Thursday, December 09, 2021

Just Beyond: Monstrosity

Stine, R.L. Just Beyond: Monstrosity
October 26th 2021 by KaBOOM!
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ruthie and Ezra Dillon’s dad has bought an old movie studio where horror films were produced in the twentieth century. Their dad and uncle have a lot of fights about the best way to approach the finances and production of films, and the studio itself needs lots of work. They have asked the director of some of the old films to work on a new one, but many things go wrong. Ruthie and Ezra spend lots of time on the lots, after being shown around by the mysterious caretaker, Poe. There are a lot of creepy buildings, and remnants of the films, so when the children uncover the inert body of the animatronic Wolfenscreem, they aren't too concerned. However, we see historic flashbacks to the original designer of the monster, and see the amulet that controls him show up in the movie offices. Don't push those buttons! Of course, several people do, waking the monster and his minions and causing panic. Not only are the new owners fighting, but deep secrets from the past surface in surprising ways. Will Ruthis and Ezra find themselves in danger? And will the movie studio every get up and running?
Strengths: R. L. Stine writes decent horror, but what he really writes best is history. This is a nice homage to cheesy horror movies, and I love that the kids know them and are excited about being at the studio, rather than thinking the movies are cheesy! There's just enough drama, and the villain emerges from an unlikely background, so I enjoyed that. 
Weaknesses: I would have liked this a lot more if it had been a novel rather than a graphic novel, and if we could have seen a lot more of the events that when on in the past. 
What I really think: I'll probably purchase this. It will definitely be a popular title. It was a little cheesy, though, with Woolfenscreem. I just feel like a novel could have made this a lot scarier. Seeing the pictures didn't have the same impact. 

When I first started reading this, it made me think that there was a similar story line in the 2006 Creepy Creatures series of graphic novels by Graphix, but I flipped through them and didn't see anything exactly like this. There has actually been a resurgence of students reading Fear Street books even though the 30 year old prebinds are little more than yellowed piles of paper loosely held together by the bindings, so I should probably purchase the whole Just Beyond series. 

Ecton, Emily. The Great Ghost Hoax (The Great Pet Heist #2)
September 7th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Butterbean and her friends have recuperated from The Great Pet Heist, and Mrs. Food is back home. Walt, Marco, and Polo are all bored, and even their girl Madison is finding life slow. Not for long! Mrs. Third Floor has seen a ghost in the fifth floor apartment she is cleaning up to rent. The ghost has eaten some aquarium fish, licked icing from cupcakes, and created a mess. It turns out that Wallace the rat did some of the damage, but there is still somethign a bit creepy going on. The pets start to investigate, but no one, not even the octopus Chad, knows anything. Mrs. Third Floor panics and calls the police, who are not all that interested in the crime but are a bit interested in the apartment. Upon further investigation, a creature from the past is discovered, but even he is not responsible for all of the mischief. Will Madison and her animals be able to solve this new mystery?

Once again, the animals take center stage, and the mystery is not about what happens to them, but about what they DO. This sense of agency is especially fun when the creature from the past who is causing most of the problems is discussed. Since this is a mystery, I don't want to spoil the surprise, but it was interesting to see the animals having to contend more with each other than the humans. The humans are panicking and are affected by the ghost hoax, but the underlying cause is created and solved by the animals. I would have liked to see more of Madison, however, since she was an interesting foil to the animal protagonists. 

The adults are a bit clueless, and don't seem to know half of what goes on in the apartment right under their noses. To be fair, there is a lot going on. The pets were a bit hard to keep straight at first, since it's been a while since I read the first book, but it's easy to catch up. The delightful illustrations by David Mottram help to clarify these characters. 

None of the apartment buildings I've lived in were hotbeds of mystery and intrigue, but I lived in them when I was an adult. For children, there is a lot of scope for the imagination and a lot of people with whom to easily interact. This would explain why books such as Marks's A Soft Place to Land, White's Nightbooks, Papademetriou's Apartment 1986, Ford's The Mysterious Messenger, Markell's The Ghost in Apartment 2R, Markell's Click Here to Start and Stead's classic Liar and Spy have so much mystery. The addition of animals makes this great for younger readers who like to think about pets having rich intellectual lives. 

This seemed a bit too young for my middle school students, who want their mysteries to involve murder, ghosts, or murderous ghosts!. I don't know quite why they are such a bloodthirsty lot, but clue oriented mysteries with animals don't interest them as much. 

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