Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Cemetery Girl, Book 3 - Haunted

And so the story of the Cemetery Girl has reached its conclusion with this third volume of the graphic novel series by Charlene Harris and Christopher Golden (and beautifully drawn by Geraldo Borges).  Calexa Rose Dunhill has been through quite a bit since she first woke up in that cemetery, and now her story comes to an end as her past is revealed and the identity of the person(s) who is trying to kill her comes to light.

Haunted is the perfect title for this book (graphic novel), as Calexa has been haunted not only by the past she can't remember, but by the death and violence that lay in her wake as she tries to escape from the unknown villains who are after her.  After the revelation in the last book that she had inherited the home of Lucinda Cameron and now has a place to live.  She has also made friends with Kelner and his son Mason, who are about the only individuals she trusts.  Which is probably wise on her part, as it appears that it's not just one, but two different factions that are searching for her...

Harris and Golden open up Calexa's past as readers discover that her father has been searching for her, but someone has been hindering his private eye every step of the way.  Someone does not want Calexa ... or Charlotte, as we discover her is her birth name ... found, and will go to any length to ensure that she stays away - even if that means killing her and anyone who gets in their way!  The mystery that has been building over the past two books now reaches its culmination, and all the secrets in Calexa's past are laid bare.  But the question is - once she learns the truth, will she go back to being the Charlotte she doesn't remember, or will she stay in her current life as Calexa?

This final volume provides a very satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the story nicely, answering all the questions, and even opening the door for Calexa (Charlotte) to find a little love and happiness in her life.  No easy cop-outs, no sudden revelations, no thread left untangled.

The art, by Borges, only adds to the life of the story, and it keeps pace with the prose, moving the reader from panel to panel, and page to page, with the ease of watching a television show or movie. This speaks volumes as to Borges' talent not just as an artist, but also as a storyteller, that his panels flow and give moment, and in no way seem two-dimensional.

It's almost a shame that this is the end of Cemetery Girl. On the one hand, it is nice to have a complete story; but at the same time, I want to see where Calexa and Mason will go from here, and what happens next!

RATING: 10 chocolate-filled donuts out of 10 for revealing the truth about a haunted girl without a past - and providing a superb and very satisfying conclusion to a terrific story!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Virginia Mysteries, Book 7 - Spies at Mount Vernon

Those mystery-solving brothers, Sam and Derek, are back doing what they do best - delving into our country's history to solve another mystery! Author Steven K. Smith takes the young brothers a bit out of their element in this seventh installment of The Virginia Mysteries, as they, along with Sam's friend and classmate, Caitlin, take a trip to Washington, D.C., where they get to explore the nation's capital (while Sam and Caitlin have fun pretending to be spies, watching every man and woman very carefully). But what happens when a man they watch begins to act very shady? And what happens when he leaves behind a very suspicious clue at the Lincoln Memorial? And what happens when the three kids unscramble the code to figure out that something is going down at the historic Mount Vernon?

Well, I think the title, Spies at Mount Vernon, says it all!  See, it turns out the man Sam and Caitlin were shadowing really is a spy - and there is something that is going to take place at Mount Vernon. As fate would have it, Mount Vernon also happens to be the site of a presidential appearance, where the President of the United States will be meeting foreign dignitaries.  It is an important occasion, and it is clear something bad is going to happen.

Enter: Federal Marshal Drake! Remember him from the prior book, when Sam, Derek and Caitlin helped stop some poachers?  Well, he's back and in the nation's capital. So, when Sam, Derek and Caitlin find themselves in a tight spot with national security, it's Marshal Drake who steps in - not only to help free them from any trouble they might be facing, but also to ask their help in identifying the spy they saw and his co-conspirator.  So, from Washington, D.C. down to Virginia, the kids travel back to their home state, where they find themselves facing greater danger than ever before. Plus, they get to meet the President of the United States!

Smith once again manages to seamlessly interweave historical facts about Virginia, and this time our nation's capital, into the mystery, so it is a learning experience for both Sam and the reader. And he also ups the ante for the kids, as they must face down the danger of real spies, who are not afraid to harm others! The climactic chase, both on land and water, is well worth the read, and Smith creates some very tense moments there near the end! Yet, with all this seriousness, Smith makes sure that Sam, Derek and Caitlin still act like and talk like the kids they are. Caitlin only has eyes for the President's son. Derek gets thoroughly engrossed with a famous sports star who is at the Mount Vernon gathering. And Sam? Well, Sam continues to second-guess himself, but he isn't afraid to do what needs to be done, and he keeps his eye on the mystery all the time, no matter what is happening around him.

It is great to see this series continue, in a day and time when mystery series for children do not seem to fare well.  It's a shame Smith's books are not being carried by some of the bigger chains, such as Barnes & Noble and/or Books-A-Million - but hopefully his sales on Amazon and other websites are sufficient to keep the series going and that an eighth book will be forthcoming!

RATING:  9 crab cake sandwiches out of 10 for keeping the mysteries fun and engaging, as well as educational - for readers of all ages!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Secrets in the Mist - a Gothic Myths Novel

Ever since I was introduced to the Gothic worlds of Wuthering Heights and Dark Shadows, I have loved good Gothic mysteries. Even the Nancy Drew series has a number of Gothic elements to help build the suspense and keep the reader engaged. Dark rooms, foggy nights, ghostly cries, sinister shadows. So, when I stumbled across a book called Secrets in the Mist, labeled as "A Gothic Myths Novel," well...let's just say, I was intrigued.

I had seen the author's name before - Anna Lee Huber writes historic mysteries; but, I had never read any of her books before this one. As such, I was not sure what to expect. But the cover, with the girl in white holding a lantern in the dark and misty night, and the description of the story, about a mythical lantern man, a secret held by the local villagers, and a twisted trail of deceptions, were enough to hook me.  So, buy it, I did, and now that I've read it, I would say it was worth the price I paid.

Secrets in the Mist is the story of Ella Winterton. Her mother died some time ago; her brother died in the war; and her father has basically given up, living his like out of one bottle after the other. The only people Ella has that she can depend on are her housekeeper, Mrs. Brittle, and her best friend, Kate (even if Kate's brother jilted Ella many years ago, running off to marry a woman that clearly had no interest in him). Set in England in 1812, in a small England village, Ella has resigned herself to the fact that she will likely never get married and never rise above the financial state she is in. One by one, she has been forced to sell off all of her valuables to keep her father out of prison (his drink of choice has been banned, as it is produced by the French, with whom England is at war), and she truly doesn't have much left.

Until she meets the Lantern Man...

What I first thought was going to be a mystery involving the legend of the Lantern Man, the mysterious shadowy figure who haunted the marshes outside of the Winterton homestead, instead turned out to be a mystery involving smugglers, thieves, blackmailers, and murderers. Ella, our Gothic damsel in distress, soon finds herself involved on all of these things, and the very people she had thought she could depend on to help her turn out to be involved themselves! But not everyone is who they seem to be, and as with any good Gothic tale of mystery and romance, Ella finds her hero and is ultimately able to solve the mystery and see the villains face the consequences of their actions ... but not without a cost to those Ella holds dear.

Huber does write a good tale, and she gave me a couple of surprises along the way; however, there is not a whole lot of suspense to the tale, even though Ella ventures out into the marshes numerous times, the mists swirling around her and the shadowy Lantern Man appearing without warning. Ella is a likable character, but honestly, I found I loved Mrs. Brittle even more and wish I had seen more of her in the story.  Some of the plot points were a bit predictable, but it was fun to follow Ella as she uncovered the clues that led to some shocking revelations for her (although not so much for the reader).

When I picked this up, I had assumed that the "A Gothic Myths Novel" meant there were others or some to be forthcoming; but, as of the writing of this post, there have been no other offerings under this umbrella, leaving me to believe that Secrets in the Mist is, and will be, the only Gothic Myths novel - a one-hit-wonder, so to speak.

Is it worth the read?  If you like mysteries with a light-touch of Gothic, then yes, I'd suggest it; but if you are expecting the dark and borderline-supernatural elements present in most Gothic stories, then you may not find this to your liking.

RATING:  7 cherished pianofortes out of 10 for a good mystery, sprinkled with a bit of romance and a hint of Gothic.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Dakota North Investigations - a Marvel Trade Paperback Collection

I have always, ALWAYS been a fan of comics with female leads. Wonder Woman. Batgirl. Ms. Marvel (back in the day - now Captain Marvel). She-Hulk (Savage, Sensational, and any others). Black Diamond. Ms. Tree. And, back in 1986, Marvel introduced a brand new title that caught my attention, and which I immediately picked up.

Dakota North Investigations.

Dakota North is a private investigator. She's tough as nails, with brains and beauty to match. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of Ms. Tree, the Max Allan Collins creation from the '80s - and, perhaps, Dakota North is Marvel's homage to Collins' book.  But, unlike Ms. Tree, Dakota North does not have a vibrant supporting cast. Other than her younger brother, the rest of Dakota's supporting cast only make brief appearances here and there and do not take an active role in her investigations as Ms. Tree's did.

In any event, the original series, which sadly lasted only five issues, introduces readers to Dakota, her younger brother Ricky, her father, her assistant Mad Dog, her somewhat love interest Amos, and the enigmatic Cleo. What begins as a simple bodyguard job for fashion designer Luke Jacobson turns into an international investigation, when Ricky becomes the unwitting pawn in an attempt to hide an experimental nerve gas from enemies who want to use it for nefarious purposes. When Ricky is kidnapped, Dakota chases down his kidnappers to Europe, and in a surprising turn of events, once the whole matter is resolved, it turns out her own father may very well have a connection to the woman manipulating events behind the scenes...

The art in the original series was a bit rough about the edges (Tony Salmons, who I was unfamiliar with at the time, and still am today...), but it worked with the story, keeping the fashion completely on the cutting edge (no pun intended). But, apparently readers in the late '80s just weren't ready for this kind of title, and after five short issues, the series came to end.  Personally, I thought this was end of Dakota. So, when Marvel Comics recently offered a trade paperback with way more pages than just five issues could account for, I had to check it out.  Having now read the further adventures of his hard-hitting private eye, I'm glad I did!  It seems Ms. North made the rounds throughout the Marvel universe after the demise of her own series.

From helping Spider-Man save Mary Jane from a killer targeting models in Web of Spider-Man, to lending some aid to the Power Pack children in tracking down a criminal who stole a hidden treasure. A brief appearance in a Wasp story didn't really amount to much, but a four-part story in Daredevil definitely caught my interest. Quite honestly, that four-part story, which involves Dakota trying to help prove that a man on death row is actually innocent. A heart-felt story, well-written, colored in reds and shadows to keep the mood very somber, and filled with several surprising twists (one of which includes Dakota's dear old dad!). It is this last story in the trade that makes me realize Dakota is still a very viable character and could easily make it in the market today (if Marvel would ever realize that not every book needs to be an X-Men, Spider-Man, or Avengers title).

All in all, this trade paperback was a book well-worth reading, and maybe someday Marvel will collect the other stories of Dakota North (because, of course, I went online and discovered Dakota made quite a few appearances throughout Marvel titles over the years) - I, for one, will definitely but it if they did!

RATING:  10 king-size red bulls out of 10 for reviving my interest in this lesser-known character and (hopefully) generating some new readers that could bring her back to life!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Flash - the YA Novel Book 3 - The Tornado Twins

So, with this book, we reach the end of the trilogy of Flash young adult novels written by Barry Lyga.  It has been a fun run (pun fully intended), and I love the way author Barry Lyga has incorporated not just characters from the TV show, but also characters from the DC Universe that have yet to appear in the show (such as Madame Xanadu, as well as others).  With this book, we get the conclusion to all of the threads that have been woven up to now - but the story only left me with one real question...

Why call the book The Tornado Twins?

There are definite spoilers ahead, so if you haven't read the book and don't want to be spoiled about what happens in the book, then stop reading now.  But for those of you who have read the book, or who simply don't mind having plot elements spoiled, then by all means - read on!

The Tornado Twins, Don and Dawn (last names conveniently not revealed for the sake of the story, but comic fans know exactly who they are...), greet Barry as he works to get to the year 6345 - but sadly only makes it to the 30th century. Now, with the book being titled The Tornado Twins, any reasonable reader would expect Don and Dawn to stick around, or at the very least, help Barry in his battle against Abra Kadabra, Hocus Pocus, and the other wannabe magicians. But no - the twins only appear in four chapters of the entire book, and that is simply to help Barry get from 2935 to 6345.  Seriously, that's it.  They serve no greater purpose than as a plot device to help Barry get into the far-flung future so he can defeat the villains.  So, explain to me how that warrants naming the book after them?

Aside from that, the story was the usual fun-fan-fare that is the world of the CW's The Flash.  Cisco creating tech. Team Flash taking down the bad guy (in this instance, Earthworm in the present). The Flash running to save the day, whether it be in the present or the distant future. Lots of fun references to comic fandom (the Cosmic Treadmill, which has yet to make its appearance in the TV show, as well as a cameo by Chuck Taine, who comic book fans know better as Bouncing Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes!). And, of course, a huge climactic battle that seems unbeatable, until Barry slows down long enough to think it through and comes up with the perfect way to use the magicians' own powers against them, saving both the 64th century and the 21st century!

One interesting tidbit I discovered in this book, that I had not realized from the previous two books (or maybe I did and just forgot between readings) was that these stories are set in the original Flash timeline - in other words, this is the reality that would have existed had Barry not gone back in time and tried to save his mother (thus, creating the Flashpoint timeline). So, in this time, Caitlin is not Killer Frost (at least, not yet - she still could be, though); Cisco's brother is still alive; and all of the events following Flashpoint, such as Savatar, have never occurred. At first, I was a bit annoyed at this, but once I thought about it, I rather liked this divergence, as it allows Lyga to tell plenty of stories without worrying about whether or not it fits into the continuity of the ongoing television show.  Which means anything could happen, and anyone could appear!

(And, thankfully, I just discovered that this is not the end of the series - merely the end of the first trilogy!  The next book comes out in September of this year, and it is a crossover with Arrow!  I am definitely excited for that!)

RATING:  10 mysterious playing cards out of 10 for a more than satisfying conclusion to all the storylines started with book one and for keeping The Flash fun, light-hearted, and enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Boystown, Season Three

And the drama continues with season three of Jake Biondi's Boystown...

Last season (or book, if you prefer) ended with Derek's secret love for Cole being played out for everyone to see ... Joyelle running out, Derek hot on her heels. Cole chasing after Derek. And Michael rushing to ensure nothing happens. But something did happen. The car Joyelle was getting ready to get into exploded! Who survived? Who made it away unscathed? And whose lives will be forever changed? And thus begins season three...

The Mancini/Ciancino feud grows worse as an investigation begins into who put a bomb inside of the car that nearly killed four not-so-innocent lives and did kill two innocent people. Derek and Joyelle find their lives forever changed with an unspeakable loss. But with Joyelle's memory of that night gone, will Derek be able to patch up his marriage and start again? And what about his relationship with Cole? Of course, how far will Tyler go to get his chance to be with Joyelle?

They are not the only ones affected by the car explosion. Keith is distraught about almost losing Michael - but that is nothing compared to the threat that looms in the form of Rachel Carson. She knows his deepest secret, and unless he does exactly what she says, he runs the risk of losing Michael anyway. But is keeping Michael worth the price?

Meanwhile, Emmett and Max are thrilled at the prospect of opening a restaurant together. And when Emmett's father dies, he has no interest whatsoever in being a part of the family business that has cost his family so much - but Derek and Justin are determined to keep their business out of the hands of the Ciacinos. The only problem is, Justin can't keep his hands off of Gino Ciacino. But can their Romeo/Juliet romance be enough to keep the two families from killing each other?

At the same time, Logan and Jacqueline must come to terms with the sight that they walked in on - Jesse and Ben in bed together. But who was playing who in that scenario? Logan turns to the bottle again and Jacqueline simply shuts everyone out. But Ben knows Jacqueline's secret - he knows who Jesse's father is. If she doesn't stay with him, he will reveal her secret, which will change the lives of her son and the man who sired him!

And let's not leave out Gino and Marco, and the secret that their aunt holds regarding the fourth Mancini brother - one who has a connection with their own mother! But, what happens when Marco intercepts a private message meant for Gino and discovers not only the identity of that fourth brother, but also the fact that he is right there under their very noses?!

Then, there's the introduction of Jensen Stone and Dustin Alexander, a new waiter and a new manager for Emmett and Max's new restaurant. Each of them has his own secret, and those secrets will no doubt come into play in coming books...

Mysteries abound! Who is the Mancini brother? Who is Jesse's father? And who is so determined to seek revenge that he will set up Emmett and Max's new restaurant to explode during a pre-opening benefit for Cole's mother and others fighting cancer?  Season three definitely has one heck of an explosive cliffhanger (pun fully intended!), for which I cannot wait for Season Four!

Biondi is by far a talented writer, and he has the perfect feel and format for a nighttime soap opera - there simply has to be a way to either get him writing a night soap, or turn this series into a soap opera!

RATING: 10 poisoned cups of coffee out of 10 for escalating the drama, resolving some stories, starting others, and keeping me wanting for more!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Doctor Who - The Secret in Vault 13

It's funny - I was never a fan of Doctor Who back in the '70s, when some American channels ran reruns of the Tom Baker episodes. I thought, even back then, they were cheesy and boring. So, I was surprised when the series returned in 2005 and I found that I liked it.  Although I still don't like the pre-Eccleston years, I have enjoyed the various series and incarnations of the Doctor since then. This newest Doctor, Jodi Whittaker, has really taken the Doctor and the show to entirely new ground, and the books that have come out recently about this 13th Doctor and her companions have been just as enjoyable as the show.

The Secret in Vault 13 is the first Doctor Who novel I have seen that is specifically aimed at a younger reading audience. What surprises me about this book, however, is not just that author David Solomons has captured the personality of each of the characters - no, what surprises me is that truly, there is no difference between this book for young adults and the regular books that come out for adults to read.  The story has the same amount of sci-fi wonder, the same amount of humor interjected throughout, and the same danger, evil villains, and high energy rescues that you find in the regular Doctor Who adventures.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The adventure centers around the Genesis seed (which reminded me very much of the whole Genesis project from the second Star Trek movie...) and the planet where it is being held for safekeeping, along with the seeds of pretty much every other plant life that has ever existed. Just, in case, you know, some evil villain decides to wipe out all life in existence - then someone can use these seeds to recreate life. Of course, the fact that someone knows where this place is makes it dangerous. And danger is what the Doctor and her companions do best!

Solomons sends the Doctor and her companions on a fun quest to find the necessary keys that will unlock the door to the container where the Genesis seed is hidden. To a school where graduation means death. And to a garden in London where when you are invited to dinner, you are actually invited to BE dinner! Of course, the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are up for the challenge as they face a lying artificial intelligence and a giant mole who demands a sacrifice, as well as ... a potted plant?  Yes, I said that right - a potted plant who is out for revenge against Graham! I mean, let's face it: where else could you possibly read a story like this, except in Doctor Who?

By the time I finished this book, I felt like I had watched a fantastic episode of Doctor Who. Characterization was spot-on, the dangers and challenges were faced with bravery and logic, and the Doctor, in her usual style, outwitted the bad guys with her own special style of ingenuity. I know there are some fans out there who are not pleased with the idea that the Doctor has swapped genders and is now a woman, but quite frankly it's not the gender that makes the Doctor - it's the heart(s) that make the Doctor who and what (s)he is. And Solomons has without a doubt provided a story of the Doctor that will please just about any fan of the series.

Hope there are more books like this for young adults - I'll definitely read them!

RATING:  10 strands of unstoppable noughtweed out of 10 for branching out the world of Doctor Who for younger audiences!