PHBC – The Watcher by Lael Littke

2564599What’s it all about?

Soap addled fangirl Catherine Belmont is a huge fan of glossy, two minute drama ‘Lost River’ until the events of the show start to come true! As her lookilikey ‘Cassandra Bly’ is stalked by a mysterious figure, so is Catherine.

Stalked by a mysterious figure?

Indeed. Catherine is secretly filmed, left numerous roses, presented with balcony DIY, spooky phone calls and haunted by whispering. It’s all to do with her mum’s old shag.

The Girl

Sadly, Catherine takes us firmly back into the April Fools territory of TSTL – Too Stupid To Live. OK, girl, we all loved a bit of Sunset Beach back in the day, but we didn’t all write to Annie Douglas for a signed photograph. Oh, wait, I actually DID do that. Even so, I didn’t get her haircut, practice a British accent and start running to an electrical goods shop to watch over lunchtime. Also, her level of non-commitment to cheerleading makes me question her commitment commitment.

The Love Interest

A feeble love triangle sort of thing is brewing with Catherine/Cath/Cathy/Cassandra and boy-next-door Wade and handsome newcomer Travis.

Wade says stuff like: ‘I like watching you, Cath.’ Creepy.

Travis says stuff like: ‘Oh boy…I’ve stained your carpet.’

Slim pickins. Worst OF ALL THE BOOKS EVER, Travis has some sort of shady backstory WHICH WE’RE NEVER TOLD. Never. No clue. Answers on a postcard, pls. Fuck it. In the end, Catherine decides to send 14 of her eyelashes to Dr Carlton Wyatt at Lost River ER anyway.

The Gang

As well as the boys we have reliable best friend sort, Liz and Regina Georgesque Britny, whose name I couldn’t see without thinking of Brinty from the Nekci Minij Show.

lwren-scott-dark-gold-long-sleeve-tie-neck-blouse-product-3-15111383-364875085_large_flexFashion Faux Pas

Some key 90s fashions for Catherine include: ‘A full, flowered skirt and rust coloured blouse’ and full marks for ‘a pair of black pants and a gold shirt.’

Dialogue Disasters

OK are we ready for this: He fingered through the ring…

‘But how could it slip off my ring?’

He held out the ring to her

‘Britny took the key from your ring.’

‘You must have been watching the day Britny gave that key to Travis and he put it on his ring.’

‘The key to the cabin was on my ring.’

Some Mild Peril

All very standard PH. A breathy phone voice just isn’t what it once was. And it’s all ‘a little far fetched’ as Wade points out at one point.

Body Count: 1 (historically)

Did The Best Friend Do It? ‘Surprised, Cath?’ No. Not in the slightest, Liz.

Is It Any Good?

Well no, not if we’re honest. The soap opera concept is a fresh one but the issue with seeing what’s going to happen before it happens is that you know what’s going to happen. The most intriguing part for me was the back story with Catherine’s mother and TJ, although the reveal is so crushingly predictable I had scarce fucks to give. I can’t even with how Travis and Wade watched Lost River, went searching for a cemetery and got to the cabin in the woods in under two minutes. Unforgivable though is never finding out what happened in Travis’s past.

Over To You

Just one question this month – what the fuck is up with Travis?

 

Epilogue

It’s with a sad little heart I have to announce this is the final PHBC from me. It’s a lovely problem to have, but I’m just too busy with paid writing to do free writing any more! I know! Boo! But the most important thing with a book club is that as soon as it starts to feel like an obligation, you must stop at once. I gift it to you though. We’ve trolled nineteen titles now and some of us (Paul) have been here from day one. If someone else wishes to take over the mantle, I’m more than happy for the group to continue and I’ll drop in and out if I have time.

What have we learned? Teenage readers are perhaps drawn to different elements than adult ones – repetition and pattern being big draws. The ones I loved as a teen (Dream Date, Camp Fear) haven’t aged as well as some of the ones I wasn’t so sure about (The Yearbook, The Cheerleader). We learned Caroline B Cooney is a legend. We established RL Stine is as good now as he was then and that Collect Call is as good as we remembered The Cemetery being awful.

We can all agree that The Forbidden Game is still the undiscovered Twilight of its generation and that, I think, was my highlight.

Love you all – check out Under My Skin in March. Like Point Horror, but weirder and pinker.

PHBC: Nightmare Hall – The Silent Scream by Diane Hoh

310894What’s it all about?

Jess Vogt is a freshman at Salem University but quickly discovers her off-campus house, Nightingale Hall, was the scene of a tragic suicide the previous summer. What’s worse, Jess starts to believe her purple room which is purple may be haunted by dear, departed Giselle – not the supermodel.

And…

Jess starts to question if Giselle’s suicide was even a suicide at all. That’s right…Jess thinks Giselle was murdered! I KNOW!

The Girl

I think it’s important we try to understand Jess. By that I mean HOW THE HELL DO YOU PRONOUNCE HER NAME? Does it rhyme with yacht? Does it rhyme with yoghurt? Is it like Voight?

Jess is one of the better PH girls. She has a wry sense of humour and loves pizza. While not especially complex, we get the sense Jess is independent and laid-back. Certainly not the most irritating character we’ve met. Although she does have ‘navy blue eyes’…REALLY?

The Love Interest

This month the honours go to photographer/fishing enthusiast Ian Banion and his early top-knot. As Ian’s also a suspect he’s frustratingly vague, but you can’t knock a guy who takes you out for a Chinese every once in a while.

The Gang

As The Silent Scream is basically a whodunnit, we have a classic rag-tag bunch of housemate subjects.

As a side note – with the exception of Dee in The Forbidden Game have we read ANY other characters of colour? The large cast of TSS really highlights how hideously white the Point Horror world really is.

Back to this lot. We have rich boy Jon; uptight, bitchy Cath (‘Those suits are the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. Even on people with good figures’); possibly trans Linda; poetic Milo and charismatic handyman Trucker.

Even without reading the book, you can guess who the killer is from the list, right?

0bc5c24149470157339889aebfd915beFashion Faux Pas

In a new category for November, let’s check out those fashions!

Jess sports khaki shorts and sandals not to mention a curious I IS A COLLEGE FRESHMAN sweater that almost made me hate her. Ian, although apparently heterosexual does sport ‘faded denim cut-offs’. Cath and Jon win for their preppy ensembles: ‘perfectly creased, navy blue slacks’. Nice.

However, lets take a moment to envisage Cath’s ball dress: ‘Cath’s dress was like a pale blue cloud’.

Dialogue Disasters

Ian: ‘Nice smile.’ I SO wish Jess and replied ‘I’ll give you the number of my dentist.’

Jon. Poor Jon. Although Jon is meant to be cheesy so Hoh knows what she’s doing. ‘I was too busy having a great dream about Kim Basinger’

‘After all, my major is parties, sports…and women.’ Jon’s Salem’s Dapper Laughs.

Milo: ‘I’ve written some of my best poetry while I was sitting on the riverbank, fishing.’ Well haven’t we all?

Some Mild Peril

TSS is a game of two halves. The supernatural stuff is genuinely chilling. We all KNOW there is nothing scarier than ghost photography and Giselle appearing in Jess’s passport photos gave me the willies (quiet at the back). The dips in temperature and nightmarish visions are effective. I’m even OK with the slightly hokey ending.

Where it’s less good is the standard PH fair of ripped up swimming costumes, missing essays and (most stupidly) worms in a drawer. How does a worm crawl up your arm? ANSWER ME THAT?

Body Count: 2

Is It Any Good?

I really enjoyed TSS, far more than I thought I would and much more than our last Hoh offering, The Funhouse. Tellingly, I really want to order a load more Nightmare Hall outings as I seem to remember they all vaguely linked back to TSS in some way. I definitely read The Scream Team and The Wish back in the day.

The only critique is that the killer is so obvious. No amount of casting suspicion on Milo made me think for a second it was anyone other than the real killer. For me, I would have made Ian the killer. Or Linda could have revealed she was Giselle’s BF before her transition. That would have been perfect.

Over to you

Q – Did Giselle push Mrs Coates down the stairs? If so, why?

Q – What does Linda see in Milo? What does Jon see in Cath?

Q – What precisely do you think went down between Giselle and Milo in the past?

POINT HORROR BOOK CLUB will return in 2015…

 

PHBC: The Boyfriend vs The Girlfriend

The Boyfriend The Girlfriend
Cover 176400 girlfriend
What’s it all about? Borderline sociopath Joanna Collier sees AMATEUR DRAMATICS fan Dex fall off a cliff only to be surprised and horrified when he APPEARS to come back from the dead.What is the terrifying truth? Bet you can’t guess. Scott ‘Scotty’ Singleton soon regrets a weekend blowie with whispery redhead Shannon. That’s right, she’s a grade A bunny boiler. Lock up your pets! No, for realsies.
The Girl? As both titles this month are from the Godfather of Point Horror, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that neither lead character is typical.Joanna is a less self-aware Regina George. Hands up if you’ve ever been personally victimised by Joanna Collier? 

She leads Dex on, and treats new love interest Shep like a fashion accessory.

 

Stine hints at some major mummy/daddy issues, going some way to explain Joanna’s attitude problem. I don’t see any other author getting away with it.

Likewise, very few PH titles (The Yearbook) led with a male lead.The Girlfriend is no more and no less that a YA retelling of Fatal Attraction, and that’s no bad thing. 

However, it’s hard to tell if we’re meant to like Scotty. I think we’re meant to, but he does cheat on Lora (who is actually better than most PH girls – testament to Stine’s excellent dialogue).

 

Like Gone Girl’s Nick Dunne, this Golden Boy has it coming.

The Love Interest Dex is your standard Bad Boy from the bad side of town, except he’s not especially bad – just a bit stalky. It’s hard to understand what he sees in Joanna.Shep is a Golden Retriever of a character, but does grow a pair for the final (and demented) showdown and tells Joanna where to go. Lora (although perhaps too good to be true) is well realised. She loves Scotty but has a life of her own. Her sardonic take on her privileged life feels real.Her only misstep is her VERY fast forgiveness of Scotty at the end, he’d have been DEAD TO ME.
Dialogue Disasters This is RL Stine! There aren’t any obvious zingers, but please prove me wrong in the box below. ‘Bender’‘Fluffernutter’
Some Mild Peril Dex climbing in through Joanna’s window, and his lurking could be perceived as scary I suppose. The problem is, Dex isn’t very scary.Less would have been more, I feel. Shannon’s relentless pursuit of Scotty is effective. Scotty’s powerlessness is chilling.Stalking is a real threat, and this isn’t a bad portrayal – even if the climax is ludicrous.
Body Count 0 2 (animals)
Is it any good? Erm…Joanna is a welcome addition to the PH world – she’s truly hateful and a bold choice. It’s a shame she doesn’t get her comeuppance.I’m also a big Mary fan. Yes, the twist is obvious and I wish she hadn’t been quite so unhinged but I like the idea of her plotting against her frenemy. The Girlfriend feels slightly more like a PH than The Boyfriend and is better for it. Shannon is more believable than Dex, although it’s a shame she’s so one dimensional – I wish we knew more about her background.
Over to you! 1. Which title did you prefer and why?2. If you HAD TO, Dex or Shannon?3. Who’s a bigger shit? Joanna or Scotty? 

Next month we graduate high school and head to NIGHTMARE HALL – THE SILENT SCREAM by Diane Hoh.

 

 

PHBC: The Perfume featuring CAROLINE B COONEY!

perfumeWelcome to August’s Point Horror Book Club. Guys, I am so excited to announce that this month we are joined by Point Horror ROYALTY Caroline B Cooney! I KNOW! Caroline very kindly agreed to answer questions about THE PERFUME, this month’s title, and what it was like working on our beloved range in the nineties.

First, let’s examine THE PERFUME before we hand over to Caroline.

What’s It All About?

OK, bear with. Dove Daniels was supposed to be a twin, except her mother’s body rejected supposed twin, Wing. That’s right – Dove and Wing (more on that later). Anyways, a sinister new perfume, Venom, awakens Dove’s latent twin (who may also be an ancient evil from Egypt) and Wing proceeds to run riot with Dove’s body.

Run Riot?

Oh yes. She be cray. She tries to push Dove’s love interest out of a hot air balloon and everything. Guys, she GETS IN A FOUNTAIN.

The Girl

My favourite thing about The Perfume is Dove and the fact she is potentially just nuts. Even at the end, when only ‘very, very, very’ creepy teacher Mr Phinney believes her. Dove, according to her ‘maternal body’ (a phrase I’m adopting 100%) was supposed to be ‘soft, gentle and mewling’ while twin sister Wing was also meant to be strong and flying free.

In reality, Wing is pure teenage strop distilled into perfume. She kicks walls, slams doors and is openly horrid to Dove’s friends.

In the end, it’s no big surprise, Dove (and indeed Wing) are locked away in the mental hospital. For a week.

The Love Interest

Timmy only appears briefly but is pleasingly fleshed out. We learn Timmy isn’t a natural beauty – ‘he had overcome the handicap of being ugly’ – with his winning personality. After Wing almost pushes him out of a hot air balloon, he sensibly does a runner for good. Wise.

The Friends

An eclectic bunch. Connie is hugely irritating (and is supposed to be) like a sugared-up, self-made leader of the group. She actually rang true. Luce is gentler and kinder, but my personal favourite is glutton for punishment Hesta, who can’t get enough of Wing trying to kill her. Kinky.

Some Mild Peril?

The Perfume is scary in a way we haven’t really experienced before. Dove losing control, and Wing’s punishing behaviours feel very insidious. We may be in Point Horror territory but here we deal with self-harm, mental health (personality and, I’d argue, eating disorders) and identity.

Is It Any Good?

OK. The Perfume is the Marmite of the Point Horror world. Whichever way you frame it, it’s nuts. I think wilfully so. The whole thing reads like a Benylin and fever dream and I think that was Cooney’s intent. It’s a novel about possession and it feels possessed. As we learned from The Cheerleader, Cooney’s style is lyrical and metaphor rich which might not suit every reader (and didn’t suit me aged 12). As an adult I am so pleased Cooney contributed to the Point Horror range, they’re different. They’re wonderful.

Dove defeats Wing with a smelly handkerchief. I rest my case.

Caroline CooneyAnd now to the important business of MEETING CAROLINE B COONEY! OMG!

Hello Caroline! Thank you for taking part in our humble book club!

Let’s start with The Perfume. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde story about duality unlocked by an evil perfume called Venom. What inspired this title? Did you come up with it yourself or were Point Horror authors steered?

One day the editor phoned and said she had a title and from that one word, she wanted me to write a horror story.  “Perfume,” she said.  Since I do not use violence in the books, whatever this perfume was, it would have to affect the soul.  First I needed a name for the perfume, and it turned out that all real perfume names are copyrighted, so when I liked the word “obsession” it of course was a real perfume and I could not use that word.  I finally settled on Venom, and at least back then, there was no such perfume.  The moment I’ve named it venom, I think of snakes, so that was the starting point.

Your Point Horror titles always feel layered and metaphorical. What do you feel the themes of The Perfume are? I read messages about teenage rebellion, neglect and mental illness.

I’m a little iffy at discussing themes.  My main theme is: provide great entertainment for young readers.  As a Christian, I want also to write parables.  Very often the parable (completely hidden) in one of my stories is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which we have to decide – Who is the good neighbor?  The only who looks good or the one who acts?

The reason for “neglect” (your term) is simply that I have to keep adults off stage.  The minute there are parents in a story, that child won’t be allowed to act that way, or go that place, or do whatever. So it’s crucial to have parents who somehow just aren’t there.  It isn’t a demonstration of neglect, it’s omission of grownups because they just clutter it all up.

The main characters are called Dove and Wing. This is both amazing and bold. Your Point Horror character names were always unusual – how did you come up with them?

Names are such fun.  In fantastical stories, you can use names that otherwise you wouldn’t even saddle a cat with.  I collect names from newspaper lists of honor roll students, or sports teams, or whatever.  Once you have chosen a name for your character, that girl or boy begins to live.

What was your favourite Point Horror title to write?

I think I liked Freeze Tag best.  I grew in the 1950s, when your mother insisted on something called “fresh air” which today’s parents don’t do.  We had to play outside, and we played yard games, every kid and age on the street.  Most were chase variations, like Red Rover, or Freeze Tag, and I was always slightly frightened by pursuit.  (I’ve written a lot of pursuit adventures, too, like Fatality and Wanted.)

Your titles are fairly unique within the range. How did the Point Horror process work? How much authorial control did you have? Was there a rule book and did you stick to it?

All the Point Horror books that I wrote were written by assignment.  That is to say, the editor came up with an idea (usually one sentence) from which I had to construct 175 manuscript pages.  The first assignment was to write a trilogy that would be entry level horror – beginning horror, for readers who just wanted to be a little bit scared.  The rules were: no blood, no gore, no violence, no drugs, no bad parents.  The original titles were The Fog, The Snow and the Fire.  Later they were reissued as the Christina series.  I liked the rules, and for the most part, continued to follow them.

I rarely got to choose the titles.  At Scholastic, the editors met and decided what would be most commercial.  Since I was supporting 3 small children at the time, I did not oppose this.  Nor did I have anything to do with cover art.  On one Perfume cover, there is blood spilling out of the vial, even though there is none in the book.  It sells better, they said.

The Vampire Trilogy are fan favourites – how much fun was it to write such a glorious villain? And what’s with the shutters on the windows?

The vampire trilogy was great fun.  Again, I wanted no violence, so what dreadful dark thing can occur if the vampire doesn’t take blood?  (He’s my vampire, he’ll do what I decide.)  There was a house we drove by occasionally in Connecticut where I grew up which had such a tower, and I yearned to live there.  I can’t say why the shutters are involved.  You need detail, I guess, and there it is.

The Point Horror range petered out at the end of the nineties. What have you been up to since?

Three years ago I read a scholarly history by a British author, Nick Bunker, about the English background of the American Pilgrims.  It was a very intense read for me, as I am a Mayflower descendent.  Since I write for children, I tried to imagine as I read his extremely detailed excursion into whose these people were as Englishmen,  how the children lived.  After 2  years of research, including a l trip to Lincoln and the nearby scattered little villages where the Pilgrims came from and also to Leiden, where they lived for 12 years prior to sailing to Plymouth, I have been writing a historical novel about the children on the Mayflower.  However, it is for adults.  I can’t remember enjoying the writing of a book so much.

Again, thank you Caroline for answering the questions of a proper fanboy. In all seriousness, Point Horror books are the reason I’m now making a living from writing and I can only hope that in fifteen years’ time someone is still talking about my books.

Next month, we have our first DEATHMATCH – THE BOYFRIEND VS THE GIRLFRIEND, both by RL Stine.

PHBC: Mother’s Helper by A Bates

!!d7nnYw!mM~$(KGrHqYOKnUEw89OpVZ3BMRq3YG6gg~~_35What’s It All About?

Becky Collier, hurting from her boyfriend’s betrayal with her former bestie, accepts a job as a live in nanny on a remote island. Something is afoot though and Becky quickly realises this is no summer in paradise.

Something’s Afoot?

You betchya. Mrs Nelson is awfully suspicious, practically forcing Becky to hide out in the woods. Then the phone calls start…

Scary Phonecalls?

No. Just really annoying ones, potentially about PPI claims. It’s not as crap as it sounds though. Becky has to try work out what’s going on with little baby Devon and his twitchy mother AND suss out local forest prowler Cleve – is he curly haired friend or foe?

The Girl

As I mentioned last time, Mother’s Helper was the first Point Horror I ever read and *something* got me hooked. On second read it could well be Becky. Given that we’ve had some pretty shoddy female leads, Becky is wonderfully capable and down to earth.

The evidence:

1. ‘Actually, I’ve never needed rescuing my whole life…In fact, I’m the one who rescues everyone else.’

2. She’s fantastic at childcare. Her subtle undermining of Mrs Nelson is both funny and skilled.

3. It’s Becky who plots out the escape from the island with the fake baby – ingenious.

I’m not sure about the hair you can sit on though. That can’t be hygienic. I’m just picturing the last two inches of her hair matted with leaves and bits of chewing gum, not to mention toilet seat faecal matter. I mean, does she sometimes get poop on her hair? ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT.

The Love Interest

This is the first Point Horror to present a compelling hint of genuine and understated lesbian affection. Just kidding! Love interest Cleve is a wholesome all-american sailor/wood lurker who lives near the forest cabin.

I actually quite liked Cleve. When he and Becky go on dates (once Mrs Nelson lets Becky out), he’s quite sweet. I like the bread sharing exchange: the one who tears the bread doesn’t get to choose which bit they eat, and I enjoyed Cleve’s made-up Becky story in which she’s an heiress on the run. The sudden brooding moments are a tedious red herring but we’ve met a lot LOT worse*

*Chuck from The Babysitter flashback. *shudder*

imagesDialogue Disasters

Mrs Nelson’s dialogue veers towards bonkers: ‘I wasn’t brought up to publicly discuss private things!’ but *just* stays this side of acceptable. Even Devon’s baby chat isn’t awful.

With this in mind, I shall dedicate this whole section to the GRACEFUL WHALE EARRINGS. I mean whut?

Body Count: 0 (boooo!)

Some Mild Peril?

Mother’s Helper has a very different, slightly more mature feel to previous episodes. In fact, the whole thing feels very nineties thriller – think The Hand That Rocks The Cradle or Single White Female. The scares, as such, are classier – no creepy masks or guts in letterboxes. The mutilated dolls left in the cabin are the only clue we’re even in a Point Horror.

By far the most effective moment is when Mrs Nelson catches Becky in her locked bedroom. Point Horror could have used more high-tension moments like these.

Is It Any Good?

Yes. Despite not a lot actually happening, a sense of something lurking just in the woods is enough to keep you reading. Is it surprising that Mrs Nelson is a certified fruit loop? No, she’s act madder than a shithouse rat throughout. Trying to figure out precisely what’s up with her, though, is quite compelling. The fact that she stole Devon is a pretty neat twist though, one which I’d forgotten.

And I really think Bates deserves praise for creating a ‘strong female character’ in Becky, and a kind which we don’t see very often: a girl who is strong and capable without needing to be Buffy. The ending felt particularly compassionate, and wasn’t what I was expecting.

perfumeNext month we get a whiff of evil as we visit perhaps the most unusual Point Horror, THE PERFUME BY CAROLINE B COONEY.

Over to you:

1. Which is better – this or The Babysitter?

2. How did Franklin get the number for the cabin?

3. Why did Mrs Nelson bother to hire Becky? Isn’t this the least likely thing you’d do in her situation?

4. What does Mrs Nelson hope to achieve by pushing the sheriff off the cliffs?

5. Will Becky make it work with Cleve long-distance or will she be back in Jason’s clutches the day after she gets home?

 

PHBC: Collect Call by Christopher Pike

1d4d017b42a0b3a47f1cf110What’s it all about?

Janice Adams is besotted with ‘so fine’ Bobby Walker but has to compete for his affections with cheerleader Caroline Spencer. When Janice is forced to give Caroline a lift home, she realises Bobby has plans for both of them. Not good plans either. Bad plans.

Bad Plans?

Oh yes. You see, Bobby Walker is also The Black Walker – it’s like he isn’t even trying – and he’s gonna use his ‘dark sensual synthesiser’ mixtape to kill both Janice and Caroline.

The Girls

Janice is unlike any Point Horror girl we’ve ever met – she’s the Daria of the horror world and has run out of shits to give. Pike, as we should have expected, nails the teenage experience with lines like ‘her lungs were still virgin, along with the rest of her’ and ‘that may be the reason he doesn’t want to go out with you? Because you’re a slut?’ Although Janice isn’t likeable as such, she’s certainly believable.

Caroline is a little more standard Point Horror. She’s blond, she’s pretty…and kinda stupid…although she redeems herself somewhat in the end with the aforementioned mixtape and a shovel.

I'm the Black Walker, babeThe Guy 

Leather jacket wearing Bobby Walker is unfortunately reminiscent of Dream Date’s Heath. Still, he drives the ladies crazy with his tight, faded jeans. Bobby is a terrible, terrible douche like that guy you knew at university who thought he was the only person who only understood the Manic Street Preachers and knew exactly where Richie is hiding.

Also he doesn’t buy the popcorn when he takes Caroline to the cinema. AWK.

Dialogue Disasters

All Bobby. All cringe. ‘You got it sister.’

‘He laughed and said he like his women cold.’ WHAT? GROSS.

‘I love the full moon,’ he breathed. ‘It brings out the best in me.’

Although Caroline almost gives away the farm on the first date: ‘It’s you that’s going in the hole!’

Special mention to Bobby’s song: ‘Give me the knife and I’ll cut out your eyes.’ OOOOH SHOCKING.

Body Count: 2

Did the best friend do it? No.

Some Mild Peril

Collect Call is genuinely creepy. SPOILERS….the crux of the story revolves around Caroline’s apparent death in a fiery deathtrap car crash (we can only PRAY Belinda from April Fools wasn’t around to see it). As Janice flees the scene, she starts to receive voicemail messages from Caroline and this is where things get really creepy.

Even worse, Janice soon realises something is amiss, and the scene where she finds a body bag marked ‘Janice Adams’ is truly scary. The second half is perhaps less chilling as Caroline takes over the plot.

Is it any good?

It really is. Our Godfather of teen horror doesn’t let us down, I just wish it was longer, although there’s something to be said for brevity. Janice, the first morally dubious character we’ve really encountered (she initially leaves Caroline to die), I wish we could have more like her. Clearly Pike was allowed to get away with things the author PH authors weren’t. Whatever it is, he just has it.

Even if Bobby is naff, you get the feeling that Pike KNOWS he a poser (and potentially a reflection of some of the goth lords of pain he was probably meeting during the 90s at events) and he more than gets his comeuppance at the end…’I didn’t even get to be on MTV,’ Bobby laments before dying.

POINT HORROR BOOK CLUB BONUS ROUND!

I think we need to talk about WHERE THE DEER ARE by Caroline B Cooney. Holy shit. TERRIFYING. I honestly think the Ring 2 stole the concept. I have NOT A CLUE what’s going on (something about environmentalism…and a forest cellar full of baby deer?) but the bit where the horrid leg opens the bathroom door. OH LORDY.

!!d7nnYw!mM~$(KGrHqYOKnUEw89OpVZ3BMRq3YG6gg~~_35Over to you:

Write the second verse of The Black Walker.

Did you read any other tales of terror? Which did you rate?

Outside of PH, what was your favourite Christopher Pike novel?

Next month we explore the book that got me hooked: MOTHER’S HELPER BY A BATES.

PHBC: April Fools by Richie Tankersley Cusick

9780590112918What’s it about?

On their way home from an April Fools Party (who DOESN’T have one of them every year? They’re TOTALLY a thing!), Belinda, Frank and Hildy witness/cause a fiery deathtrap of a car accident. As Belinda watches the other car’s inhabitants burn to a crisp she sees a shady figure watching her. They’ve been seen seeing. Before long, someone is sending Belinda creepy messages to let her know she’s not off the hook.

Creepy Messages?

Yeah! Weird smelling dolls are left in her mailbox; calendars covered in blood; cars following her around; people watching at her bedroom window.

Who could it be?

Well, this is where it gets complicated. In a highly coincidental twist, Belinda is hired to tutor a young man who has just survived a fiery deathtrap of a car accident. Adam, hunky in a psychotic sort of way, seems to have Belinda’s number. Or how about his frosty stepmother or the mysterious British butler, Cobbs?

dalek-destinyThe Girl

Belinda Swanson, while not as punchable as our last RTC heroine, Martha, is, I’m afraid TSTL. Yes TOO STUPID TO LIVE. Within about one chapter, Belinda has figured out Adam may well have been in the crash SHE CAUSED yet she keeps going back to his house of her own volition. TIP: JUST DON’T GO THERE. And yet she does, chapter after chapter, mainly to kiki with Cobbs for half an hour, go to Adam’s room for about a minute and then flee in tears. It’s exhausting.

Far more exciting is veiled Alexis Carrington-esque Mrs Thorne, Adam’s stepmother. You can count how many shits this gold digger gives on one finger. Just the one, for herself. Sadly, the best character sashays away after about three chapters.

A final word on Hildy’s SILVERY BRAIDS. I’ve tried really hard to imagine what this must look like, or what week of the 90s they might have been popular, but I’m really struggling. Even Belinda admits ‘No-one else in the world has hair like that.’ I’m literally baffled. SILVERY BRAIDS.

The Love Interest

Well Frank joins The Babysitter’s Chuck as the most repellent characters in the Point Horror world, so it’s a good job Belinda has both Adam and his half-brother Noel to lust after.

Adam is BAD BROTHER with his scars and brooding while blond Noel is GOOD BROTHER. For the first time in PHBC history, things even get a little racy…

‘His lips moved gently down her neck…his arms went around her, turning her to him, and as her body pressed against his, she could feel his heartbeat, as rapid as her own….Belinda tried to pull back, and his eyes lowered to the lace at her breast.’

BAN THIS SICK FILTH.

Dialogue Disasters

‘Honey, you’re a natural with sick people.’

‘Your accent of course…and you’re very stiff.’ Ooh matron! The Cobbs character is possibly the most racist depiction of a British person ever commitment to page. He might as well serve fish and chips out of his bowler hat.

‘I like to watch you. You look nice in this soft light.’ Is that a read, Noel?

‘You’re looking pretty sentimental.’ Go to a mirror and practice your best sentimental look. Not easy is it?

And a whole special category goes to the HILDY SCHOOL OF BEING A FRIEND:

‘You’re acting kind of depressed…Snap out of it will you? It’s been two weeks.’

‘You better get your act together, you’re being a real bore with all this.’

‘Forget Adam, you’re the one who’s completely crazy. Totally over the edge.’

You got a friend in her.

Body Count: 2

Did the best friend do it? No, although you will want to kill the best friend.

Some Mild Peril

There are actually some scary bits. I found the whispering figure at Belinda’s bedroom window effective and the early scenes with Adam lurking in the shadows are chilling in a Hitchcock way. Depending on your views about snakes there’s also some snake action (although why the Thorne’s have a hallway full of snakes is anyone’s guess).

Is it any good?

Following on from last month’s revelation with The Yearbook, April Fools is yet more proof that 13 year old me was after something very different to 32 year old me. April Fools is archetypal Point Horror, but reading it now really was a chore.

The problem is there’s little to like: Belinda is whiny, Noel is smarmy, Adam is cray, Frank is a dick, Hildy is a grade A bitch. I found myself praying for a scene where Cobbs trapped the lot of them in the garage and left the engine running.

The final twist was neat, but hardly surprising and by that stage you’ve stopped caring. Belinda repeatedly returning to the Thorne house (over and over again) is just too stupid to forgive and the reader’s patience has been exhausted.

I hate being mean. Perhaps Belinda wouldn’t have bothered me twenty years ago. I swear we WILL find an RTC that I love. Teacher’s Pet is in my head as one of the very best.

1d4d017b42a0b3a47f1cf110Next month we pay homage to the MASTER of teen horror, CHRISTOPHER PIKE as we read his only contribution to Point Horror COLLECT CALL from 13 TALES OF HORROR.

Over to you:

1. Why, Belinda, why?

See you next month!

 

PHBC: The Yearbook by Peter Lerangis

41SA3EJ197LWhat’s it all about?

High IQ boy next door David Kallas only agrees to work on the yearbook to be near his crush, Ariana. However, when he discovers a corpse at the local make-out spot, David soon finds himself balls deep in a historical mystery, a yearbook that seems to predict who will soon die and a calcium-based squid monster from Greece.

What?

This isn’t a joke. A calcium based squid monster from Greece.

Also…a BOY next door?

Yep. AND it’s told in first person. The Yearbook simply isn’t like any other entry in the Point Horror cannon. I’m not sure there were ever any other titles with a male lead. The author, Peter Lerangis is a hugely prolific author for children and young adults with some twenty titles under his belt.

I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if The Yearbook was not originally written to be part of the Point Horror range.

The Boy

David could have time travelled back (not surprising given the timey wimey elements of The Yearbook) from a current John Green era novel. He’s pleasingly nerdy without being neurotic, he’s cute (until he gets lumps all over his face) and comes with both a past and present (timey wimey) including a bereavement. It’s nothing to do with his gender (Jenny Jeffers is as well rounded), it’s all in the excellent writing.

The Yearbook is sophisticated beyond the average Point Horror novel. The insinuation of teen sex (‘Ariana was discovering heaven in a Chevy’) and multiple deaths put this in a different camp, not to mention readership. The first person perspective of David allows him more humour and more of an inner world than most Point Horror girls. He’s also allowed to joke about shitting himself.

Cyb6The Love Interest

Ariana Maas, who sounds like a Mouseketeer, is no pushover. For most of the book she’s into secretly evil Smut (with whom she has the aforementioned car sex) and sees David as a bit of a sex pest.

However, as she’s from the Nancy Drew school of running a Yearbook, she seeks out David when things get weird and they fall in love like falling asleep: slowly and then all at once.

Ariana gets bonus gross out-points for biting heartily through a tentacle until goo spurts all over her face. That David is one lucky guy. With her thick red hair, Ariana gets 90’s TV star Alicia Witt to play her.

Dialogue Disasters

By and large, the writing is excellent, so the dialogue disasters are few and far between. Even the poems…very shaky in previous Point Horror offerings – remember Funhouse – are fun.

However, special mention for every line the immortal Reggie Borden says: ‘You-know-who is pretty bugged about the biting. If you don’t speak up you could both be sacrificed, dig?’ Reader, I am not hip to his jive.

Of course, the most hideous moment comes with the revelation that ‘Mark’s’ segments of the novel aren’t from the past, but the future. OR, in fact, 2016, when we’ll all be printing HOLOGRAMS IN OUR HOMES. Wow, futuristic. Get down off your hoverboard, Mark.

Finally. ‘Smoking gash’. Tee hee.

Body Count: Numerous, both past and present, but three ‘on-screen’ deaths. And they have their bones sucked out.

Did the best friend do it? No. Not that kind of horror.

Some Mild Peril

The gross corpses could be pretty spooky, but I’m afraid a Greek squid monster isn’t VERY scary whichever way you frame it. However, The Yearbook is certainly compelling. The unraveling mystery, if anything, could have been slowed down as the revelations come thick and fast with little time to breathe.

Mr DeWaalt, a sort of warty version of Mr Schuster from Glee, is definitely the creepiest addition in a ‘hey kids, where are the cool parties?’ kind of way. I bet he’s having an affair with Liz off the yearbook staff. Or he’s gay.

Is It Any Good?

Definitely. The Yearbook has made me question EVERYTHING. At the time, 1994, if I’m right, I HATED The Yearbook with a vengeance. It was all wrong. The voice was wrong, having a boy lead was weird, having a monster was bizarre. As a thirteen year old all I wanted was teenage girls being terrorised by their best friend in a weird mask. There was a formula, a VERY SIMPLE FORMULA and The Yearbook didn’t follow it.

As an adult reader, The Yearbook is head and shoulders above most of the ones we’ve covered. While there’s way too much going on, The Yearbook feels fresh and original. David is witty and funny and well-realised.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what this says, if anything, about adult and teen readers of my own books. I can only speak for myself of course, but as a 12 year old, I very much craved the regularity and predictability of series fiction, something I suspect has an enduring appeal with modern mid-grade readers and why The Yearbook isn’t remembered as fondly as say, The Babysitter.

9780590112918Next month we get seasonal with April Fools by Richie Tankersley Cusick. After Trick Or Treat, will Ms Cusick redeem herself?

Over to you…

1. Is the monster called Omphalos or Pytho? What’s Omphalos? I’m very confused.

2. Why does Pytho bother with an overly complicated numerical system to pick her victims?

3. WRITING TASK: Write the scene where Rachel Green (I KNOW) discovers her boyfriend has been eaten.

4. Why don’t Chief Hayes and Mr Sarro just pour the coke on Pytho and how does she survive?

5. Why is Mark such a douche?

PHBC: Dream Date by Sinclair Smith

DreamDateWhat’s it all about?

New girl on campus, Katie Shaw, longs for her life to be filled with sexyfuntime so when she dreams up dangerously charming Heath Granger in her sleep she thinks he’s wonderful. However, when her waking life starts to take off and she meets hunkomatic Jason Miller, Heath starts to exhibit a more jealous side, putting Katie and Jason in TERRIBLE DANGER.

Terrible Danger?

Yes, siree. Heath is basically Freddy Krueger if Freddy Krueger was clever enough to have the skin off his ass grafted onto his face and buy a motorcycle. Heath goes to prove that girls will do anything for a ‘wicked but charming’ smile and he’s also able to mess with Katie’s waking life – causing fires, hallucinations, accidents and slowly taking over her body.

The Girl

Katie starts off well. It doesn’t last. Her first encounter with Jason is sweetly tongue-tied and awkward and the reader has sympathy for her insomnia. Sadly, once she meets Heath you can’t help but think she’s an idiot. The man is so classically villainous it’s a wonder he’s not in a cape. It takes our early Rihanna prototype a frustrating amount of time to realise he’s evil during which time you lose faith with her. Also, although Heath is a dream, she does kinda two-time him with Jason. You almost have to feel sorry for the poor psycho.

IMG_2910The Love Interest

Let’s look at Heath first: ‘His thick dark hair was wind-blown from the ride, and he had very dark eyes that made a person feel he saw a lot more with them than just how someone looked.’ Erm…what?

He’s so creepy in the first instance that it’s a wonder Katie wasn’t dreaming herself up a chip-pan fire to get away from him. And that’s before we even start on the ‘jungle cat’ thing…

Jason is genuinely hot with his ‘thick, sandy brown hair, lean, muscular arms and amazing eyes’ (it doesn’t say HOW they’re amazing, but I’m guessing they cry milk). From the Heartthrob board game, Jason gets PHILIP.

Dialogue Disasters

Love’s Raging Passion? Hey I’d like some of that!’

Heath is so high maintenance: ‘Katie, a lot of girls just don’t understand me and that’s why they’re not special enough for me.’

‘By the way, your outfit is very fashionable.’ (Katie is a fan of the SWEATER DRESS).

Heath again: ‘You see this? It’s just like me – the jungle cat. I’m too slick and too fast and too smooth for you. Because I’ve got the wits of the jungle cat and you can’t match ’em.’ The man is basically Kanye.

And a big shout out for Jason’s poem: ‘A rose is beautiful, so are diamonds and pearls, Katie Shaw, would you be my girl?’ (‘If I’m not a prize winning poet, it’s the thought that counts’. Counting the thoughts behind that shit did not take long.)

Body Count: 1

Did the best friend do it? There’s nothing to do, as it were.

Some Mild Peril?

There are some fairly scary bits actually. Elm Street taught us that losing control of something as fundamental as sleep is intrinsically scary. The middle section where Katie decides to stay awake and starts to hallucinate is pretty scary – she sees her face melt off, insects hatch out of her skin, faces at her kitchen window. All pretty effective. It’s a shame Heath himself isn’t more threatening.

Is it any good?

It could have been. Although this plot (evil genie) was done far, far better in The Cheerleader, there was a story to tell about nightmares within the Point Horror range. Where it fails is that Heath is never charming, so it makes no sense for Katie to fall for him in the first instance. The back and forth into the dream world actually becomes quite repetitive and, dare I say, dull. Things definitely pick up in the second half once Heath becomes out and out Krueger like. I wish more had been done with the dream world – it’s a book, Smith, there’s no budget – it doesn’t have to exist on one bloody back porch.

That said, there’s some nice teen messages in there about abusive relationships (which Katie certainly has with Heath) it’s just not particularly subtle. Snaps also to Smith for toying with a ‘is Katie just plain batshit’ twist at the end.

Finally, I can’t decide if the ambiguity of the ending (what Heath plans to do with the ‘dream energy’) works or not. Even Heath ponders why he doesn’t seek more victims. Why is he tied to just Katie? The house? Her age? Am I overthinking a Point Horror book? Definitely.

41SA3EJ197LNext up, following our first reader poll, you’ve chosen to delve into THE YEARBOOK by Peter Lerangis!

Over to you:

1. What is the significance of the Mexican crisp bowl which is described for no reason?

2. Other than Psycho, which other Hitchcock films do you think Jason brought over?

3. Who’s more high maintenance…Heath or Raquel?

4. How, exactly, did Heath remain in the dreamworld and where did he go?

5. Katie Shaw…innocent victim or delusional fantasist?

PHBC: CAMP FEAR

f_1471926What’s It All About?

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best and Camp Fear is living proof of this. A group of old friends return to work at a wilderness summer camp years after they attended as youngsters. This time they are joined by clean person Rachel, who starts to suspect the gang might be hiding a DARK SECRET about their prior visit.

Before long, a series of SCARETASTIC TRICKS are being played and no-one’s a HAPPY CAMPER. *Dies*.

Going into this one was fun. I did read it in the 90s but had NO recollection of what happened.

Scaretastic Tricks?

Oh yes. Our mysterious tormentor cleverly exploits the campers deepest fears: snakes, water, heights…erm well that’s it, but they’re still pretty scary.

The Girl

Rachel is your standard girl-next-door. She’s quite exciting because she has short hair. Most Point Horror Girls have lots of hair. This is deemed a mistake because she wishes she could tie it back. Rachel has two main interests: pinning photos to a display board, thinking about removing them, but never doing so, and being clean. I mean, I like at least one shower a day, but Carol Ellis really enjoys writing about them. Not only that, the cleanliness of the camp site shower block is described at length several times. I think we all know what Ellis’s darkest fear is: dirty showers.

Towel_2Who are the Others?

Like any good mystery, there’s a roster of suspects. We have princess Stacey, All-American Jordan, pro-active Linda, cold Mark, goofball Steve, brooding Paul and finally Terry who feels like she retires to her cabin to talk to the invisible friends she keeps in a shoebox of animal remains.

Big shout out also to the token adults who keep driving away for ‘supplies’ (yeah right), Tim and Michelle, who I legit believe to be Christine Baranski and Peter MacNichol from Addams Family Values.

IMG_2814The Love Interest

Ellis has a dalliance with a love triangle in the first part of the book. Paul broods a little too hard and drives Rachel into the arms of Jordan. However, she quickly realises he has a sulking habit and Ellis realises she needs some suspects so Rachel throws her attention onto Paul for the remainder of the book. It works: I suspected Jordan all the way through.

Brilliantly there is actually a PAUL in HEARTTHROB and he’s actually quite hot and like his description in the book.

Dialogue Disasters

Jordan: ‘I’ve got a stick.’ We know, dear. Put it away.

Actually, Ellis writes pretty sharp teen dialogue and despite some ‘right, I think we should all go to bed now and leave the conversation for no reason’ moments, it all hangs together. The leaves are perhaps over described.

Ellis seems to go for some sort of name game I don’t understand. The male characters are called Steve Michaels, Paul Sidney and Mark James. That’s just a list of names, hun.

Body Count: 1

Did the best friend do it? Erm…well Rachel doesn’t really know anyone at the start. One of her friends is the villain, yes.

Some Mild Peril?

There are a couple of potentially haunting scenes. Strange noises in the night in the middle of the forest are always creepy and Ellis taps into everyone’s anxieties around school camps and being in the wilderness. It could have gone much further though.

Is It Any Good?

Camp Fear has all the ingredients of great Point Horror. It’s about as archetypal as they get, in many ways it’s the most traditional we’ve revisited yet. While this works to a degree – horror will ALWAYS exploit the bunch of adult-less teens scenario (this is almost a carbon copy of Friday 13th, clearly), there’s nothing to elevate it out of being A N Other Point Horror – Rachel isn’t quite interesting enough, Paul isn’t sexy enough, the thrills aren’t thrilling enough.

Worst of all though is the ending – to describe it as an anti-climax doesn’t begin to cover it. ‘I wouldn’t have shot them…’ WELL WHY BOTHER THEN?

Still, I whipped through Camp Fear in a single sitting so it can’t have been all bad.

DreamDateNext month it’s our VALENTINE’S SPECIAL as we go on a DREAM DATE with Sinclair Smith.

Over to you:

1. Would Camp Fear had been more scary if Ellis had investigated the possibility of the dead boy ‘haunting’ Camp Silverlake?

2. What’s with Terry’s curious smirking? Does she have wind?

3. Mr Drummond: Harmless baldy or one for Yew Tree?

4. Who did you suspect? Did you correctly guess the villain?

5. How gay is Mark?