Category Archives: Scholastic Books

The Baby-Sitter – R.L. Stine

I am a little late for the Point Horror Book Club, alas yesterday I was taken over by a migraine and so spent the morning trying to stave it off, then having to simply let it have its wicked way all afternoon and evening – missing two bloody parties too I will have you know. However some of you are running late to this too, shame on you, by not getting your mitts on some of these Point Horror gems. I know some people have been surprised to see Savidge Reads take on this monthly challenge, especially when my other monthly challenge The Persephone Project (which we will be catching up with on Sunday) is rather at the other end of the spectrum of books and literature. Yet one thing I have been thinking about is how reading needs to be fun, and my reading sometimes needs to be more fun, and revisiting these dark yet kind of camp classics of my childhood is the perfect thing. Anyway the latest Point Horror Book Club choice has been R.L. Stine’s ‘The Baby-Sitter’ which I actually think all wannabe crime and horror writers should read, seriously.

**** Scholastic Books, paperback, 1989, fiction, 203 pages, from my own personal TBR

**** Scholastic Books, paperback, 1989, fiction, 203 pages, from my own personal TBR

For Jenny Jeffers money is tight and Christmas will soon be here. Needing the extra cash to help her mother she takes a job babysitting for the Hagen’s on the other side of town every Thursday and Saturday. The Hagen’s house is (surprise, surprise) rather like something out of a horror movie. Surrounded by woods and rather a way off the main road, their decrepit house and Mr Hagen’s odd nervous disposition would make any teenager feel slightly uneasy. Throw in the fact that Jenny has a highly over active imagination, some maniac has been beating up/killing local babysitters and the fact Jenny is in the 80’s and doesn’t have a smart phone and you are headed for horrors ahoy aren’t you?

“Maybe the kids a monster,” Jenny said, somehow feeling she had to justify her nervousness. “Maybe the parents are weird. Maybe they belong to some sort of secret cult and when I find out about it, they keep me locked up in the basement for the rest of my life so I can’t tell anyone. Maybe the house is haunted. There’s the ghost of a young girl trapped in the attic, and I accidentally let her out, and she inhabits my body and I’m not the same person anymore.”

I am slightly saddened that I had read last month’s Point Horror Book Club choice, ‘Trick or Treat’ by Richie Tankersley Cusick (a review that shows me at my most natural), before we read ‘The Baby-Sitter’ because the two both use the same object of fear – the creepy phone call. Now I know, rather like cosy crimes, most Point Horror’s do stick to the same-ish scenario but these two are very similar from that perspective. What we have to remember is that Stine did it first and so really, apart from the original urban legend of the babysitter who is called by a scary voice from the house she is in, that is what we should remember. Also Stine shows he is a master of building suspense and ending chapters on a cliff hanger that means you have to read on, hence why any budding horror or crime writer should be reading this.

For a horror novel, regardless of the market it is aimed at, ‘The Baby-Sitter’ actually lacks a lot of full on terror or jumpy moments. There are a few of the latter yet what Stine does impeccably with this book is build a sense of unease, tension and menace. Each time Jenny goes to the Hagen’s something creepy happens (a sinister phone call, banging outside, neighbours creeping around, cars parked sinisterly on the end of the drive) so as she goes back each time to babysit for the (very precocious and also sinister) little boy Donny, after convincing herself it is all in her very over active imagination, we are waiting for the next slightly more awful thing to happen until it comes to a head. I thought this was done really deftly and honestly lots of writers, budding or not actually, could learn from this.

Our host, James Dawson, your dream babysitter

Our host, James Dawson, your dream babysitter

So good was it that I forgave him for bringing in one of the most annoying characters I have ever come across in the form of Jenny’s possible boyfriend Chuck. Irritating doesn’t even cover it. Unhinged too, which adds to it all, could it be that Jenny’s own possible love interest could be the one calling and threatening her? I also forgave Stine for lines like “Let’s go into Sock City,” Jenny said. “I like to look at socks.” I don’t know any teenagers who like socks, or even give a monkey’s about their socks, not so in the case of Jenny and her friends.

I’m really pleased I read ‘The Baby-Sitter’ and actually think it was the first time I had read it, which is quite shocking as it is one of the most famous with several sequels and I was such a fan of this series as a youth. You can see why Stine became one of the kings of teen horror, he puts a real effort into unnerving the reader and building the fear rather than going over the top like ‘Trick or Treat’ did – enjoyable as it was. Alas I don’t see any writing courses taking me seriously and popping this on any courses about suspense, unease and atmosphere but they bloody well should.

So who joined in to read this and what did you make of it? Which were your favourite Point Horror’s that we should be looking out for? Did Point Horrors completely pass you by? Have you read any of Stine’s other non PH work and should I be off to read that? Don’t forget to pop to host James’ website for more and do join us next month for ‘Funhouse’ by Diane Hoh.

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Filed under R.L. Stine, Review, Scholastic Books, The Point Horror Book Club

Trick or Treat – Richie Tankersley Cusick

Well we are going from one extreme to the other on Savidge Reads. Yesterday we had the latest Persephone Project instalment, the diaries of a victim of the holocaust, now today we have the first in the Point Horror Book Club organised by the lovely James Dawson. Some might see this as going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Well, that is how we roll here at Savidge Reads as, after all, we all like to read a wide range of varied material don’t we? I have to say reading ‘Trick or Treat’, by Richie Tankersley Cusick which was also the 6th ever (out of hundreds) Point Horror novel, has been a chilling, comforting, nostalgic and occasionally laugh out loud experience.

**** Scholastic Books, paperback, 1989, fiction, 209 pages, from my own personal TBR

As ‘Trick or Treat’ opens, our heroine (though this becomes debatable, as she is a bit of a pain in the arse – more on that later) Martha has been uprooted from her life in Chicago as her father, only two years after the death of his wife and Martha’s mother, has married (via elopement, shock horror) Sally and so now they are all moving in together, with Sally’s son Conor, to a house in the arse end of nowhere that is very creepy and resides between a wood and a cemetery. Once there Martha feels an extra specially spooky coldness in her room, as if something awful happened in there, and soon enough she starts getting strange phone calls. Could this be to do with the not so distant murder of the young girl, Elizabeth, whose room it was and who Martha looks rather spookily like? (Erm, yes!)

‘The phone rang.
With a surge of relief Martha remembered that Blake was going to call, and she raced for the phone before Conor could answer it.
“Hello?”
“Hello, Elizabeth,” the voice whispered.
And it wasn’t Blake who drew a long, raspy breath… and let it out again… breathing… breathing… while her heart beat like a frantic wing in her throat.
“Who – who is this?”
It wasn’t Blake who began to laugh and then suddenly went quiet – the awful, terrible silence going on and on forever…
“Hello/” Martha cried. “Who is this!”
“You’re dead, Elizabeth. Trick or treat.”’

Now to be fair, if this happened to me I would be quite miffed. Yet Martha practically screams (and scream she does a lot, or often ends on the verge of a scream, hand clasped to mouth) VICTIM. She’s clearly very hormonal and full of teenage angst, mainly hating everyone in the world she finds herself and yet wondering why she can’t make many friends. A mystery that isn’t it?

Fortunately she is fairly pretty and the local heart throb, Blake, takes a shine to her. In fact many men seem to fall for her – it must be her almost constant fear of everything and blonde hair – even one of her teachers (who is Blake’s cousin) and possibly her own stepbrother seem strangely besotted with her. Ewww. Mind you, one of them is most likely a murderer, so not really a catch after all. I have to say if I had spent much time with her I might have been tempted to become a psychopath myself and wanted to kill her, so I started to thoroughly enjoy her torment and whoever was causing it the more the book went on.

To be serious for a moment (all adopt serious faces please, right now) I have to admit that Richie Tankersley Cusick, who shall be known from now as RTC to save my fingers, is bloody (see what I did there, oh no serious face again) good at creating a real sense of unease. She makes an old spooky house really spooky, a school late one evening very threatening and I did genuinely get chills and thrills as I was reading along.

 ‘“The house looked strangely ghostlike, rising through pale wisps of fog, its dark stone walls and chimneys interwoven with bare, twisted trees. Silhouetted there in the twilight, its gables crawled with dead ivy, it’s tattered awnings drooping like eyelids hiding secrets. Like something in a dream, not quite real. Not quite safe…”’

I also did rather a lot of laughing, in a nice way. The younger me who read these, and I am sure I read this one back in the day though it is a fuzzy memory, would have been revelling half thrilled and half horrified in the melodrama of it all. Now, as a 31 year old, part of me was still scared (no, really, I was – delightfully so) but part of me just laughed at the camp nature of it all.

‘“I’m dead,” Martha whispered, and she began to cry, and Conor held her tighter and rocked her.
“No. It was only a nightmare. Go back to sleep.”
“I’m scared,” Martha said, her voice was muffled against his bare shoulder, and sleep was a deep, deep sea, pulling her down.’

See isn’t Martha a drama queen? Honestly, tut – she had only seen a shadow! I think we all know who Martha grew up to be don’t we?

I am so, so glad that the lovely James of Dawson has decided to start this book group/challenge. I had forgotten the world where everyone drove a ‘station wagon’ (which I thought every American owned and was so jealous we just had a Nissan Micra), where your teachers were “boyishly handsome”, where all the boys were “so strong, yet so tender” often running “hands through thick, tawny hair” and where your parents were writers and artists and just buggered off for weeks leaving you alone at the hands of a psychopath! Honestly… it is compulsive reading, you can see why I loved them can’t you?  They are like the horror of Stephen King meets the camper jumpy horror of the Scream films meets the gothic of Rebecca meets teenage Mills and Boon meets Scooby Doo. Genius! If you haven’t read one you really should just for the experience and ‘Trick or Treat’ ticks all the Point Horror boxes. You’ll be chilled, thrilled, laugh a lot and just really enjoy yourself, what could be better in a book than that. I can’t wait for R.L. Stine’s (the God of Point Horror) ‘The Baby-sitter’ on the 13th of next month.

Speaking of enjoyment, I have really enjoyed reviewing this book. I am pondering if I should make all my reviews like this, slightly sarcastic yet good humouredly so, what do you think? Back to Point Horror’s though, who else read this – either as a teenager or an adult – and what did you think? (Do not forget to read, and comment on, James’ hilarious review of this book.) Will you be joining in for more frightening frolics as we go?

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Filed under Review, Richie Tankersley Cusick, Scholastic Books, The Point Horror Book Club

The Bookboy Reads #2

Hello and welcome to my second book blog. Hope you will enjoy it and thank you very much for the response I got for my first blog.

My first book today is going to be a newly released book. A couple of weekends ago, I went to one of my favourite bookshops and had £35 to spend. I had already picked up, Dido by Adele Geras, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce, Titanic 2010 by Colin Bateman and The War of Jenkins’ Ear by Michael Morpurgo, when I spotted Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale, lying with a magnificent newspaper style front cover.

The main characteris an 11~12 year old boy called, as you may have guessed, Johnny Swanson. It is set in 1929. Johnny is very small for his age and therefore is teased at school. He also has a lot to live up to, as his father (Harry Swanson), died a war hero. Johnny and his mother are poor and Johnny wants to change that, but when he sees an advertisement in the newspaper for “The secret of Instant Height”, he steals the money from his mother and sends off for the answer. Only four words are written on the piece of paper. What are the four words and what will his course of action be?

I had never heard of Eleanor Updale before and was pleasantly surprised by how good the book was. I was shocked by some of the events that occurred in the book and it really did open my eyes as to how unjust things can be. I would recommend this book only for children of ten years of age or over as some of the language is unsuitable and some portions of the book may be harder for younger children to understand.If you have read and enjoyed Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, then this book will definitely be for you.

My next book is Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. I have only recently read this, because I’d been putting it off and off. I thought it wasn’t going to be any good, but it was fantastic.The main character is a 12 year old criminal mastermind called Artemis Fowl. Fairies exist, and they aren’t just sweet ladies with wings, a lot are tough policeman with guns. However, Artemis knows that each fairy carries a book, with the laws of the fairies within it. Artemis gets the copy of a book and is able, with amazing technology, to decipher it. His intentions are to kidnap a fairy, but will he succeed or fail miserably?

This book was excellent and I enjoyed its many twists and turns and variety, of shall we say colourful characters. I would recommend it to anyone above ten, simply because there is a slight use of bad language and also, because the ideas are very slightly complex for children of younger than ten. Anyone who has read The Higher Institute of Villainous Education by Mark Walden will enjoy this book immensely.

My final choice today is Harry and the Wrinklies by Alan Temperley. I know this may sound very immature and silly to you, the readers, but this book was glorious. The main character is a small boy called Eugene Augustus Harold Montgomery Barton, I think. But, he prefers to be called Harry. Harry lives in London in his Parents’ mansion, however, his parents are never there. Instead, to look after Harry, they have employed a horrible woman called Lavina Mcscrew, whom Harry has nicknamed Gestapo Lil.

In a tragic accident, Harry’s parents are killed and Harry is packed off to live with two great aunts in the country. One, Aunt Bridget, is tall with hair tied back in a bun, whilst the other, Auntie Florrie, has wild blonde hair, wears baby pink lipstick and drives cars at over a hundred miles an hour. On his first evening, Harry hears something that will change his time at Lagg Hall forever. Perhaps, Harry’s aunts and their pensioner friends aren’t quite what they seem? This book was hilarious and it swallowed me up into a sort of bubble of my own, where nothing and no one could penetrate it. I would recommend it to adults and children alike; however, you do have to watch for bad language at times.

I would also like to hear from you what Teenage Fiction or young adult books you’d like to see me review in the near future?

Bookboy.

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Filed under Bookboy Reads, Puffin Books, Scholastic Books

Introducing… The Bookboy Reads

I have mentioned that I come from a fairly book loving family, and as you have seen Granny Savidge Reads has already done a blog post (and is currently working away at her second) been grilled and shared her top ten books for Savidge Reads. In a week or two my mother (who teaches English and reads heaps) will also be sharing her top ten and getting grilled. I was delighted when one of my younger members of the family asked if he could please write a blog post every now and again with regard to children’s and young adult books. How could I say no? After all though I have seen a few adults concentrating on those genre’s but no youngsters (though I could be wrong). Now as this is a younger member of my family we decided a pseudonym would be best for safety etc, it also adds a certain mystery (and as I said means he can be harshly critical with no come back, ha) to it all.

 So without further ado I shall hand you over to The Bookboy, who after reading his reviews has left me rather worried that I could have some serious competition in a few years time both on book reviewing front and possibly journalism too…

“Allow me to introduce myself, I am eleven years old. I really enjoy books and, therefore, asked Simon if I could do a blog. I am now so glad that I did because it was great fun to write. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The first book I am going to review is ‘The Ruby in the Smoke’ by Philip Pullman.

This book is the first in a quartet by Philip Pullman, which is set in the late Victorian era.  The heroine is a young girl of sixteen called Sally Lockhart, who has just heard that her Father, a shipping agent, has drowned. She goes to pay a call upon her late father’s business partner, Mr Selby. After this, Sally decides to investigate the death of her father. Along the way, Sally finds that her Father’s death is intertwined with many other murky events. She makes an enemy of Mrs Holland, an evil landlady and befriends a youthful photographer, plus his actress sister. This book has many twists and turns, just where you least expect them. It had a slightly sinister feel and it made me want to know more about the Victorian period.  Some of the language and features are at times unsuitable, so I would not recommend this book to children of under the age of nine. If you have read any ‘Sherlock Holmes’ by Arthur Conan Doyle, you will enjoy this book.

 My second choice is ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’, which is set during the Second World War, and is by Michelle Magorian.

The main character in this book is a small boy called William Beech. He lives in London, but is evacuated to the countryside due to The Blitz.  William is evacuated to a small town set deep in the country; its name is Little Weirwold.  He is left in the care of a gruff, old gentleman named Tom Oakley.  Will, as William now likes to be called, is starting to settle in, however Tom is not the best person he could have gone to for tender, loving care. Tom, though begins to care for Will as if he was his own. Tom notices a lot of cuts and bruises on Will’s body. Just as he is beginning to feel at home, Will receives a dreaded summons back to London from his mysterious mother. Will he ever see Tom or Little Weirwold again?

This book made me feel excruciatingly sad in some parts, yet exceedingly happy in others. It is without the slightest doubt one of the best books I have ever read. Again, it does have some unsuitable language and scenes, so, I would recommend no younger than ten year olds should read this book.  If you have read ‘A Spoonful of Jam’, also by Michelle Magorian, or ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne, then you will like this book.

My third and final book for now is ‘Gatty’s Tale’ by Kevin Crossley Holland.

This book is about a farm girl called Gatty, who works on a manor called Caldicot.  She is all alone in the world and greatly saddened by it. This book is set in the medieval times. Then, an opportunity arises for Gatty to accompany the lady of another manor on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Gatty accepts and a long, perilous journey begins. But, before they set off, Gatty must learn to become a chamber maiden to Lady Gwyneth, the lady who is in charge of the Pilgrimage. Many dangerous things happen on the way and one of the number nearly perishes. All is going well for the pilgrims, until two of them miss the boat.  Is one of them Gatty? This book is excellent. I love the way that he describes everything so vividly that it’s almost as if you’re standing right there beside the characters. Some of the language in this book is rude, so I think only over nine year olds should read this book. If you’ve read the Arthurian trilogy, by Kevin Crossley Holland, you will love this book as it is based around the same sort of thing, and some of the characters are the same.”

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Filed under Bookboy Reads, Kevin Crossley Holland, Michelle Magorian, Orion Publishing, Philip Pullman, Puffin Books, Scholastic Books