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Fright Filter C S James Main

"Fright Filter (Twisted Books to Leave You Shook: Book 1)" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Amazon Media

fright filter c s james poster large

Written by C.S. James & Sean Elwood
2020, 147 pages, Fiction
Released on 23rd June 2020

Review:

The YA book world (roughly ages 12/13+) is currently awash with excellent horror and dark fiction with challenging storylines and complex characters, however, the next age group down (kids 8-12) is not quite so well catered for. The Middle Grade horror world remains tied to the astonishing number of Goosebumps fiction R.L. Stine has churned out since their 1990s heyday. However, how many of you realise that since 2017 this prolific author has written a further twelve Goosebumps books concerning Snappy the Dummy alone? This series no longer get the coverage it once did, and I hope we are able to escape their long shadow at some point soon. Perhaps the book I am reviewing today will help to finally nudge Goosebumps towards retirement?

The Fright Filter debut of C.S. James takes aim at Stine’s marketplace. The Amazon listing pegs it at ages 9-13, but I would lower that to around 8-11, as it is not challenging enough for a teenage reader. Over the years, similar horror brands have come and gone, attempting to wrestle the crown from the mighty Stine, and even though he will not be quaking in his boots at the latest challenger, it is a commendable first effort. However, as it is independently published, Fright Filter will almost certainly struggle to find an audience, irrespective of the quality, as these books rarely get reviewed in the right places or noticed by teachers or librarians without a publicity machine to push them into the spotlight.

Fright Filter is the first book in the Twisted Books to Leave You Shook series and I will be interested to see the frequency in which books are released and whether James continues as the principal writer, with others in support as with this effort. This book is slightly confusing in that the main story takes up 90% of the 147 pages and a second ‘bonus’ story, "It Started with an Itch" (Sean Elwood), seems to be tacked on as an afterthought. For future releases, I would suggest having stories of a similar length, as these two are too great a contrast. 

When you read books like Fright Filter, you need to climb into the shoes of your ten-year-old self, and I am certain the junior version of Tony would have lapped this story up! The action opens with twelve-year-old Nicole in school and being peer-pressured into (almost) posting a picture of her classmate Patty on social media, with her face morphed into that of a pig. The teacher, Ms Crawford, catches Nicole in the act and confiscates the mobile phone just before the picture goes live. Why would Nicole want to do something so unpleasant to the very quiet (almost victimlike) Patty? Nicole’s best friend is the loud and outgoing Rebecca who has had it in for Patty for years, and like many bullies, pulls the strings from the background.

Fright Filter handles the tween friendship and bullying part of the story with confidence, balancing it with a developing supernatural edge, which is introduced quite slowly. As with most fiction aimed at children of this age, it does have a morale message which it delivers without getting too patronizing or heavy handed. If you are going to make fun of the looks of somebody else, how would you like the same thing done to yourself is the obvious question it asks. As the plot moves on, Rebecca continues to bully Patty and although Nicole feels bad about it, does not do anything to help, as Rebecca is the dominant part of their friendship.

Bearing in mind the book is aimed at kids around 8-11, it could still have been scarier. Nicole ends up turning into a monster, then an old lady, due to a dodgy filter on her phone and although she reaches out to her best friend Rebecca, it is eventually Patty who comes to her aid. In some sections it is played it for laughs, with Nicole doing her best to avoid her mother and little brother, when she should have been more horrified in being turning into a monster.

The final sections make some big plot jumps and as a result, the ending feels a little rushed, and it probably starts better than it concludes, but overall it blends the horror with family drama nicely. Along the way there are parental issues (a recently deceased father) and some back-and-forth with Nicole’s annoying little brother and stressed mother.

Sean Elwood’s bonus story "It Started with an Itch" is too short to say much about, except for the fact that it follows the same theme as its predecessor and is about a girl with acne who changes into something nasty after putting on a dodgy face cream. Pairing stories with similar themes is a clever idea which worked well, and I hope this continues in the next part.

Books like Fright Filter are hard to get right; they are either not scary enough or too scary. This sits somewhere in the middle and is a solid but undemanding read for kids who are easily frightened or might be looking for gateways into more challenging fiction. Whether it is strong enough to kickstart the Twisted Books to Leave You Shook series with a bang it requires, only time will tell. I doubt the legendary RL Stine will not be looking over his shoulder just yet, but who knows, maybe soon.

Grades:

Overall: 3.5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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