Bites

thetrainPublished: December 1993
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Hannah, Mack, Kerry and Lewis. Four friends enjoying Parker High School’s cross-country train tour from Chicago to San Francisco – until they learn what is on the train with them…a coffin. Frog’s coffin.

One by one, Hannah’s friends guiltily confess all the nasty things they did to Frog before his sudden and horrible death, and then, one by one, they are viciously attacked.

It seems that Frog is out for revenge. But Frog is dead…isn’t he?  (goodreads.com)

This is another one that I don’t really feel one way or another about.  I didn’t hate it but I’m not flying off my seat for it either.

With Hannah getting trapped in a coffin and she doesn’t know why she’s being targeted it does get a little creepy but most of the time I was just reading to read.  The book didn’t leave much of an impression on me, good or bad so it’s kind of difficult to think up things to say about it.

The characters were good, each slotted into their own roles as jock or jokester or tag-along or high maintenance or whatever.  At least they weren’t caricatures.  They actually read as real people with real emotions and existed beyond the single dimension of the page.  With that being said I didn’t really connect with them in any meaningful way either.  I read what was happening and I was engaged but I wasn’t invested in any of them as characters.  I didn’t care how the story ended.

The plot itself was fine and different considering it’s on a train.  I don’t know if that was a normal thing back in the early 90s.  I imagine it would be cheaper for parents to send their children on trips via train (in theory, from my understanding rail travel isn’t necessarily cheaper) but it seemed like so much hassle.  And going from Chicago to San Francisco?  I think the explanation the book gave was giving the students a chance to see America.  I guess, but it’s a pretty cumbersome venture.

The notion of transporting a corpse-filled coffin on the train is in and of itself kind of creepy and morbid and of course it’s the coffin of their dead schoolmate.  On top of that the high maintenance chick packed too much and has to store her stuff in baggage, with the coffin, so thanks to her everyone knows it’s on board, lending itself to the notion of ‘is it the dead classmate hurting people?’  Meh.  It’s fine but I’m not going nuts over it.

Of course the ending is a bit overly dramatic but that’s par for the course for these old school YA horror books.  Big showdown, isn’t the person you thought it’d be, good person comes out the victor.  The end.

At this point it’s really difficult for me to say much about THE TRAIN because, really, I don’t feel much for it.  It’s just one of those eh books.

2.5

601560Published: May 1, 1992
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

A mysterious fever rages through Duffy’s body, robbing her of her strength and leaving her helpless in her hospital bed.  In the middle of the night, she is awakened by terrifying sounds and a voice that cries out, “No!  Please, don’t!”

Is it a delirious dream?

Or is she the only witness to a vicious crime?

As the days pass, Duffy tries desperately to figure out what really happened that night.  Her temperature climbs higher and higher, and she fears she is losing her mind.

And someone wants to make sure that she does.

After all, fever can be deadly.  (book back blurb)

At first I thought THE FEVER was going to center around a mysterious illness but it really doesn’t.  It lends a hand to the greater plot but the larger issue going on is that someone is trying to kill Duffy but no one will believe her because they think she’s delirious from being sick.  She’s not a character I was really able to feel anything for because she was a bit whiny and bratty and snipped at people when she didn’t get her way.  Toward the end her anger was understandable because no one was believing her but it would have helped if she were a little less snippy with people at the beginning to bring in the sympathy.

Once things started happening to her it did pull me a bit more into the story and I did want to find out who was doing these things to her.  I never doubted her, though, and I would have liked to.  I like it when, in horror, you as a reader start second-guessing everything that’s happening because it’s written in a way that lends itself to that kind of reading doubt.  There was a hint of that here at the beginning but it really wasn’t reinforced so I never questioned whether what was happening to Duffy was real or not.  Instead of really blurring the lines between delusion and reality Hoh relied on derpy people around her to continue questioning the bratty sick kid that complains a lot.  And really she didn’t complain all that much.  She whined, sure, but most of her illness-related complaints were legitimate; she was just a brat when relaying them.

It bothers me when crucial evidence isn’t taken to the appropriate authorities as a means of fueling a blow-out for an ending.  Like when Duffy had her friend run her medication to her brother’s lab and have them tested, and they come back reaffirming her very big concerns about what was in them.  Instead of going to the doctors with that very real lab paperwork plus the two outside witnesses that can attest to that information and stopping everything in its tracks Duffy sits on it and nearly gets herself killed in the inevitable showdown at the end.  It’s kind of annoying.

The culprit ended up being someone routinely involved with the story but it was done in a way that if you think about the situation for more than a second there would have been no way the issue would have been pinned on this person to begin with to start fueling this murder spree.  Not a chance.  But every story needs a villain and this person was it.

I mean overall it was okay.  It was a more fleshed out story and even at the end, when some rather horrible news was revealed, I did feel bad for Duffy when she reacted to it.  It wrapped up rather nicely and there was only a fade-to-black moment after the villain was thwarted by Duffy so it delivered in that regard.  I think the story could have been better if it didn’t rely on stupid characters to carry the story.  It was a good story and one that could have been so much more substantial than what it was but I guess it’s good enough for old school YA horror.  It’s definitely one of the better books in that it had me guessing and trying to figure out what was going on.  But I didn’t feel a part of the story, I didn’t feel involved myself and I would have liked to have been.

3.5

monsterPublished: July 1, 1994
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Rumors are flying around Salem U. Stories about a monster roaming the campus. Tales of students viciously attacked in the dead of night.

Abby McDonald thinks it’s all nonsense. A fraternity prank. A drama major giving an unusual “performance”.

She has too much on her mind to worry about a monster.

But she should be worried.

Because the truth about the monster is even more horrible than she could have imagined…  (goodreads.com)

I liked MONSTER.  It was creepy and cheesy and spine-tingly and it hit right for old school YA horror.

I just want to know who’s taking chemistry as a 100/200 level class if they don’t actually have to?  Talk about torture.  Another bid to my thinking that the Nightmare Hall books don’t really know whether to be high school or college.  While I’m sure chemistry’s offered at college level no one would actually subject themselves to that unless it was required for a major or minor.  Ick.

So a monster is supposedly stalking the campus and attacking people but most don’t really believe it.  Until someone in their circle of friends is attacked and he swears it was really some kind of beast that did it.  Soon “proof” starts turning up in the form of clumps of coarse fur but even then Abby can’t be bothered with it too much because she’s spread herself out a bit too thin as it is.  On top of stuffing herself full of school in order to maintain her scholarship she’s working part-time in the cafeteria and her boyfriend of multiple years is slipping away from her because she doesn’t make time for him.  So much on her plate!

I really like Hoh’s ability to build suspense.  It feels natural and organic to the story and she’s good at misleading you down one path to the truth when really it’s another path entirely.    I’m sure the more Nightmare Hall books I read the more formulaic this will get but for right now it’s refreshing and lends itself to the scare factor of the story.

With MONSTER you do get a supernatural element to it and it’s kind of neat.  Different but recognizable once that twist is revealed.  It’s even mentioned by another character, the familiar part to it, so you can’t miss it if you don’t immediately recognize it yourself.  There are a few possibilities for who could be doing this but over the course of the story those suspects get whittled out and I think that lends itself to a greater level of suspense.  WHO’S LEFT?

MONSTER is what I think of when I think of YA horror.  It’s cheesy, yes, but it embodies teen life (at least in the 90s), it has a heavy dose of suspense, a supernatural element, and a twist ending that you may or may not see coming.  I didn’t see this one coming although, really, things aren’t all that subtle in hindsight.  Isn’t that always the truth?  Still, I really liked MONSTER for what it was.  The characters were believable; they weren’t caricatures of teenagers and how someone thinks they might interact.  Abby is a genuinely good character that has too much on her plate but her intentions are nothing but admirable.  Unfortunately things don’t always work out for her.  I actually felt for them in the too-short story and yeah, it was creepy too.

4.5

thenightwalkerPublished: March 1, 1994
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Quinn Hadley is sure she must be the only sleepwalker at Salem.  It’s so embarrassing, especially since she never remembers where she was or what she was doing.  But it’s never been a problem.

Until now.

Because someone is roaming the campus, attacking people in the middle of the night.

No one knows who the crazed stalker is.

But all the clues point to Quinn.  (book back blurb)

A different sort of cheese but something a little more robust, I think.  Hoh’s characters are a bit more fleshed out, have better personalities, aren’t crappy people to each other.  So already things are looking up.

What I will say against the Nightmare Hall books as a whole is that sometimes it can’t decide if it wants to be in high school or college.  Talk of being in home room (not a thing in college) and just the general feel of the setting a lot of the time felt more high school when directly related to the classes themselves.  It really wasn’t too sure of itself in that regard.  And then it would talk about roommates and the campus and off-campus housing and it felt a little more college there but then SCHOOL would come back up and it would flip flop again.  It made for a kind of jerky read from a setting standpoint.

As for the story Hoh does a good job of setting up suspense.  All signs definitely point to Quinn doing these things while she’s sleepwalking but the only thing we don’t have is why and you’re left to claw through everything to figure that out while more people get attacked.  Once other clues start getting dropped that work against Quinn, the suspense around her sleepwalking starts to crack and before long that theory is disproved.  Even then that opens a whole new can of worms because who could it be then and still, WHY?

I wouldn’t say NIGHT WALKER was so much scary as it was suspenseful.  People got hurt but no one actually died, there was never any kind of supernatural element to the plot, and all you had was, essentially, a murder mystery without the murder.  Which is fine.  I didn’t mind that at all.  But it’s not horror.  It was creepier when the potential was on Quinn possibly doing these things in her sleep and not knowing about it, or why she was doing it.  Once that dissolved the suspense kind of went with it.  It tapered off after that for me and once all the clues clicked into place to reveal who it really was it was just kind of meh.  Standard fair, really.

THE NIGHT WALKER is still better than the later Fear Street books just because all of the characters are better and more realistic but I definitely wasn’t scared reading it.  Suspenseful, sure.  But not scary.

3.5

June 1, 2015

cheesesummer

It’s scary!  It’s terrifying!  It’s downright cheesy.

This summer, in a bid to unload a chunk of my books from my TBR pile, I’m holding the Summer of Cheese.  What is cheese, you ask?  Other than something incredibly tasty that goes well with nearly anything?  Well, kids, cheese is my love (that kind of cheese too).

Cheese is Fear Street.  It’s Christopher Pike and RL Stine and Diane Hoh and Richie Tankersley Cusick.  It’s Point Horror and Nightmare Hall and everything in between.  It’s 90s teen horror in all its gooey glory!  And I have two towering stacks of these books and since they take no time at all to read, why not plow through them?

Usually I associate horror with the fall but these books . . . these books scream summer, whether at camp, by a body of water, around a fire, an amusement park, whatever.  These glorious pieces of horror are all about summer and now so am I.

Starting June 1 and ending August 31 I will be reviewing nothing but these old school YA horror books (mostly, excepting any review books that crop up that need to go out in a timely fashion).  All cheese, all the time this summer on Bites.  Keep tabs on the Cheese Summer menu option under Extras above for all the collected cheesy awesomeness.

Be prepared to get munstered.