puzzling story with their young intern.

The mystery itself is also fascinating and the book was a real page-turner that I couldn’t help but tear through, partly due to that aforementioned cosiness and partly because of the twists and turns in the Vince and Dave’s story that kept me guessing right until the end. The Colorado Kid is just so easy to read but, despite its rapid pace, there is still ample depth and characterisation – enough for you to build up a picture of small-town life on an island community, even when the story has one foot in the past and one in the present. That’s just classic King and – as has been proved over and over – a shorter story isn’t immune to his vivid world-building.

The only downside is the book’s ending because after devouring a mystery story, the reader naturally expects a satisfying conclusion. You might not get that here and from what I have read, The Colorado Kid does have a reputation for being a bit of a marmite book. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it but you won’t reach that decision until the very last page.

Personally, I didn’t love the book’s conclusion but I also didn’t hate it. It was just something different that didn’t play by the established rules of how a story “should” wrap up in the traditional sense. It was well worth a read though, purely for the likable characters and the way in which the story was told. There was also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Stephen King’s other Hard Case Crime book, Joyland, which got a smile out of me.

It’s also worth looking at the new cover versus the original because they are both deliciously pulpy but also quite different:

Colorado Kid Covers

Both are painted throw-backs to the classic pulp covers of old, featuring gorgeous dames in a state of unashamed sexiness. I actually prefer the new version on the left however since the cover is actually relevant to the story. The original (right) is brilliant but has nothing to do with the plot. Nor does the quote of “Would she learn the dead man’s secret?” on the cover…not strictly anyway. It implies that Stephanie herself is investigating the death.

But I won’t get too pedantic over cover art because I really appreciate both. I love old-fashioned pulp-style art so these sorts of ‘tribute’ cover paintings are right up my street.

The new 2019 Illustrated Edition on the left has an additional small edge in the form of the interior illustrations which – again – are very evocative of the hand-drawn, sometimes rough style that books like these used to have in the 50’s.

In closing, The Colorado Kid might not be for everybody solely because of the way it concludes but that shouldn’t take away from how enthralling the journey to that conclusion is. This really is one of those books that you could lose track of time with and finish in one sitting. Plus, now that it has been reprinted and is easy (and much cheaper!) to acquire, there really is no excuse not to give it a shot.

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #8: The Girl Who Cried Monster (R.L. Stine, 1993)

GB-Girl-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

When I’m reviewing these Goosebumps books, I seem to frequently be reminding you guys about one of the series’ central themes: the fact that the parents of the stories’ never ever believe their kids when they try to explain that something creepy is afoot. Ironically, The Girl Who Cried Monster is an entire book based on this (sometimes dangerous) parenting error that plagues the adolescents of Stine’s fictional universe. Lucy is adamant that she has seen a REAL monster but of course, her parents don’t have time for her ‘stories’…

The Blurb

Lucy’s always telling stories and scaring her little brother, Randy, with her “monster” tales – what a laugh!

But now Lucy’s seen a real monster – it’s the librarian, Mr Mortman. Lucy’s actually seen him tyrn into a monster, and it’s not funny, it’s horrible! But when Lucy tries telling her parents about it, they don’t believe her. Big surprise!

Can Lucy convince them she’s telling the truth this time…before it’s too late?

I’m going to have stick up for the adults in a Goosebumps book for the first time here because their twelve year-old daughter, Lucy Dark (great surname for a pale-skinned girl with black hair btw), is always making up tall tales about monsters to scare her little bro, Randy, who is six and easily convinced by her stories of foul monsters out to eat kids. I mean, you can hardly expect the parents in Goosebumps stories to believe in the likes of killer cameras and living dummies anyway because I’m fairly certain that no sensible adult in the real world would do so. But when Lucy is always flexing her overactive imagination, it’s understandable that Mr and Mrs Dark would call BS.

I guess that’s why the title of this book is a play on the saying, “the boy who cried wolf”. That’s pretty much a given. Perhaps Stine was poking fun at the oblivious nature of the adults in his books too?

Anyway, Lucy lives in the small town of Timberland Falls and has to attend a summer reading course at the library called ‘Reading Rangers’ (so edgy, right?). But one day, after returning Huckleberry Finn and collecting Frankenstein from the librarian, Mr Mortman, Lucy forgets to pick up her rollerskates. She heads back to library and while the front door is still open, nobody else is inside other than Mr Mortman. The librarian doesn’t realise that he is being watched and so Lucy witnesses something horrifying.

As he struggled to unscrew the jar lid, Mr Mortman’s face began to change. His head floated up from his poloneck and started to expand, like a balloon being inflated.

I uttered a silent gasp as I saw his tiny eyes poke out of his head. The eyes bulged bigger and bigger, until they were as big as doorknobs.

The light from the window grew even dimmer. The entire room was cast in heavy shadows. The shadows swung and shifted. I couldn’t see well at all. It was as if I was watching everything through a dark fog.

Mr Mortman continued to hum, even as his head bobbed and throbbed above his shoulders and his eyes bulged out as if on stems, poking straight up like insect antennae.

And then his mouth began to twist and grow. It opened wide, like a gaping black hole on the enormous, bobbing head.

If The Girl Who Cried Monster more than follows series tradition by featuring a supernatural monster that only the children seem to be able to see, it then completely dispenses with tradition by introducing the monster early on…and not have it be a false scare as is usually the case. Lucy manages to escape without Mr Mortman realising that his transformation has been witnessed but – as expected – her parents won’t believe her breathless tale when she bursts back into the house. The rest of the book is about Lucy setting out to prove that Mr Mortman is a monster; not because he needs to be outed in the interests of public safety but for the selfish desire to show her parents that she is right and that they are wrong to not believe her.

I imagined both my parents apologising to me, promising they’d never doubt me again.

“I feel so bad,” I imagined my dad saying, “I’m going to buy you that computer you’ve been asking for.”

“And a new bike,” I imagined Mum saying. “Please forgive us for doubting you.”

“And I’m sorry, too,” I imagined Randy saying. “I know I’ve been a real jerk.”

“And you can stay up till midnight every night from now on, even on school nights,” I imagined Dad saying.

Isn’t amazing how Lucy can see something so shocking and unbelievable and soon be thinking about all of the riches and rewards that she could potentially gain from proving her parents wrong? It’s also amusing to be reminded of the things we so badly wanted as kids! A computer, a bike…and staying up until midnight!

Forward-thinking Lucy might be, but she certainly isn’t realistic. Her outrage and self-victimisation at not having her monster story believed is one thing but her irrational disbelief at THEIR disbelief is another.

So, once again my wonderful parents refused to believe me.

I tried to describe what I had seen from hiding place in the library. But Mum just shook her head. Dad said I had a great imagination. Even Randy refused to be scared. He told Mum and Dad how he had scared me with his stupid papier-mache monster head.

I practically begged them to believe me.

But Mum said I was just lazy. She said I was making up the story about Mr Mortman so I could get out of the Reading Rangers course and wouldn’t have to read any more books this summer.

When she said that, I got really insulted, of course. I shouted something back. And it ended up with all of us growling and snapping at each other, followed by me storming up to my room.

Perhaps it’s redundant to tip-toe around spoilers for a twenty-six year-old children’s horror story but even so, I won’t give away the book’s conclusion because there is a pretty smart twist right at the end. Even I didn’t see it coming but then again, I don’t remember actually reading The Girl Who Cried Monster when I was younger. This must have been one of the handful of Goosebumps books that I somehow missed then added to my collection at a later date. Unfortunately, it’s a twist that Stine used several more times throughout the series and so it would eventually lose its creativity factor. Here however, it was a very cool way to end the eighth book in the original series and a twist that could only really be possible in a book.

There’s nothing complex or crazy about The Girl Who Cried Monster. It’s a straightforward monster story that plays on childish fears and the curse of having an active imagination as a youngster. As an adult, it’s all a bit silly, but I think most of us can recall the irrational fears of monsters that we had as children and so I imagine that this must have been a pretty relatable tale when read through adolescent eyes.

The Girl Who Cried Monster was quite a fun re-read and one of my favourites thus far in The Big Goosebumps Re-read.

The Cover

I think has to be one of my favourite covers so far. The picture of Lucy screaming in terror, surrounded by dusty old library books, is incredibly detailed and realistic. In particular, I love the detailing of her messed-up hair. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the name of the artist behind the UK Goosebumps covers (our books didn’t adopt the original Tim Jacobus’ artworks until book #33)

The incredibly dated bit

A lot of this book is dated. From Lucy’s brand-new rollerblades (SO 90’s…) to the very concept of a summer reading club at a local library. If you’re American and can confirm whether such programmes still exist then feel free to object! Of course, there is also the obligatory Nintendo reference. Are we sure Stine wasn’t sponsored?

I passed by Randy’s room. He was in there in the dark, no lights, the blinds pulled down. Playing Super Nintendo, as usual.

The nostalgia factor

As I already said, I don’t actually remember reading this book as a child. However, the general ‘feel’ of the story was quite nostalgic.

Up Next: Welcome to Camp Nightmare

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #7: Night of the Living Dummy (R.L. Stine, 1993)

night-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

Night of the Living Dummy is one of the more iconic and memorable books in the Goosebumps series. The idea of a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy gaining sentience is something you can do a lot with and I’m sure many kids who come into contact with a vacant-eyed dummy in real life would be unnerved. There would be two more Night of the Living Dummy entries in the original Goosebumps run, two more in the Series 2000 follow-up and a TV appearance in the live-action show so the popularity of Slappy is evident. The original book is a bit different however and Slappy himself isn’t even the main player…

The Blurb

Lindy can’t get over finding a ventriloquist’s dummy in her neighbourhood skip. Cool! Lindy names him Slappy. She’s going to learn how to make Slappy move and talk. Her twin sister, Kris, will be so jealous.

Then Kris gets a dummy of her own, and that’s when all the trouble starts. Weird things start to happen, nasty things. It seems as if Kris’s dummy is making them happen.

But a dummy can’t be causing all that trouble…can it?

Ultra-competitive twin sisters, Lindy and Kris, are always at each other’s throats, determined to one-up each other and constantly fighting. So when they find a ventriloquist’s dummy in a building site skip and Lindy decides to keep him, Kris grows jealous of how quickly Lindy gets to grips with operating Slappy and how much attention she receives from others for her act…

She’s jealous, Lindy realised. Kris sees that the kids really like Slappy and I’m getting all the attention. And she’s totally jealous. I’m definitely keeping Slappy! Lindy told herself, secretly pleased at her little triumph.

When these girls are around, you need to put the knives away. It seems as if they absolutely resent and hate each other’s guts ninety percent of the time. I felt a little more sorry for Kris as it seemed that Lindy tended to have the upper hand when it came to putting her sister down with nasty comments or verbal snipes. These girls are only eleven and not being a girl, a child or a twin, I can’t relate to their particular brand of intense sibling rivalry but even so…

br-1
[Source]
Anyway, this warring between the Powell sisters leads to their father buying Kris a dummy of her own from a local pawn shop. Now the sisters can compete at being the funniest, most skilled ventriloquist too! Great! Kris names her dummy “Mr Wood” and sets to work trying to beat Lindy at her new hobby.

But the arrival of Mr Wood also brings strange happenings to the Powell household. Mr Wood moving by himself for instance. He even speaks for himself while Lindy is operating him for some of their friends. In true Goosebumps fashion however, we eventually find out that the gradual ramping up of Mr Wood’s unnerving actions are an elaborate, drawn-out prank by Lindy to scare Kris. She even goes as far as to make her twin sister cry before ‘fessing up.

“No!” Kris shrieked, feeling herself lose control. “It wasn’t a dream! I’m so scared, Lindy! I’m just so scared!”

Suddenly Kris was trembling all over, and hot tears were pouring down her cheeks.

Lindy stood up and moved to the edge of her sister’s bed.

“Something h-horrible is going on here, Lindy,” Kris stammered through her tears.

“And I know who’s doing it,” Lindy whispered, putting a comforting hand on her quivering shoulder.

“Who?” Kris repeated, letting the tears run down her cheeks. “Who?”

“I have,” Lindy said. Her smile spread into a grin almost as wide as Slappy’s. She closed her eyes and laughed.

What a cow!

So all’s well that ends well then? Not quite…

Kris is practicing with Mr Wood when she notices a scrap of old paper tucked into his pocket. The paper contains words written neatly in an unrecognisable language and you can’t help but think, “don’t do it” but Kris reads them aloud anyway and that’s when Mr Wood really becomes a ‘Living Dummy’. At first, Lindy is convinced that Kris is simply trying to play her at her own game and their parents don’t believe Kris when she insists that the insults Mr Wood bombards their elderly neighbours with are coming straight from the dummy’s mouth, not hers. Naturally, Kris has no chance here because a) it’s a fairly unbelievable claim and b) she’s in a Goosebumps book and parents don’t believe ANYTHING in a Goosebumps book.

Despite her growing certainty that Mr Wood is really alive this time, Kris goes ahead with an on-stage ventriloquist performance at her school for an audience of kids and parents. You can see disaster looming a mile off and sure enough, things go horribly wrong for Kris as Mr Wood lays into music teacher, Mrs Berman with insults, much to the horror of the audience. But Mr Wood is only just getting warmed up…

“Please apologise. To me and to the audience,” Mrs Berman demanded.

Mr Wood leaned into the microphone. “Apologise for THIS!” he screamed.

The dummy’s head tilted back. His jaw dropped. His mouth opened wide.

And a thick green liquid came spewing out.

“Yuck!” somebody screamed.

It looked like pea soup. It spurted out of Mr Wood’s open mouth like water rushing from a fire hose. Voices screamed and cried out their surprise as the thick, green liquid showered over people in the front rows.

“Stop it!”

“Help!”

“Somebody – turn it off!”

“It stinks!”

Kris froze in horror, staring as more and more of the disgusting substance poured from her dummy’s gaping mouth. A putrid stench – the smell of sour milk, of rotten eggs, of burning rubber, of decayed meat – rose up from the liquid. It puddled over the stage and showered over the front seats.

Binded by the spotlight, Kris couldn’t see the audience in front of her. But she could hear the choking and the gagging, the frantic cries for help.

This is such an enjoyable scene and it really reminds me of the pie-eating contest scene from the movie, Stand By Me.

Again, nobody believes Kris and she is suspended from school. But even Lindy is forced to believe her twin sister when she witnesses Kris grappling with a very animated Mr Wood on the stairs one night. They come up with the idea of sealing Mr Wood in a suitcase and burying him at the construction site next door. Naturally, they manage to sneak out of the house in the dead of night and do all of this without their parents noticing! But Mr Wood is back the next morning, covered in dirt and grinning.

Their parents go out shopping and Mr Wood springs back into life. The ensuing struggle moves to the building site next door where the sisters manage to finally destroy Mr Wood by getting a steamroller to run him over. Again, a couple of kids were able to just walk onto a construction site where deadly steamrollers are operating? Whatever.

The gigantic black wheel rolled right over him, pushing him onto his back, then crushing him with a loud crunch.

A loud hiss rose up from under the machine, like air escaping from a large balloon. The steamroller appeared to rock back and forth.

A strange green gas spurted up from beneath the wheel, into the air, spreading out in an eerie mushroom-shaped cloud.

What’s that? We’ve reached the end of Night of the Living Dummy and the famous Slappy hasn’t featured? Well, it isn’t ever over until it’s over…

As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.

“Hey, slave – has that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”

It’s interesting that Slappy is one Goosebumps‘ most famous characters and yet he isn’t even the star of the original book, only speaking up for the first time right at the end where the books tend to conclude with one final twist that rarely results in a sequel.

If you couldn’t tell from the way I had a lot to say about Night of the Living Dummy, I really enjoyed re-visiting this book. The pacing was good and Lindy’s cruel prank on Kris was actually much better than having countless, cheap end-of-chapter false scares padding out the story. What’s more, the central idea of a sinister, grinning dummy coming to life was a good one, even if it IS a lite version of Chuckie. The final third of the book when Mr Wood is alive for real is brilliant fun, especially the concert scene quoted above. Honestly, this is probably the best book so far.

The Cover

Not the most dynamic is it? Also, it features Slappy and not Mr Wood which makes little sense to me.

The incredibly dated bit

Lindy told them about the TV show she might be on, and they promised they wouldn’t miss it. “We’ll tape it,” Mr Miller said.

The nostalgia rating

Pretty decent with this one. I didn’t remember most of the plot but I did remember that it wasn’t actually Slappy at the centre of the original book.

Up Next: The Girl Who Cried Monster

 

Book Talk: The Deckle Edge

This is going to be one of those “the more you know” posts.

Also, potentially a post where I come across as a bit sheltered, particularly given that I profess to love reading and books. Forgive me.

DSC_0429Earlier this year, I discovered that there was a sweet, hardback special illustrated edition of Stephen King’s Joyland. I’d read my paperback copy multiple times (and reviewed it here on my other blog before I started reviewing my reads on Unfiltered Opinion) and it had become of my firm favourites. So an upgrade to a better version made sense. I really dug the pulpy, sexy cover of the illustrated edition plus it was a hardback (which is ALWAYS a reason to upgrade a book). Most importantly, I knew that I would read it again at some point so it wasn’t going to be one of those unnecessary impulse purchases that I’m doing my best to avoid these days.

But when the book arrived, I was pissed off. What was going on with the pages? What kind of awful factory defect was THIS shit?

DSC_0430

Now, you may well be sitting there – reading this – and nodding your head, having already spotted my embarassing error. Yes, this kind of finish is intentional.

I’d bought the book from ebay and considering that it was brand-new and only cost me approximately £12 posted to my door, I decided that I would just accept it as it was, warts and all. But, when I happened to be looking through my ebay purchase history one day, I came upon this book and the phrase “Deckle Edge” in the description (which I’d clearly either missed or ignored).

A quick bit of Googling later and I found the story behind my book’s ‘defect’.

Apparently, some books are still intentionally produced with this Deckle edge to give them a rough, old-fashioned look. Considering that Joyland is published under the Hard Case Crime banner, it made perfect sense for the book to imitate the old-school pulp classics in its physical appearance as well as its content.

The Wikipedia entry for Deckle Edging was quite informative by the way:

Before the 19th century, the deckle edge was unavoidable, a natural artifact of the papermaking process in which sheets of paper were made individually on a deckle. The deckle could not make a perfect seal against the screen at the edges and the paper slurry would seep under, creating a rough edge to the paper. The deckle edge could be trimmed off, but this extra step would add to the cost of the book. Beginning in the early 1800s with the invention of the Fourdrinier machine, paper was produced in long rolls and the deckle edge became mostly obsolete; although there was some deckle on the ends of the rolls, it was cut off, and the individual sheets cut out from the roll would have no deckle in any case.

With the appearance of smooth edges in the 19th century, the deckle edge slowly emerged as a status symbol. Many 19th-century presses advertised two versions of the same book: one with edges trimmed smooth and a higher-priced deckle version, which suggested the book was made with higher-quality paper, or with more refined methods. This tradition carried forward into the 20th and 21st centuries. As of 2016 modern deckle is produced by a purpose-built machine to give the appearance of a true deckle edge by cutting a smooth edge into patterns. Many modern readers are unfamiliar with the deckle edge and may see it as a defect; for example, Amazon.com has left notes to buyers that the deckle is not a flaw in the product.

The thing I find fascinating about this is that it used to cost the consumer more to purchase a neat book that had had its Deckle edge removed. Nowadays, the reverse is true and a bookworm should expect to pay a premium for an unrefined finish!

Personally, the idea of intentionally seeking a fake version of a crude finish in order to hold a status symbol in your hands is a load of bollocks. Secondly, I’m just not a fan of the Deckle effect. It looks cheap and feels annoying. If I’d purchased a very old book with a Deckle edge then that would be absolutely fine because a) it is authentic and b) it is unavoidable and understandable given said book’s vintage. But purposely reproducing this effect? Nah. It reminds me of people who make their car appear rusty and corroded, falsifying the weathering and patina. Each to their own but that sort of thing isn’t for me. It’s just fake.

The more you know.

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #6: Let’s Get Invisible! (R.L. Stine, 1993)

invis-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I’ve dragged my heels on this review series recently but now it’s time to get back to it with the sixth entry in the OG Goosebumps series: Let’s Get Invisible! Strange mini factoid for ya though; the title of this book includes an exclamation mark on the cover but not on the spine or interior title page…weird. As you can clearly deduce, I am a damn interesting guy. Anyway, here’s the book’s blurb:

The Blurb

While exploring the attic on his birthday, Max comes across an old mirror there. No ordinary mirror either – this one is ‘magic’ – it can turn you invisible!

At first it’s fun playing now you see me, now you don’t. But soon Max and his friends realise something scary is happening. They’re not controlling the mirror. It’s controlling them!

This is yet another of those Goosebumps plots that I think would make for a great, grown-up horror film and for all I know, maybe it already HAS been done. It wouldn’t be the first time that Stine has riffed on an existing horror concept. As it is though, we have to join Max, his irritating brother Lefty, and his friends Zack, April and Erin. After Max’s birthday party (where a bunch of twelve year-olds watch The Terminator – superb parenting there), the group decide to explore the attic in the Max’s house. Like most people’s attics (we call them “lofts” here in the UK), it’s full of old crap but there’s also a door concealed behind a load of old boxes.

Naturally, the room behind the door holds a mysterious mirror that can turn you invisible. Because that’s what all creepy attics are like, right? The group quickly discover that standing before the glass and switching on the attached light turns whoever is standing beneath said light invisible. With invisibility being such a great power with so many possibilities, it’s good to see that the boys in the group immediately think of a noble application for them.

“I wonder if we could go downstairs and still be invisible,” I said. “I wonder if we could leave the house like this.”

“And go and spy on people?” Lefy suggested.

“Yeah,” I said. I yawned. I was starting to feel a little strange. “We could go and spy on girls and stuff.”

“Cool,” Lefty replied.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book is a bit of a slow-burner. The friends take it in turns to get their invisibility on and compete to see who can stay invisible the longest. Y’see, the longer one is invisible for, the longer it takes for them to reappear once the mirror’s light is switched off again. Despite the dangers and despite the fact that they are all knowingly messing with something that they have no clue about, the kids continue to play with the mirror, even when it becomes apparent that remaining invisible for a longer period of time causes them to feel all ‘light’ and as if they are drifting away.

Most of the book is Max deciding to never get invisible again then caving in from the pressure of his friends, especially the ultra-competitive Zack. It goes back and forth like this for a while with these kids not just throwing caution to the wind but firing it in with a high-powered cannon.

But I guess it’s easy to roll the eyes at their naivete as an adult. If I was twelve or in my early teens again, I’m pretty sure I’d be well up for being invisible so that I could scare the shit out of people or sneak into girls’ changing rooms.

But that’s no excuse for the fact that this book just doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere quickly which isn’t necessarily a problem for fiction in general but it is when a Goosebumps book is quite thin and short work to get through. The finale is quite sinister with Zack and Erin being sucked into the mirror, their places in reality taken by their reflections. The reflections force Max into the mirror so that his other self can also escape but Max manages to resist and the mirror gets smashed, releasing the real Zack and Erin and sucking the reflections back in. It just feels as if this ending could have been so much more exciting but instead it’s crammed into the final few chapters. The origins of the mirror are never explained either.

Overall, it was a decent enough read but I just wish the book had spent less time on the false scares and more pages on the mirror’s dark abilities.

The Cover

Not one of my favourites to be honest. The hands coming out of the mirror behind Max are pretty cool but Max looks like a girl here and I can’t tell whether he’s terrified or having the time of his life.

The incredibly dated bit

We compromised. We played Twister . Then watched some of the Terminator video until it was time to eat.

You can’t GET much more 90’s than Twister and videotapes!

The nostalgia rating

I recalled the basic plot of Let’s Get Invisible! but I don’t really have any memories of the book so I would have to say that the ‘feels’ were pretty mild with this one. It was one of those Goosebumps books that I probably only read once whereas I read many of the others multiple times over.

Up Next: Night of the Living Dummy

Book Talk: Earthbound (Richard Matheson, 1989)

eath-1Note: Earthbound’s release should technically be dated 1982. However, Matheson attached the pen name of Logan Swanson to the original version after publisher Playboy Press “severely” edited (source: wikipedia) the original manuscript. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t until the 1989 re-release that Earthbound was published unaltered with Matheson’s name on the cover hence why I am using that date for this review.

Last year, I made a vow to spread my wings and step further afield when it came to the fiction I consumed and the authors who wrote it. This was right after reading Stephen King’s non-fiction book, Danse Macabre, in which the famous writer explores the subject of horror, what makes it tick and – more importantly – the writers and works of fiction that inspired him. I jotted down a list of titles, recommended by King, that I wanted to investigate. And yes, I totally appreciate the irony in compiling a more varied reading wishlist using the recommendations of the author that I have stuck too close to over the years.

Earthbound by Richard Matheson is the first book that I have crossed off that list. I have to confess that, despite being an avid reader, I hadn’t heard of Matheson before purposely seeking out Earthbound. I guess that’s proof of how little I have actually dipped my toes below the surface of horror’s waters.

As such, I was unfamiliar with the author’s writing style. Regardless, this is a review and so I can only offer my honest opinion based on my experience with the book and what I got out of it.

It was a book of two halves and a slow-burner to begin with. David and Ellen Cooper have gone away to an isolated beachside cottage at Logan Beach, the place where they spent their first honeymoon over twenty years ago. Unfortunately, Logan Beach and the cottage in particular have become quite rundown and ramshackle in the intervening years and the icy cold temperature that permeates the building is highly uncomfortable. The couple put up with the dilapidation and unfavourable cold however because they are there to try and rekindle their ailing marriage.

Not much is initially explained on the marriage breakdown front but it is hinted that David has had an affair in the recent past and that their marriage is on the rocks as a result. It’s this section of the book that is the slow-burner. The conversation between David and Ellen is fairly flat, their background is only gently alluded to and quite honestly, I didn’t find either character that interesting. What’s more, there are precious little scene changes and so you – the reader – feel stuck in the depressed cottage with these two characters that aren’t exactly thrilling to be around. Once I’d finished this book, I DID appreciate that David and Ellen were just very normal, boring but flawed people and that, perhaps, this was a quality of the writing and not necessarily a detraction. But without that hindsight, Earthbound initially felt lacking in depth and pizzazz.

Until Marianna shows up.

The mysterious Marianna arrives at the door while Ellen is out and David is on his own. She is young and shockingly beautiful to David, who is immediately bewitched.

When she looked back at him, David felt the drawing tingle in his flesh again, stronger than ever now. It was almost unbelievable that any woman could be so lovely. He stared at her, imprisoned by her beauty.

Straight away, during the first few pages of Marianna’s presence in the book, you can tell that the tendrils of obsession are beginning to wrap about David. Matheson uses some powerful language and descriptives here and I had no trouble believing in Marianna’s intense beauty and the affect that she was having on unwitting David.

Then it’s back to some more David and Ellen with David now obsessing over Marianna and allowing her image to cloud his mind even while he is supposed to be attentive to Ellen and their fractured marriage. But then Marianna returns at night and Matheson suddenly spices things up with a shot of erotic sex as Marianna follows through on her determination to seduce David.

With an impotent shudder, David slid both arms around her and she fell against him, lips, hungrily, at his again. He pulled her violently to himself, the pressure of her jutting breasts arousing him still further. Suddenly, Marianna jerked his right arm free and, twisting slightly to the side, lifted his hand to her left breast. David cupped his palm across the thrusting cone and started fondling and massaging it, feeling through the sweater, how its nipple hardened at his touch. Marianna licked his lips tempestuously. She raked her teeth across his cheek, her breath like spilling fire on his skin. “Anything!” she whispered in his ear.

Drawing back, eyes never leaving his, she tugged the sweater up across her head and slung it aside; David tightened at the prominence of her bust as she turned her back to him. “Quickly, darling.” His fingers trembled as he picked the four hooks from their eyes. The brassiere ends sprang apart and Marianna shucked it into his lap. “Hands,” she muttered. David held them out, numb and shaking, and she clutched them to the pendant arching of her breasts, hissing through her teeth, eyes hooded as he dug his fingers into them. “More,” she said. Gasping, David dropped his head and started kissing them. He ran his tongue across the large, stiffened nipples and she pulled him savagely against herself, a frenzied moaning in her throat. “Feed,” she said. Her back went rigid as he began to suckle her. “Bite me, hurt me.” Her hands were clutching at his head like talons of steel. “Take them,” she ordered. “They’re yours, yours!”

(Still with me?)

Between Marianna’s sudden, inexplicable appearances, her lustful interest in a forty two year-old married man that she just met and the furious, animal-like sex that she is only too willing to initiate, it is clear that there is something not right about her. Furthermore, David wakes the next morning to feel utterly drained of energy and not necessarily due to the night’s physical efforts. You begin to wonder if Marianna is a succubus or some form of sexual vampire.

The rest of the book – without going into any more spoilers – is David gradually losing his mind as Marianna continues to visit and his obsession spirals out of control, as does the sensation of being sucked dry (no dirty pun intended…). He and Ellen argue and an internal war rages within as David grapples with what he knows is right and the delicious, gratifying wrong that Marianna has poisoned his well with. He wants – needs – Marianna and his lust for her is all-powerful. At the same time, he is desperate to escape the cottage and get away before it is too late.

Unfortunately, it IS too late once the horrifying, supernatural truth about the enigmatic Marianna is revealed. Fortunately for the reader however, this is where the book kicks into overdrive and everything comes to a wild head. If Earthbound had been a slow-burner before, peppered with flat spots and dull dialogue, the endgame more than makes up for it. Seriously, it comes from nowhere and is a chaotic rush of madness and plot twists.

As I have no doubt suggested, I didn’t immediately take to Earthbound with much enthusiasm but by the time I reached the book’s conclusion, I was left a little breathless by the sudden rush of events. In fact, it made me look back at the book as a whole and realise that the dull bits were just part of the suspense. I think I was expecting straight-up horror but while Earthbound certainly has that, it is more of a psyhological story. The description of David’s mind and thoughts as he slowly drowns in his obsession for Marianna for example is rich and almost disturbing.

Thing is though, I think most of us can relate to being obsessed with another person that we are infatuated with on a near-toxic, unhealthy level. We know it is senseless and irrational with no chance of a happy, wholesome ending. I know I certainly can and I was reminded of the dark time in my life when I’m ashamed to admit that I was a slave to a woman’s beauty, my mind akin to a runaway minecart. And while my own experiences pale drastically next to the supernatural forces and savage sex that David Cooper faces in Earthbound, I still saw murky reflections there. It made me feel a touch uncomfortable about myself as a human being and a man and that is, in my opinion, REAL horror that hits harder than any OTT gore or monsters could ever hope to.

My overall feeling about Earthbound is that it is a book that probably needs a second read-through in order to fully appreciate. I think being pre-armed with pre-existing knowledge of the characters (rather than being frustrated by the lack of explanation and scant characterisation of David and Ellen early on) would help the reader enjoy the suspense and pyschological aspects of the book that much more.

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #5: Monster Blood (R.L. Stine, 1992)

MB-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I have to begin this particular review with a little mystery. If you have read the previous entries in this series then you may be thinking that I’ve made a mistake in a title. After all, the previous book – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – was dated 1993 so why are we going BACK to 1992 for the next book in the series? Well, the copyright page of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb stated “First Published in the US by Scholastic Inc., 1993”. Here, with Monster Blood, it states 1992. Though all of these books look uniform in terms of covers, I definitely have a mix of editions on my hands. After all, the prices for these books began at £2.99 in the UK before rising to £3.50 and then – finally – £3.99. What’s more, these prices are printed on the back of the books so it’s clear whether you have an original or newer printing in your hands. That said, the copyright pages don’t ever change and only show the date of the first UK publication. In addition to that, they could have printed these books and updated the copyright pages a billion times over and it still shouldn’t affect the original US publication date.

The only solution I can offer is that Monster Blood was published before The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb in the US and the order of release was switched about for the UK. I haven’t looked into it though so feel free to enlighten me on the truth in the comments if you know! Anyway, that’s enough rambling about publication dates. Onto Monster Blood

The Blurb

Evan’s not too happy about staying with his weird Aunt Kathryn – she gives him the creeps!. But at least he’s found a friend, and they’ve discovered a great toyshop, selling really cool things – like Monster Blood.

But there’s something very strange about this Monster Blood – it seems to be growing…and growing…and growing…

And what’s more, it’s developed an appetite – a monstrous appetite!

We’ve arrived at one of the most iconic series’ in Goosebumps’ run and one of the longest-lasting. There are four Monster Blood installments in total with Monster Blood IV completing the original run of 62 books. This here though, is where it all begins. Evan’s parents are having trouble re-locating to a new home in Atlanta and so, while they are busy sorting out adult affairs, they leave Evan with his Aunt Kathryn. Thing is, Aunt Kathryn is pretty sinister, looks like a witch and is completely deaf. Evan is also in an unfamiliar neighbourhood where he knows nobody and so it doesn’t look like a fun summer is on the cards.

Fortunately, he chances upon a new friend – Andy (full name, Andrea – she’s a girl don’t you know?) – and finds some form of escape from Kathryn’s house at least. Andy suggests that they go into the nearby town where there is a toy shop.

Evan hesitated. He hadn’t told his Aunt he was going into town. But what the heck, he thought. She wouldn’t care.

Besides, What could possibly happen?

Oh nothing much…apart from finding a strange tin in the shop’s back room labelled “Monster Blood”, the contents of which will lead to supernatural horror. Just your standard trip to the local store, huh? While they are in the shop, there is another really dated 90’s moment which I should save for the “Incredibly Dated Segment” at the end of this review but I’ve used the Nintendo card several times in a row now so I’ll just include it here.

“Do they have Nintendo games?” Evan asked her, whispering, afraid to break the still silence.

“I don’t think so,” Andy whispered back. “I’ll ask.” She shouted up to the front, “Do you have Nintendo games?”

It took a while for the man to answer. He scratched his ear. “Don’t stock them,” he grunted finally, sounding annoyed by the interruption.

I’m starting to wonder if Stine was sponsored by Nintendo. Of course, the truth is that Nintendo as a brand was just THAT big in society back in the 80’s and early 90’s so I shouldn’t be surprised that it finds it’s way into children’s fiction.

Anyway, Evan purchases the tin of Monster Blood from the shop (much to owner’s annoyance since Evan simply waltzes into an off-limits back room and picks it up from a shelf of crap) and then he and Andy mess about with the slimy contents, unaware of what the (very) near future holds. The Monster Blood begins to grow, becoming too much for the original container to hold. Evan and Andy have to keep finding new ways to store the green goop and, as is Goosebumps tradition, none of the adults have even the slightest clue what is happening. Evan’s dog – Trigger – even gets away with growing in size after ingesting some Monster Blood and nobody else seems to see the problem – not even a vet who diagnoses Trigger’s sudden doubling in size as a late growth spurt!

At wit’s end, Evan and Andy have to resort to pouring the Monster Blood into dustbin but it soon escapes and begins a deadly rampage as the book reaches it’s endgame.

A robin, pulling at a worm in the grass, didn’t look up in time. The trembling green mass rolled over it.

“Oh!” Evan moaned, turning back to see the bird sucked into the green ball. It’s wings flapping frantically, the bird uttered a final cry, then disappeared inside.

Plop. Plop. Plop.

The Monster Blood changed direction, still bouncing and quivering, and leaving white stains on the grass like enormous round footsteps.

“It’s alive!” Andy screamed, her hands pressed against her cheeks. “Oh, my God – it’s ALIVE!”

Reading this book as adult, I can still appreciate the concept of the Monster Blood and the sinister description of the massive green blob as it begins absorbing people, looking to feed on living creatures. It is, of course, a complete rip-off of 1958’s The Blob, a classic horror movie about an ever-growing alien blob that devours the citizens of a town. Unoriginal it may be but I still enjoyed Monster Blood as a ‘lite’ version of The Blob.

Until the conclusion that is. You’d hope for an interesting explanation as to the origins of the Monster Blood substance, especially given how creepy the toy shop and its odd owner were. Unfortunately, everything falls to shit at the end so if you somehow haven’t already read this book, prepare for spoilers and all that.

As it turns out, the Monster Blood itself isn’t evil or a sentient creature. Y’see, Aunt Kathryn really IS a witch and she was forced to place a spell on the otherwise inert Monster Blood by ANOTHER witch that had been disguised as her cat – Sarabeth – all along. Sarabeth is also responsible for Aunt Kathryn’s deafness and had been keeping her captive for the last twenty years. Where had Sarabeth came from and for what reason did she move in with Kathryn and decide to keep her under her control? And why did she decide to kill Evan and Andy in the most obtuse, ridiculous manner possible? It’s a bizarre finale that takes away the mystery of the Monster Blood with a load of partially explained (and that’s being generous) nonsense about witches and black magic.

The ending feels extremely cheap, almost as if somebody else wrote it at the last minute. Naturally, the Monster Blood – now shrunk back to its original volume – disappears while everybody is preoccupied with attempting to wrap their brains around the nutty events that had just transpired. I thought this stuff was only alive thanks to the (now broken) spell? I guess we will have to wait for Monster Blood II

The Cover

On a more positive note, I LOVE the cover for Monster Blood. The tin looks evil as fuck with a jack-o-lantern style face and glowing red eyes peering out from the dark innards of the can. It’s worth remembering that the can isn’t depicted like this in the story but this is the kind of artistic liberty that I can wholeheartedly approve of.

The incredibly dated bit

I wonder if Aunt Kathryn has a video, he thought. He quickly dismissed the idea. No way…

A nice little flashback there to the days of VHS tapes and VCRs. In fact, this book is SO old that it was still feasible to assume that people didn’t even have video players…

The nostalgia rating

Pretty high with this one as Monster Blood is one of the more recognisable books in the series. While I didn’t remember how that terrible ending played out, I did recall most of the other events in the book so it must have stuck in my brain.

Up Next: Let’s Get Invisible!