Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Knightley & Son - Book Two: K-9

As the title of this second Knightley and Son mystery suggests, Darkus Knightley is up to his nose in canine trouble when a number of police officers are attacked by some highly trained, unnaturally intelligent dogs.  When Darkus' own Uncle Bill falls victim to one of these shadow dogs, it becomes personal, and Darkus tracks down his once again missing father to discover that he is already on the case - without him!

Author Rohan Gavin returns with another tale of mystery, danger, and the Combination as Darkus finds himself facing off against the villain who may or may not be a werewolf.  The elder Knightley believes there is a supernatural creature that is running around, but his son, Darkus, sticks to his belief that there has to be a rational explanation.  And regardless of which side of the fence it falls on, they both have their suspicions that the Combination, that sinister group that somehow affected Darkus' step-father in the previous book is behind this latest attack on London.

The story drags a bit in the first half, with the focus more on the family drama that Darkus faces with a half-crazed step-father, a missing biological father who falls into unexpected comas, and a beloved dog that he is forced to give up (but, of course, later learns will be taken in by his father's housekeeper, Bogna.  And when he forces his way into his father's latest case (bemoaning the fact that his father hid the case from him and did not include him, despite the business cards he gave him in the last book that said "Knightley & Son"), he faces disappointment when it seems his step-sister Tilly is more interested in a boy than in helping him figure out what is going on.

Once the mystery gears up, though, the pace begins to move and the book becomes much more engaging. What first appears to be two unrelated mysteries eventually prove to be interrelated, and Gavin provides a few nice surprises along the way as Darkus, his father, Tilly, and Uncle Bill, along with Darkus' new pet dog, Wilbur, race against time to solve the mystery before the next full moon.  When a reporter is kidnapped and a television celebrity discovers footage of what appears to be a supernatural creature trying to break into her home, they know time is running out.

And one warning about this tale - not everyone makes it out unscathed.

At the end of the book is a preview of the next mystery, 3 of a Kind - - which, I've had on my Amazon watch list for a while, but it was recently listed as "unavailable."  I found out why the other day, because the publisher has decided to issue the book in hardcover first.  That is SO annoying, as the first two books came out only in paperback, but I guess they sold well enough that the publisher is now going to go to hardcover first, meaning I'll have to wait another year or more for the next book to come out in paperback - - UGH!

Of course, I guess I could look at the bright side - if it's doing that well, perhaps that means we'll get a fourth book or more!

RATING:  7 strong-scented bags of coffee beans out of 10 for providing an unexpected twist ending when it comes to the villain behind all the machinations!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dark Shadows Audio Book 47 - In the Twinkling of an Eye

The Dark Shadows audio saga continues with this forty-seventh installment, In the Twinkling of an Eye.  Interestingly enough, though, other than a very brief appearance at the beginning by David, Amy, and Hallie (and when I say brief, I mean a less than 30-second appearance), the story does not feature any of the traditional Dark Shadows characters.  Instead, this installment features the character of Jessica Griffin (as portrayed by DS veteran, Marie Wallace), who is the mother of Ed Griffin, a character introduced in the very first DS audios.  The story also features Jackie Tate, the daughter of Collinsport's current sheriff, and introduces the character of "Nate."

The story takes place not too long after the conclusion of the Bloodlust mini-series, and finds Jessica released from the hospital (where she was placed after being violently attacked and left in a coma during the mini-series) and back to working at The Blue Whale. Jackie Tate is helping her out, despite her young age, and the two women have formed a friendship of sorts.  Enter the enigmatic stranger - Nate!

While the characters may not be drenched in DS history, the story definitely falls in line with your typical Dark Shadows storylines.  A mysterious stranger blows into town and immediately strikes up conversations with both Jessica and Jackie - and while both women feel a connection, it turns out that only Jessica has a real connection to this stranger - one that could have dire consequences if she doesn't figure out what it is before it's too late!  In true soap opera style, we get gradual flashbacks throughout the story, as we learn slowly but surely the true nature of Nate's connection to Jessica. There's a supernatural element to the story that is played subtly, which makes the story creepier than if it were overly dark.  Plus, in true soap opera fashion, we learn a lot about Jessica Griffin's past that, up till now, has not been revealed.

An interesting tidbit is the t-shirt that Nate wears. It's sort of a running gag through the story that Nate is always wearing the same t-shirt, and eventually, Jessica becomes somewhat hypnotized by it, as it reminds her of the garden she used to have at home - a garden that she seems to be reliving while she was in her coma (during the flashback scenes) - yet, sadly, it sort of gets dropped as the story wraps up, and there is no real explanation or connection made for the t-shirt or why it resembles her garden.

I wouldn't say this was one of my favorite stories, as it is missing the regular Dark Shadows cast, but I suppose the DS universe does need to expand to keep Collinsport alive and real.

RATING:  7 glasses of delicious lemonade out of 10 for offering up something different and giving some supporting characters a shot at the limelight.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Short(est) Lived Comic Series #6 - Lady Cop in 1st Issue Special (DC Comics)

As a comic fan, I always seem to gravitate to comics with female leads - from Wonder Woman to Batgirl to Supergirl to Ms. Marvel to She-Hulk to Squirrel Girl and so on. So, needless to say, whenever I am combing through comic boxes at comic conventions or at comic stores, when I stumble across a comic with a female lead, nine times out of ten, I'll pick it up.

This is what happened when I stumbled across 1st Issue Special no. 4 featuring "Lady Cop."

1st Issue Special was a series published by DC Comics back in the mid-70s that basically featured "first issues" of various comic book characters.  It seems to have been an attempt by DC to jump-start some new ideas and titles, but out of the 15 issues published, only one character actually jumped from 1st Issue Special into his own series, and that was Warlord.

Issue number 4 of this series featured a character called "Lady Cop." As can be pretty easily guessed by the character name, the issue tells the story of a female police officer.  Liza Warner is a young woman who witnesses the murder of her two roommates - and the only thing she sees of the murderer is a pair of white boots with black skull-and-crossbones hanging from the laces.  Knowing she will never rest easy until the killer is brought to justice, Liza enrolls in the police academy to become an officer and not only protect others, but find that killer.

Unlike today's comics which seem to drag out storytelling so as to pad it into a 6-issue collected trade paperback, this issue tells Liza's "origin" so to speak in a mere 5 pages - from her witness of the murder, to her enrollment in the police academy, her graduation, and her first act of bravery to prove herself.  It was actually refreshing reading this, as the story moved quickly without splash pages every other page and unnecessary drama thrown in to lengthen the story unnecessarily (not that there isn't drama in this issue - after all, it is very much soap-opera-etic by its very nature).  The remaining 15 pages of this issue contain the main story - "Poisoned Love."  (The title alone should give readers the immediate understanding that this story, and potential series, would be much like a soap opera)

And to say those 15 pages are packed with story is an understatement.  Liza, now an officer on the street, rescues a woman from two male attackers and sees them off to prison; she then saves a store owner who is being robbed; deals with a boyfriend who doesn't like the idea of her being a cop; and ultimately helps the woman she rescued earlier face her father and admit that she has a sexually transmitted disease.  There also remains the subplot of finding her roommates' killer (which is never resolved), as well as an introduced subplot of a friend of the two men she sends to jail who is watching her from a rooftop.

It's obvious from the subplots and unresolved story elements that DC was hoping this might evolve into an actual series; however, nothing ever came from it.  The character, though, did appear again - in the All-New Atom series as the police chief for Ivy Town, and then on the television series Arrow, as a member of the Anti-Vigilante task force.  I've never actually heard of the writer, Robert Kanigher; however, the artists, John Rosenberger and Vince Colletta, I have seen their names in other DC Comics from that period.  And speaking of time period, the story is definitely a product of its time.  The comments made by other officers regarding Liza being "the weaker sex," and the references to "V.D." rather than a sexually transmitted disease and Liza's reaction to it - they definitely date the story.

What does carry through to today's time is the character's strength and determination. Liza Warner is not a weak, timid female who needs a man to rescue her; rather, she is strong-willed, determined, and she is not afraid to step in to protect those in need.  She faces down two potential rapists; she faces down a rough robber; and she boldly confronts an enraged father - and for Liza, it's all in a days' work.

I really enjoyed the story, and it's somewhat disappointing that DC never did anything further with this character.  Obviously, I don't see "Lady Cop" as being a successful name for an ongoing comic; however, the character of Liza Warner was actually an engaging character to read, and I would like ot have seen more of her (particularly, I would have like to have seen resolution regarding her search for her roommates' killer).

RATING:  8 lighthouse beacons for floundering humans out of 10 for reminding readers that strong female lead characters in comics are timeless!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter - Movie Novelization

Evil Comes Home.

While some people have criticized the Resident Evil films for various reasons, I have absolutely loved each and every one of them.  Milla Jovovich breathed life into the character of Alice, the protagonist through all of the films, and so it was with a bit of sadness that I went to see "The Final Chapter," which is toted as the conclusion to the series of films:  Resident Evil, Apocalypse, Extinction, Afterlife, Retribution and now, The Final Chapter.

I have not read any of the novelizations until after I saw the film, and this novelization of the last film is an example of why. The books, which are based on what I assume to be the original screenplays, tend to have not only more story to them (including backgrounds, characterization, and such), but they also tend to have additional storylines that don't appear in the movie.  For this book, it was the story of Becky, the girl who Alice believed to be her daughter during the alternate reality sequences of the last film/book.

The Final Chapter stays somewhat consistent with the film, although its opening offers a lot more backstory to connect the ending of the last film with the beginning of this one. Readers learn more about the fight that Alice, along with Ada, Jill, and Leon, endured as the hordes of undead and vile creatures created by the Umbrella Corporation converged on the White House.  We find out more about Albert Wesker's betrayal (like we didn't see that coming" during the battle, and we learn the ultimate fates of Ada, Jill, and Leon.  Readers also discovery why Alice was underneath all that rubble at the beginning of The Final Chapter.

I'll admit, I had fun reading the novelization, as there were moments where I felt like I was sitting in the theater once again, watching the movie.  Alice's battle with the nightmarish creatures unleashed by Umbrella.  Alice reuniting with Claire Redfield.  The revelation of the traitor in their midst.  The big reveal of Alice's true identity and her connection with the Red Queen.  The ultimate battle between Alice and Wesker & Isaacs.  The sad deaths of some of Alice's companions.

The underlying thread of Alice's search for and concern for Becky, her "daughter," is the biggest difference between the film and the book.  The film has no mention of Becky whatsoever, while the book continues the subplot throughout the whole story.  In fact, the very end is drastically different - without providing any spoilers here, let's just say that the end of the book focuses on Becky, while the end of the movie provides an entirely different direction for the story.

And the epilogue ... I have to wonder if that was a post-credits scene in the movie, as I did not stay for the end of the credits.  Once I buy the DVD, I'll have to watch and see.  Not that it really makes a difference, since there talks of re-booting the whole Resident Evil franchise, which would make the epilogue pretty much irrelevant. (Personally, I hate the idea of a reboot.  There is a whole world of stories that they could tell set within this world already created - plenty of other characters they could follow).

So, the saga of Alice has come to an end.  It was a satisfying series of stories, and although she will be missed, I can say that they provided the story a very satisfying conclusion.

RATING:  9 decanters, sculptures, and fountain pens out of 10 for concluding the Resident Evil saga of Alice with some unexpected twists and turns, but with no dangling plot threads.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Scarlet and Ivy, Book One - The Lost Twin

"This is the story of how I became my twin sister."

With a tagline like that, how could you pass up a mystery like this? Sophie Cleverly has written a superbly plotted mystery with fun, believable characters, a dastardly villain, and intriguing clues that lead not only Ivy, but readers on a twisted chase through the halls of Rookwood boarding school as Ivy Gray searches for answers as to what really happened to her twin sister, Scarlet. The Lost Twin has everything a good mystery should have, and it really doesn't matter your age, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll enjoy it.

Shy, young Ivy Gray has been living with her slightly off-balanced aunt ever since her parents shipped her twin sister, Scarlet, off to boarding school. Ivy missed her sister, but never so much as when she receives the news that her sister has died from an illness.  Ivy is heartbroken - until the headmistress from the school arrives and announces that Ivy is coming to Rookwood to take her sister's place.  Ivy doesn't want to go to the school where her sister died, but it seems she has no choice.  Upon arriving at Rookwood, however, Ivy is shocked to discover that Miss Fox, the headmistress, meant exactly what she said.

Ivy would be taking Scarlet's place.  She would BE Scarlet!

Such a premise clearly sets the stage for the real mystery of what happened to Scarlet and why is the headmistress of the school intent on making sure no one ever finds out that Scarlet is gone. Of course, Ivy isn't going to just be facing the villainy of Miss Fox, she also has to deal with mean girls Penny and Nadia, as well as the stress of pretending to be the outgoing, trouble-making twin who was the exact opposite of her! Help arrives, though, in the form of a diary. Scarlet's diary, to be exact. Ivy finds pages of her sister's diary hidden throughout the school, and each page tells bits and pieces of a story, as well as provides cryptic clues as to where the next piece of the puzzle can be found. Slowly, but surely, and with the help of her new roommate and friend, Ariadne, Ivy begins to uncover the truth behind her sister's death. Only, the closer she gets to the truth, the more she begins to doubt her sister is dead. But, if she isn't dead, then where is she?

The book may be just under 300 pages in length, but it reads so easily, and it is so engaging, that I managed to finish it in just a couple of days.  I had to know what really happened to Scarlet, and I loved watching both Ivy and Ariadne become stronger and braver in their words and deeds while trying to decipher the clues and face off against the villain.  And face-off they do!  Let me say, Cleverly wrote the perfect confrontation scene, and the big surprise that is revealed during that scene was definitely not expected at all.

I did not read the preview of the second book, The Whisper in the Walls, as I did not want to do anything to spoil the pleasure of reading it (which I will get to before too long, because I can't wait to see what happens next!).

RATING:  10 midnight feats of pear drops and fudge out of 10 for keeping the young adult mystery genre alive and thriving!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Courtney Crumrin, Volume Five - The Witch Next Door

Ted Naifeh takes his incorrigible little witch, Courtney Crumrin, on a brand new journey in this fifth volume of the series.  And in The Witch Next Door, Courtney does, a little growing up, we learn a little bit more about the history of Courtney's uncle and the town of Hillsborough, we take another trip down in the dangerous realm of Goblin Town, and Courtney finally comes face to face with the consequences of some of her actions to date.

This volume opens with a flashback tale, giving readers a glimpse into the history of Hillsborough, the past of Uncle Aloysius, and we learn the real reason why this town seems to be the center of the magical world and its creatures. It's a great little breather from all of the supernatural dangers that Courtney has faced over the past four volumes - it's nice to have a rather simple tale of lost love, betrayals, and good ol' fashioned soap opera scheming and intrigue.

Of course, with chapter two, it's back to our regularly scheduled programming, as a new little girl moves in next door.  Young Holly Hart is not at all put-off by Courtney's demeanor - in fact, she feels she's an outcast the same as Courtney, and before you know it, Courtney has a friend! Someone she can pass the time with, she can share magical secrets with, and someone who she soon realizes may not be as altruistic as she first thought! First, it's a simple spell to make others at school like her - but then it's a trip to Goblin Town, which quickly turns into a very dangerous rescue mission.

But is Holly Hart really all that bad?

Naifeh gives us a bit of a twist here, as he uses chapter three to give readers a different perspective of the events that led up to Holly and Courtney being captured at the end of chapter two. While chapter two gives us the standard Courtney Crumrin point of view, in chapter three, readers are treated to the same events, but from Holly Hart's point of view - and suddenly everything you thought about Holly may not be accurate! It's a great story-telling technique, and it works flawlessly here to keep the story moving and to make Holly a bit more of a sympathetic character.

The concluding chapters find Courtney facing down some pretty dangerous characters in Goblin Town, and when Holly is sent off pretty much the way the writers did with Donna Noble in series four of BBC's Doctor Who, Courtney suddenly must face the consequences of her actions as a witch. Naifeh leaves this volume with a huge cliffhanger, and it's pretty much a guarantee that readers will be rushing to get to Volume Six to find out what happens next!

The art remains above par, with the heavy use of grey, purple, and blacks to keep the gothic, gloomy theme working throughout the story.  While the character depictions took me a bit to get used to in the beginning (as they are stylistic and not drawn realistically, like with artists such as George Perez, Jerry Ordway, or John Byrne), by now, I have grown not only accustomed to it, but find that it very much fits the story and the characters perfectly, blending the story and art to seamlessly, it would be impossible to have one without the other!

RATING:  9 tainted water bottles out of 10 for providing not only great supernatural stories, but also a character that has grown and evolved with each tale and continues to be engaging with every turn of the page!

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Seckatary Hawkins Mystery - Stoner's Boy

I had never heard of Seckatary Hawkins until the name was mentioned not too long ago in a Facebook group to which I belong. I looked on e-bay and saw some of the prices were rather high for books in this series, but in glancing through Amazon, I discovered that the first two books had been reprinted by University Press of Kentucky - so I purchased the first volume.

Originally published back in 1921 and written by Robert F. Schulkers, Stoner's Boy tells the story of a group of boys who live along the shore of a Kentucky river during a much simpler time, and who band together to form a club of sorts. They take their club very seriously, and they run regular meetings and keep minutes of the meetings. The main character, Seckatary Hawkins (spelled "Seckatary" because, as he admits in the prologue, he didn't know how to spell "Secretary" when he was elected as such in the boys' club), faithfully records all of the club's meetings and adventures, and so the book is written in somewhat of a journal format in first person from Seckatary's point of view. Each chapter runs Monday through Saturday (for the boys rarely, if ever, met on a Sunday), although occasionally a day is skipped, and with 34 chapters, it's easy to see that the story takes place over the course of more than half a year.

Schulkers does not write Stoner's Boy as an origin story in any way; rather, there are several mentions throughout the tale of prior adventures the boys have had, but they are simple mentions and the reader is not given much in the form of detail. Rather, the author treats the group of boys as already established characters, and dives right into the story of the coming of "Stoner's Boy," who is a dastardly boy who causes problems not only for them, but also for the Pellham boys on the other side of the river. No one knows who Stoner's Boy is - he is sometimes referred to simply as the "Gray Ghost," as he wears a gray coat, a gray hat, and keeps a scarf over the lower half of his face so no one can ever see his face. He's a trouble-maker to the nth degree, as he maliciously attacks the boys and runs, he steals their possessions, he damages their club house and their canoes, and threatens them in any number of ways.

The boys' mentor, Doc Waters, warns them to stay out of trouble and to stay away from Stoner's Boy, but try as they might, they continue to get into the middle of things. And while the cover indicates this is "A Seckatary Hawkins Mystery," there really is not much mystery to speak of. There are a couple of minor mysteries, such as how Stoner's Boy disappears when he goes into the cliff cave, or how he disappears when he runs into the clearing on a nearby island; but the story is more of a boys' adventure tale, as the boys ultimately put aside their differences with the Pellham boys across the river and work together to bring an end to the Stoner's Boy's reign of terror.

The characters all seem to have nicknames - such as Skinny Guy and Long Tom - and there is even one character introduced half-way through whose name is Robby Hood, who is quite adept with a bow and arrow (gee, wonder where that idea came from?). The boys have a number of adventures and get into more than a few scrapes (one boy is tied to a tree and left there overnight in the rain!), but they remain determined to capture Stoner's Boy and his cohorts.

I have to give Schulkers credit - while the mystery part of the story may be tame, if not nearly non-existent, he does instill throughout the story (mostly through Seckatary's words and actions) the importance of honestly, trustworthiness, and loyalty.  It is no surprise that Harper Lee was a big fan of the Seckatary Hawkins books, and that she even referenced them in her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird (which I read many years ago, and now that I know these references are in there, I'll have to go re-read that book!). Another fact about the book is the use of dialect in his writing - Schulkers captures the essence of the time, the characters, and the location through the use of slang, misspelled and misspoken words, and the childhood innocence of immortality.

While not my typical cup of tea when it comes to mysteries, I would definitely recommend this for anyone who enjoys reading children's series, and I'll be hopping on Amazon to buy the second book published by University Press of Kentucky, The Gray Ghost.  Just wish they would reprint more from the series!

RATING:  8 floating barrels out of 10 for giving readers a great Kentucky adventure that, while a product of its time, still puts forth values that should be taken to heart today!