Bites

So . . . not sure I’m going to do this again next year, especially since it’ll be coming up on my wedding and ain’t nobody got time for that.

What I learned is that it actually takes me longer to read these books than I originally thought so I wasn’t able to smash through them as quickly as I wanted to.  On top of that if I took time out to read a YAck book it set me behind in my Summer of Cheese reading.  And I think I only did that once and it threw me off for the rest of the summer.  I ended up only being a few days ahead of my posts cropping up and for books I was largely unimpressed with that’s a pile of unnecessary stress.

I found that RL Stine is far better at writing middle grade than he is writing YA.  For some reason he thinks teens are total shitbags that don’t know the concept of friendship and are completely undermining and backstabbing each other.  He also has a habit of having “twist” endings that aren’t so much twists but endings coming completely out of nowhere that weren’t otherwise set up throughout the book.  So surprise endings, I guess, because they certainly were surprises.  Meanwhile, in the few Goosebumps books I read (because they do take me no time to read and it helped fill in gaps on super short notice, call it a cheat, whatever), which are middle grade books, I got totally believable characters, most of them actually garnering some interest from me as a reader, and the lead-up to the horror toward the end set a great scene and them BOOM.  Scary.  They were just better written, more fleshed out, more vividly set books than the Fear Street books, which I found shocking.  But it’s plain that middle grade is his mastery.  Both formulaic, but I found myself next to never rolling my eyes at Goosebumps books and nearly constantly rolling my eyes at Fear Street books.  Although I will say Stine does get rather twisted in the way he kills his characters.  I fully support that.

Christopher Pike writes excellent, detailed stories that sometimes bordered on a little too much detail.  But the effort he put into them helped them rise above the stock YA horror of the time plus I think it helped his novels transcend time far better than the Fear Street books.  It’s a different level of writing that would have made him stand out back then against the rest of the YA horror and a type of writing that would fit in perfectly with today’s market for the effort he takes in creating these stories.  They were far more complex and delved far deeper into questions that one wouldn’t expect from the genre it was marketed in.  It was all such a pleasant surprise and I fully support Pike’s older stuff.  Now I just need to get around to reading his newer works.  I’m still hoping he tours.  When I first moved to Arizona he was supposed to do a signing at a local bookstore but it cancelled.  Super sad about that.  And it was never rescheduled.

The rest of them bring their own brand of YA horror flair to the mix.  I think the only non-Stine/Pike author I read more than a couple books of was Diane Hoh and I liked her stuff enough.  She tended to the Pike side of what I liked than the Stine, more substantial characters, better constructed plot, that kind of thing.  Most of them, though, tended toward the more psychopathic ending as opposed to anything supernatural, which did surprise me.  Considering the genre and how much flair was involved with it you’d think there’d be more non-human monsters involved or something.  Nope.  Many of them just ended up being about demented people doing crazy things.

I did make a fairly sizable dent in my shelf pile, though:

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All three of those piles were even at the start of summer so I’d say that’s a pretty solid chunk of reading I did.  I have a short pile of books at my feet to add back into that but luckily it won’t fill that hole back in.

All in all it was okay.  More work than what I was expecting, mainly to stay on top of my self-imposed posting schedule but that’s on me.  If I do do it again next year I think I’ll reduce posting from thrice weekly to twice weekly just to ease up on the strain a little.  I don’t read as fast as I like, which is fine, just not for posting three books a week.  I thought I’d be able to read a bunch at a time, like one a day, and just schedule out.  Didn’t even come close to happening like that.  Live and learn, I guess.

sweetsixteenPublished: September 1, 1996
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Leslie can’t wait to turn sweet 16. She’s planning a huge birthday bash. Everybody is invited. It’s going to be a total blast! But then weird things start to happen–scary things. Seems that someone doesn’t want Leslie to make it to sweet 16. Still, a few little accidents aren’t about to scare Leslie. She’s going to have her party–even if it kills her.  (goodreads.com)

Less than thrilled with SWEET SIXTEEN.  It had its moments but for the most part the characters weren’t the greatest and the plot just wasn’t catching enough.

Leslie and Trisha are antagonistic cousins who sort of hang out with each other but not really because Trisha doesn’t really like Leslie for unknown reasons.  Actually she probably doesn’t like Leslie because her home life is stable, she has an idyllic boyfriend, is getting a great sweet sixteen, and basically has everything Trisha doesn’t.  The foundation for resentment.  Anyway, their birthdays are only a couple weeks apart and they start experiencing unruly events prior to Leslie’s birthday (which comes up first).  Initially they’re just more like pranks but soon they start to escalate, again for reasons unknown.

You’re led to believe it’s Caroline, Leslie’s boyfriend’s, Rick’s, ex-girlfriend because she wants Rick back and will supposedly do anything to get him.  Isn’t there always one?  You see her making snide little comments and dropping notes and generally just making sure that Leslie knows she’s still in the picture and not to get too comfortable.  Believe it or not I kind of believed that little set-up, people acting as if a person is something to possess and therefore it’s a matter of retrieving it as opposed to that “thing” having feelings and not wanting to be with you.  Of course Rick doesn’t do the situation any favors by still doing favors for Caroline.  You know, because she needs him.  Turns out Rick just has White Knight syndrome and needs to get over himself.

I actually thought Trisha was far more dynamic than Leslie, coming from a more complex situation and just being deeper as a character.  But it was Leslie’s story so she is what you get.  She takes solace in Rick’s arms when things get bad but, to her credit, she gets herself out of a tough situation and takes a very mature stance against it.  I can’t fault her for that.  Nor can I fault her when she realizes Rick treats her like a fragile doll and that’s not what she wants.  Bravo on that one.  But beyond that things happen to her, she continues to try and plan her party, the climax happens, we get the big reveal and that’s about it.

The entire story is based on the half-finished prediction of a seemingly crazy old lady that’s really contrived to begin with.  A friend of their grandmother’s decides to read their palms at the grandmother’s birthday party for THEIR upcoming birthdays but it’s not completed because something happens and then fast forward two years later.  It’s all very thin and on shaky legs to begin with.

I mean it was okay but that’s about it.  It was a really fast read but mainly because it was short.  The story wasn’t incredibly engaging, the characters were less than impressive and, while different, the story didn’t leave much of an impression.

2.5

335693Published: May 1, 1990
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Kelly has always been afraid of final exams. Now she’s scared to death.

Something strange has been going on all week….something weird. It started with someone playing a few pranks on her at school. Trashing her locker. Stealing her purse. Then the pranks turned deadly.

Someone doesn’t want Kelly to graduate. They’ve prepared a special final exam, just for her. And she’d better not have any wrong answers … because her life depends on it.  (goodreads.com)

While not scary FINAL EXAM turned out to be one of my favorite reads from this summer mainly because I liked the characters, especially Kelly since she’s a mechanic and, for the most part, actually makes some really sound decisions that I could get behind.

The set-up for the panic about final exams doesn’t make a whole ton of sense to me.  In this story everyone’s seniors and for some reason their finals will affect college to a serious extent.  When I was in school really nothing beyond junior year was counted toward your college transcripts.  That’s why a lot of people took a far easier course load their senior year because they could just kind of scoot on by.  So I really wasn’t on board with the exam panic because it didn’t make sense to me.  Maybe they did things differently before my time and maybe it’s done differently now but to me it would have made more sense had Kelly been a junior to have that level of panic (not to mention that number of exams) about finals.

I really liked Kelly as a character.  She stood on her own, did things her own way and wasn’t really too concerned about what others thought about her.  She didn’t really have any antagonistic relationships beyond the one with her sister and people looked to her for car advice because she’d built a reputation for herself as a good mechanic.  It all seemed so NORMAL.  I don’t get that even now in YA, this very easy, basic school situation where it’s not total hell and someone’s just existing through it.  She becomes suspicious when the popular boy takes an interest in her because she’s not his type (based on his cheerleader-chasing reputation) and that amplifies when bad things start happening to her because she doesn’t really know him.  And the end . . . LOVED THE END when it came to their relationship.  It just shot insta-love in the foot and settled the relationship at a far more reasonable level.  Loved it.  Aside from the horror aspect FINAL EXAM is just so grounded and relatable for me that it really resonated just from that respect.

As for the story itself it was just okay.  It had a moment where I really thought I was going to get a sappy, everyone hug ending despite the number of pages I still had left at that moment but I got a bigger bang than that, thank god.  It was a challenge trying to figure out who was doing these things to Kelly because the way the author approached the situation, everyone was a reasonable suspect.  It literally could have been anyone and it was set up so succinctly I can’t help but admire it.  The situation with Danny, her ex-boyfriend, I could have lived without but he was another body to throw suspicion into the mix so I get why he was there.  Still, not a fan of his character.

Overall I think FINAL EXAM is one of the best cheesy old school YA horror books I’ve read simply because it felt the most realistic for me.  From the characters to their personalities and even many of the scenarios that played out, I could buy a lot of it.  I wouldn’t really consider it scary because the only scary thing that did happen was at the end, everything else could just be considered pranks and weren’t anything at all terrifying, so that dampened it down a little.  But aside from that it was a well-constructed book with some solid characters and I really liked reading it.

4.5

adeadlygamePublished: October 28, 1992
Publisher: Dell Publishing
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Seeking shelter from a fierce Texas storm, four teens are trapped inside a strange house as unwitting players in a magician’s evil games. The phone goes dead. A plaster head suddenly appears. A disembodied hand taps the mantel. Then the magic turns even more sinister, leading inevitably toward murder.  (goodreads.com)

While I didn’t find it scary I did like the story A DEADLY GAME OF MAGIC offered. It’s well-plotted and pretty intricate for one of these old school YA horror novels and I could really appreciate that.

The characters weren’t anything to write home about.  They weren’t the greatest to each other but that’s more to the fact that they weren’t actually friends but thrown together for a group project.  They didn’t really know each other beyond going to school together.  I felt the characters were the weakest part of the book since none of them were all that fleshed out to really invest in.  Despite their differences they were all being molded by their parents to be something their parents wanted instead of doing what they wanted so they ended up uniting under that unifying front.  But that’s about as deep as the characters got.  Considering I did like the story itself quite a bit the lack of character depth didn’t really bother me.  They got me through the story and while they were annoying at times they were still heads and tales better than the students at Shadyside High.

The plot itself was pretty well-constructed and breadcrumbs were dropped from the very beginning, threading the plot along so that it left no stone unturned and resolved itself pretty nicely, if not a little creepily.  Actually the ending was rather depressing if you think about it for a second.  SPOILER ALERT: The husband and wife magician team that these students end up coming across is the culmination of an abusive relationship where the wife was trying to get away from the husband.  She didn’t and paid the ultimate price.  So while the students’ story resolved rather cleanly and they all got out okay the side story had an incredibly dark ending that really drags it all down the more you think about it.  END SPOILER ALERT

But the way the mystery is woven into the more suspenseful plot is something I really liked.  Who’s after them and why?  It all gets answered at the end.  It’s well-constructed and didn’t have me rolling my eyes at all.  Definitely a marked improvement over some of these old school YA horror books.  Not the scariest of them but the underlying subplot is creepy in a real world sort of way that digs in a little deeper, I think.  The impression it leaves lasts longer.  Well worth the read.

4

truthordarePublished: February 1, 1995
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

What else is there to do, with all seven of them stuck in Dara Harker’s luxury ski condo? There are three guys and four girls – some of them friends, some nearly strangers — all of them trapped. A blinding blizzard has stilled the lifts, blocked the roads, and killed the phones.

A game, they think, will help them break the ice. Who will tell the truth? Who will take a dare? And how far will each of them go?

But then the game turns deadly. One of them, it seems, would rather kill than tell the truth.

And kill again.  (goodreads.com)

And we have another typical Fear Street book with crappy characters being crappy and the ending coming out of nowhere with a barely strung-together plot.  How surprising.  I think for the last bit of Summer of Cheese I’m going to stay away from Fear Street.  It’s getting far too redundant and annoying.

So you have a bunch of teenagers going to use a rich chick’s parents’ ski house for a few days and they end up getting snowed in.  To pass the time they play Truth or Dare and it riles some feathers that cause one of the residents to go off the rocker and start killing people.  That’s one hell of a game.

You have more characters who don’t have any general concern for the world around them so they’re crappy to each other, don’t have much concern for each other beyond what it would serve them.  So when people start dying or getting hurt it’s brushed off fairly easily.  Not surprising.  So I couldn’t get behind any of them although I will say the protagonist (whose name escapes me, it’s not Dara) was okay but she’s really just a conduit for the story.  She didn’t have a whole ton of personality of her own.

When weird things started happening I didn’t really care.  Everyone was already back-biting and getting snippy with each other so why should I?  When the plot finally resolved the culprit was pretty out of nowhere.  I mean, I guess a connection could be made but the way the plot was written it was never intoned that this person could be committing these crimes so, like a lot of Fear Street books the ending was like, ‘oh, by the way, it was this person that you’d never suspect because there wasn’t any reason for you to suspect them.’

I’m coming to the conclusion that these books really don’t stand the test of time.  It doesn’t necessarily seem like a market thing because Fear Street books are pretty much alone in the crappy characters being crappy to each other arena.  So I think it was just Stine’s style when it came to writing YA.  This kind of thing doesn’t show in his Goosebumps books and I haven’t read any of his adult novels.  So I think it was just a thing that sold.  With the new Fear Street I don’t find that level of character crap so I think it was updated somewhat for the current market while keeping its original creep factor.  These old ones, though, the market just can’t bear them anymore.  They’re far too lacking in depth for today’s teen.

1.5