Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Curious Cat Spy Club, Book 6 - The Trail of the Ghost Bunny

The Curious Cat Spy Club
The Trail of the Ghost Bunny
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co.
Publication Date (September 2018)
ISBN 10 - 080751392X
ISBN 13 - 978-0807513927
263 Pages of Story

"I grin at my club mates, hop on my bike - and we ride off together."

I can think of no better way to end this series than to send Kelsey, Becca, and Leo off into the sunset, searching for more missing pets. Well, actually, I could think of a better way - don't end the series at all! Let it keep going, let Linda Joy Singleton tell more stories of these three curious young sleuths, and let readers continue to enjoy these fun, well-written mysteries that hearken back to the days of children's mystery series! But, alas, that is not meant to be, so as send-offs go, I'd have to say Singelton pretty much nailed it with this sixth, and final, Curious Cat Spy Club mystery.

The Trail of the Ghost Bunny finds Kelsey and her family settling into their new home, which readers were introduced to in the previous book. It's a bit of a fixer-upper, so everyone is chipping in to help clean, paint, and renovate the house. But there's a catch - in order to keep the house, the family will have to take care of the previous owner's bunny, Trixie (Belden, anyone?). Kesley is overjoyed - her father, not so much. But Kelsey and her friends are good with animals, and she soon has it settled safely in her room.

But then the bunny escapes its cage. And disappears in the attic. And uncovers a hidden cubby that holds an old-fashioned key. And then gets kidnapped! Needless to say, it's the start of a whole new mystery for Kelsey, Becca, and Leo - one that involves a rumored treasure, a mysterious girl, a disappearing bunny, a hidden room, the tinkling of bells throughout the house, and the frightening shadow of a ghost bunny! Singleton incorporates so much into the story, by the time you finish reading the book, you feel like you've experienced more than just a single mystery.

I truly enjoy the way Singleton intertwines the lives of so many characters - bringing back a number of characters from previous books (even me! you'll have to read it to understand what I mean!), as well as incorporating peripheral characters into the overall mystery. And while it doesn't come as much of a shock as to who the culprit is, it's not the whodunnit that really matters, as much as how Kelsey and her friends get there. And, on top of everything else, the CCSC must also find a way to raise money for the local animal shelter to purchase a mobile pet van. As if they didn't have enough on their plate already.

One of the joys I find in reading series books is that you get to know the characters, and in a weird sort of way, you feel like these characters are "friends," or even "family," because you are right there with them during each and every adventure. You share the good times, the bad times, the rocky roads, and the thrilling successes right along with them. So, that is why it becomes bittersweet when a series comes to an end, particularly when you know there are so many more stories yet to be told. But, alas, for Singleton and her Curious Cat Spy Club, the sleuthing adventures of Kelsey and her friends have come to an end, and so we must bid farewell - and as Carol Burnett so eloquently put it at the end of each episode...

"I'm so glad we had this time together...."

RATING:  10 sparkling ruby necklaces out of 10 for saving the very best CCSC story for last and making it well worth the read!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Doctor Who - The Good Doctor

Doctor Who - the 13th Doctor
The Good Doctor
Publisher: BBC (Penguin Group UK)
Publication Date (November 2018)
ISBN 10 - 1785943847
ISBN 13 - 978-1785943843
230 Pages of Story

I have been very selective about the Doctor Who books that I buy. Initially, I bought only those books that featured Donna Noble as the companion (as she is, and always will be, my favorite!). Then I bought the books with Rory Williams as a companion (even though I disliked Amy, I liked Rory's character enough to buy them). Then along came the 12th Doctor, who I enjoyed immensely, so I picked up his books (even though I found his first companion, Clara, to be very boring - did like his second companion, Bill, but she only lasted one season, sadly). Now, enter the 13th Doctor and her three companions.

That's right - HER! BBC decided to go with the times, and when Peter Capaldi's Doctor regenerated, for the first time, Doctor Who became a female Doctor! Joining her in this new era are three new companions - police officer Yasmin, young Ryan, and his step-grandfather, Graham. An odd mix of characters, to be sure; however, from the first episode that introduced all four of them, I've been hooked. So, when I discovered new books with these characters at Barnes and Noble, I snatched them up right away.

This first book, The Good Doctor, is written by Juno Dawson, who is a new author to me in the Doctor Who universe. It seems a number of the previous books were written by many of the same authors, so it is nice to see a new author (at least, new to me) step in and breathe some new life into the Doctor and her companions. And Dawson doesn't fail the Doctor Who fans, as she manages to nicely capture the voice of the characters, despite how new they all are.

In this adventure, the Doctor and her companions help broker a peace treaty between a race of humans and a race of canine-type aliens who are sharing the same planet. Everything seems to have turned out nicely as the Doctor, Yasmin, Ryan, and Graham leave in the TARDIS - only for Ryan to discover that he left his cell phone behind on the planet. Not wanting such Earth-technology to be left in a place and time where it could greatly affect the people, the Doctor goes back to the planet Lobos. The plan is to sneak back to the tower where he left his cell, grab it, and leave before they make any further impact on the planet.

But they soon discover it's too late for that...

The Good Doctor answers the question to what happens to a planet and its inhabitants after the Doctor does some good there, thus changing the course of their lives? What happens if the Doctor's actions are, perhaps, misinterpreted, or even changed in the course of translation? And how will generations down the road look back and view the Doctor, her companions, and what they have done to their society? In this case - they worship the Doctor. The only problem is, it is now hundreds of years later, and the current generation of humans worship the Good Doctor - or rather, the man who they think is the Good Doctor - Graham! Talk about a case of mistaken identity!

This book also addresses some of the unique factors that the Doctor must face, now that she (he?) is a woman - how people and aliens view the female of a species, how a hero is automatically viewed as male, and what it takes to change that point of view.  The television episodes have briefly been touching on this, but this book faces the issue head-on, with a society that now worships the Doctor - but the Graham "Doctor," not the actual Doctor, as this race cannot possibly conceive of a woman being their Good Doctor. On top of that, the book also looks at organized religion, how it begins, and how it can be abused and misinterpreted over the years. Dawson handles the story nicely, and even manages to equal out the time for the three companions, so that no one hogs all the spotlight in the adventure.

A great start to a new era of Doctor Who, and I'm looking forward to seeing what future stories of the 13th Doctor hold in store!

RATING:  10 teddy bears with only one eye out of 10 for taking the newest Doctor on a fantastic, most brilliant adventure on her first outing in prose form!



Sunday, January 6, 2019

Merry Men - a Graphic Novel

Merry Men
A Graphic Novel
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date (December 2018)
ISBN 10 - 1620105470
ISBN 13 - 978-1620105474
152 Pages

A couple of years ago, Oni Press (an independent comic book company) offered up a new series called Merry Men, which was a new take on the Robin Hood mythology, where Robin and his friends were all gay and had become outcasts due to the villainous Prince John and Sheriff of Nottingham wanting to rid the land of such "merry men." The first three issues came out, and then ... nothing. The remaining issues in the series never appeared, and I sadly gave up hope of ever reading the conclusion to the story. Recently, however, Oni Press published a trade paperback of Merry Men which featured not only those first three issues, but the remaining 7 issues as well, finally providing readers with the complete story!

Written by Robert Rodi, who is probably best known for his comic series, Codename: Knockout, a Vertigo series back in the early 2000s. With Merry Men, Rodi teams up with artist Jackie Lewis to tell the story of Robert Godwinson, who is the former lover of King Richard in 13th century England. Godwinson is forced to flee because of his gay nature, so he bands together with other "merry" men in Sherwood Forest. Prince John has outlawed any homosexuality, and with the help of the Sheriff of Nottingham, is working hard to rid of the land of any such men. Godwinson, who is nicknamed "Robin," is content to simply hide in the forest with his friends - until the mysterious young lady, Scarlet, shows up begging for Robin's help. The Sheriff has captured Daniel of Doncaster, a close friend of Robin's and benefactor to Scarlet. Robin is reluctant to help at first, but through circumstances beyond his control, he and his merry band get sucked into the battle.

This is not simply an updated version of Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights. This is a story of friendship, of love, of discrimination, of exile, of loyalty, and of true heroism - standing up for what is right in the face of real danger.  There are some soap opera elements to the story (cheating lovers, friends turned enemies, surprise betrayals, and daring rescues), but Rodi keeps the focus on the Merry Men's fight to be accepted and be free from the hatred and discrimination. After freeing the men in one town, who were being held captive to be turned over to the Prince, Robin's merry band begin to realize the good they could do in freeing men from other villages who faced the same fate. While Robin is reluctant to become any kind of hero or go on any kind of crusade, he eventually goes on the quest to find and rescue his old friend, Daniel, and along the way, his world expands, as does his group of friends.

Lewis' art is on the edge of cartoony, but her ability to capture expressions is exquisite.  Her expressions of love, anger, surprise, mirth, slyness, and sadness shine forth beautifully in the panels of the book, and she keeps the action and story flowing from panel to panel, page to page, which helps make the book a very nice, smooth read from beginning to end.

I would certainly recommend this book to any Robin Hood fan, as well as any comic book fan that loves a good non-super hero story.  I'm curious to see if there will be any future stories with these characters, as that final page, last panel definitely says that there is more story to tell....

RATING:  8 severed hands out of 10 for spinning a new twist on an age-old story, making it fresh and relevant for today's readers.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hardy Boys Adventures, Book 17 - The Gray Hunter's Revenge

Hardy Boys Adventures (Book 17)
The Gray Hunter's Revenge
Publisher:  Aladdin
Publication Date (October 2018)
ISBN 10 - 9781534411500
ISBN 13 - 978-1534411500
124 Pages of Story

With this book, the Hardy Boys overtake Nancy Drew in the numbering with these new series. Nancy Drew was ahead of the game, as the "Diaries" series began publication before the "Adventures" series for the Hardys. However, because NDD 17 was delayed so that the ND Christmas Special could be published, this 17th Hardy Boys Adventures story now places the Hardy Boys in the lead. Of course, since the plots and writing of the Hardy Boys Adventures is actually better (did I really say that?) than that in the Nancy Drew Diaries, it almost makes sense to let the Hardys lead the way, so to speak.

That being said, The Gray Hunter's Revenge brings back the old-fashioned haunted house tale. Cliffside Manor has been empty for a long time. The legend goes that the people who built the house ignored the land ownership claims of a rough man who swore vengeance on them for stealing his land. One night, during a party, the man entered the home with a long gray jacket and an ax. No one survived the massacre. Now, all these years later, famed horror author Nathan Foxwood has moved into the mansion. The fame and fortune associated with his books has dwindled, and he is said to be writing a new novel, based on Cliffside Manor. But then something horrible happens. His mood darkens, and one night, with his assistant and his wife away from the manor, Foxwood drives off in his car and drives off the road and down a cliff, his car a mess of flames and metal. There were barely enough remains to identify Foxwood, leaving his wife a grieving widow...

Such a wonderful set-up for a haunted house mystery, as Frank and Joe are asked to quietly investigate the house by Foxwood's assistant, who is helping Mrs. Foxwood with the estate sale. Ever since Foxwood died, there have been strange goings-on in the house. There have even been sightings of the legendary "Grant Hunter." The media is all-over the events, but the Adam Parker, the assistant, knows there has to be a reasonable explanation and asks the Hardys to find it. Joe, a huge fan of Foxwood, is more the eager, but Frank is not exactly thrilled about the idea of spending a night in a haunted house. Before they can get started, though, Frank sees the shadow of the Gray Hunter, while Mrs. Foxwood is nearly attacked by the ghostly apparition!

The ghostwriter (seems appropriate for this story, does it not?) for this mystery, despite the short page count, knows how to build some tension, throw in some good scares and jumps, and keep the "horror" element of the story at the forefront.  I can only imagine how much fun it would have been to curl up with this book under my covers had the author been allowed to truly flesh out the story with no limitation as to the length it would take to truly tell the story.  I say this every time, and it bears repeating - I really wish Simon & Schuster would wake up and realize that it takes more than 124 pages to tell a really great story with character and story development sufficient to engage and draw in the readers. Kids today do not have the short attention span that S&S seems to think they do - the Nancy Drew Christmas special book proves that, I think.

Regardless, the plot and overall writing of this book were well done, and the cover art certainly sets the mood.  Artist Kevin Keele captures the spookiness with the dark, decrepit house, the barren trees, the fog in the background, the shadows everywhere, and the hesitation of the boys to enter the house. (Admittedly, there is some similarity with the last Nancy Drew book, The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane, which also dealt with a supposed haunted house.) Overall, I would definitely call this book a winner.

RATING:  9 Foxwood Fan Club pins out of 10 for telling a good, old-fashioned Hardy Boys-type story and making it truly enjoyable.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Shadow Stone - a Mystery Story for Girls

Mildred A. Wirt Benson was a prolific writer of children's and young adult mysteries, mostly for girls, back in the day. She was the original ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew series, and while she is probably most famous for that, Benson also wrote a plethora of books under her own name, as well as other various pseudonyms. She wrote books in the Ruth Fielding series, in the Dana Girls series, in the Kay Tracey series. She also wrote the Penny Parker series under her own name, as well as the Madge Sterling series under the name Ann Wirt. On top of that (and many other), she wrote several books in a series of books published by Cupples & Leon called "A Mystery Story for Girls" series. While not exactly rare, they are not always the easiest to find, particularly with their original dust jacket. So, when a good friend had one for sale recently, I bought it.  After reading it, I am so glad I did!

The Shadow Stone is a fun little mystery set in New Orleans at Mardi Gras time. The protagonist is Carol Scott, a fourteen year old girl who is anxious to enjoy the Mardi Gras celebration, but her older brother, Jack, plays a large part in the story as well. In fact, what is interesting about the story is that while Carol is clearly meant to be the girl sleuth in the story, it is actually Jack who comes across several major clues and ultimately has to rescue Carol from dangerous men who have taken her captive. Clearly, Carol is not meant to be the strong, independent Nancy Drew-type character; however, she is smart, quick, and more than willing to step in and right a wrong when she sees one.

The mystery centers around a thought-to-be jade stone that is carved so that when held up to the light, it casts the shadow of a man's profile. Carol gains possession of the stone through a case of mistaken identity, but it is immediately clear to her that the gruff man who gave her the stone and the belligerent girl who is trying to get the stone away from her want the shadow stone for nefarious purposes. Because of that, Carol decides to hold on to the stone. Needless to say, this not only causes her a lot of misfortune and danger, but it also leads her to meet the Mercier sisters, Sonia and Seenia. Circumstances find her pretending to be the Mercier's niece, who has not yet arrived. Carol discovers that the sisters have been holding an inheritance for their niece, and they are waiting for her arrival so that they can bestow it upon her. Their attorney and financial manager, Barry DeForrest, has been helping them and arranged the meeting.

As an adult reader, it was not at all difficult to figure out who was behind the missing niece and the stolen shadow stone; however, it was fun to follow Carol and her brother as they searched for clues and the meaning of the stone and to read their adventures and narrow escapes from culprits determined to get the stone and keep them quiet at any cost (and I do mean ANY cost!). There's a hidden room, a desperate escape from a houseboat, and a race through the woods at night that will keep the reader enthralled - and Wirt (Benson) manages to throw one final twist into the story at the end regarding the stone and the identity of the true Mercier niece that is not only surprising, but quite ingenious (as it proves to the reader that not everything is quite as obvious as it seems).

It is a shame that Wirt (Benson) only had the opportunity to write seven mysteries in this series for Cupples & Leon. She is an excellent storyteller for children's mysteries, and it would have been a real treasure to have many more of these mysteries by her - but I suppose we will have to settle for the multitude we have from the various publishers and series and cherish the gifts she gave us before her passing.

RATING:  9 red imp costumes out of 10 for mystery, cliffhangers, daring young detectives, and a surprise twist ending.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Dusk County Chronicles - Ashcan Preview Comic

Okay, normally the only reviews I do on my blog are those of trade paperbacks, or graphic novels, or complete mini-series (when I review comics). However, I recently picked up an ashcan edition preview comic for an upcoming comic from an indy imprint, Metal Ninja Studios, and I enjoyed the preview so much, I figured it deserved a review.

The Dusk County Chronicles will be an anthology comic (wish we had more of those today!), but the stories it will tell are not your average super hero or horror comic stories. Writer Joel Rodriguez, instead of giving comic readers the standard fare chose to take a different route - instead, Rodriguez takes a unique spin on some childhood (and maybe even adult) favorites.  In this ashcan preview comic, readers get a taste of just two of the four upcoming stories to be featured in the full series to debut next year.

STORY ONE: "A Friend in Me" - as you might guess by the title, this first tale of terror spins a twist on the Toy Story franchise. In just six pages, Rodriguez turns the cowboy, space man, doll, teddy bear, and slinky dog toys into a nightmare of murder and mayhem. And, in a cute twist (if "cute" can be applied to a horror tale), readers will see why the story is actually titled what it is (and no, it's not in any sexual sense, so get your mind out of the gutter!).

STORY TWO: "Forever Young" - what if Peter Pan's world was real? what if a boy could fly? and what if that boy could take others to that never-never land where you can stay a child forever? BUT - what if none of that was exactly what it seemed? What if there is only one true way you can be forever young? In this preview story, Jenny is about to find out that floating and staying young may very well be more terrifying than anything she could have ever imagined!

And to whet your appetite even further, there's a one page "news report" at the end of the preview comic that gives readers a hint at "Mindgames" and "Just Right," the other two stories that will appear in the upcoming anthology. A super-villain and werewolves. Hmmmm.....

What if there was a place that would take all of your childhood dreams and turn them into nightmares? That is the question Rodriguez asks his readers, and that is the answer that The Dusk County Chronicles will provide.

Roman Gubsky provides the art for both stories, as well as the cover. The art has just the right amount of roughness to fit the dark tone of the stories - the characters are not flashy with smooth lines, nor are they all beautiful, strong, and endowed. They are normal, the lines aren't perfect or straight, and the coloring provides the right ambiance to except the totally unexpected from the story you're reading. If the final product is of the same quality as this preview issue, then I'd say Rodriguez has a hit on his hands.

RATING:  99 red balloons (okay, I couldn't resist that one....) - 9 floating red balloons out of 10 for creative re-imaginings in two genres I love - horror and comics!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Flash: Climate Changeling

The second novel based on DC's television show, The Flash, was just as good, if not better, than the first!  Not to be confused with the young adult series also being published, these adult novels (which I hate calling them that, because that brings about some very bad connotations with it) are definitely written at a much high reading level, are considerably longer than the young adults novels, and they pack a whole lot of story and action into one book. However, like the young adult series, they definitely capture the feel of the show, and the authors of these books show a strong talent for writing the characters as they appear on the show, so much so, that reading the books gives the reader a feeling that they are watching episodes directly from the television series.

"Climate Changeling" brings back the Weather Wizard, who was introduced back in the first season of the show. For those who may not remember, Mark Mardon and his brother Clyde both received weather-controlling powers from the particle-accelerator explosion that also gave Flash his powers. Mark was knocked into a coma, but Clyde went wild with his powers - until the Flash and Det. Joe West put an end to his tirade. Permanently. And that is something that Mark has never forgotten. Years spent in Iron Heights prison, Mark has had plenty of time to dwell on his hatred of Flash and Det. West, blaming them both for his brother's death. The guilt he feels for not protecting, not saving, his brother weighs heavily. And when a freak storm wreaks havoc on Iron Heights' security systems, Mark suddenly finds his powers increased, and breaks his way out of Iron Heights with only one thing on his mind.

Revenge.

I am not familiar with the author, Richard Knaak, but I definitely like his writing. He had the perfect feel for each of the characters when he wrote this book - Barry, Iris, Joe, Wally, Cisco, Caitlin, H.R., and even the Mardon brothers. Each character portrayed and read exactly as they are on the television show, and the dialogue was natural and in-character. The story was well-paced, never dragging, and Knaak even managed to make it accessible to new readers who have no knowledge of the history of the characters and the show without bogging it down too much with flashbacks or such. I did, however, have to keep reminding myself that this book clearly takes place some time before season four, and I believe before the wedding of Barry and Iris (although that fact is not exactly made clear - but since they never refer to Iris as Barry's wife, I'm just going to assume...)

As for the story itself, the Weather Wizard is out not only for revenge, but also to bring his brother, Clyde, back from the dead. It seems the spirit of Clyde is egging him on, pushing him harder and harder, causing a storm of unbelievable proportions to rain down on Central City. Barry and Team Flash can't seem to get a handle on it, and Cisco isn't able to pinpoint exactly where Mardon is at any given time. Meanwhile, Caitlin's powers are starting to surface again, someone in time with Mardon's vicious weather attacks. And all the while, Barry seems to be losing his strength and speed stamina the more he fights Mardon. Knaak definitely writes one epic battle here, with a climax that is well worth the wait (and with a story that is 430 pages, trust me, there is a wait!).

If you are a fan of the television show, then you'll enjoy this novel immensely - I highly recommend it!

RATING:  10 communication devices on the fritz out of 10 for remaining faithful to the show, while expanding the stories and world of the CW's The Flash.