Thursday, February 22, 2018

Supergirl, Book 1 - Age of Atlantis

As I am currently rehearsing this month for a play that I am in, finding time to read has been difficult (in between work, rehearsals, remodeling our bathroom, and learning lines for the play) - but, as anyone who loves to read will tell you - there's ALWAYS time to read!

DC Comics has recently come out with two series of young adult books based upon their popular television shows on the CW - a Supergirl series and a Flash series.  Since I recently read the two part Flash/Green Arrow adult novels recently, I figured I'd read the first book in the Supergirl series, Age of Atlantis.

The first couple of chapters started off a little slow, and, well, quite frankly, a bit childish.  Yes, I realize the target audience is pre- to early-teens; however, I expected the writing to be a little more advanced. But, then the unexpected happened - after I got past the second chapter, and the real meat of the story began to evolve (the sudden appearance of super=powered citizens within National City), I found myself intrigued.  And when the DEO reveals they have a sea creature, with whom they are unable to communicate, captured, I began to smile.  Without realizing it, the story - and the book - began to feel more and more like I was watching (reading) an episode from the Monday night TV show!

The story is set prior to the end of Season 2 of the television show.  Mon-El is still on board, Snapper Carr is still snapping at Kara, and Alex and Maggie are still together.  The gang is all here - Winn, with his technological nerdiness; J'onn, with his near-complete lack of humor; and James Olsen, with his crime-fighting alter ego - the Guardian.  Author Jo Whittemore does a fairly decent job at remaining faithful to the characterizations as established on TV, but I did find myself thinking of Winn more as Cisco (from The Flash) - particularly with his desire to name all of the supercitizens.

Ah, yes, the supercitizens.  I loved the way the author handled that aspect of the story.  Ordinary, everyday people who suddenly find themselves endowed with super-powers!  What would they do?  How would they react?  What would they think if Supergirl told them to stand down, especially when she's always been known to make a mistake or two herself?  And what happens when a group of them band together to ensure that they never lose those powers?  And, in true television fashion, just how is that sea creature from Atlantis tied into all of this?

This was a nice repast from the heaviness of this season's Supergirl and the whole "Reign" storyline that's going on.  Sure, Supergirl/Kara has some self-doubts; yes, James is still trying to compete for his superhero status, even without powers; and yes, people are actually happy (did I say that about a comic-related show?!?!).  Supergirl is the Girl of Steel that we all know and love - still new the game, but always thinking of others and always determined to do what's right.  It was fun, it had some great fight scenes, some nice tender moments, and an post-show epilogue that leaves the reader hanging for the next episode...er...I mean, the next book!  Definitely gives me hope that these DC young adult novels will be good reads, and hopefully, they will stick around for more than just one or two books (and let's hope we see a Legends of Tomorrow series in the future - no pun intended).

Oh, and did I mention there were a few little nods in the story....

On page 83, after being reprimanded by J'onn for a decision she made, Supergirl remarks, "...it's too late to change what I did.  Unless you want me to, I don't know, fly around the Earth a bunch and reverse time."  To which, Winn smartly replies, "Yeahhhh, I don't think that would actually work."

(For those who don't know, that's a direct reference to the first Christopher Reeve Superman film...)

On page 220, the sea creature (okay, okay, he's Atlantean) tells Supergirl, "You assumed I was the last of my kind.  That is untrue.  My king also lives ... He is reluctant to rule, but yes."

(Hmmmm, could there be an appearance by Aquaman in the future of Supergirl???)

On pages 150-51, Kara returns to CatCo and searches for "Vicky V," who is leaving CatCo for "that other paper," as Kara calls it.  Could that "other paper" possibly be in another city - one that happens to be home to a certain bat?  Hmmmmmmm...

All in all, the book was well-worth the read, and I'm looking forward to the next one!

RATING:  8 bear claws out of 10 for making me wish that the stories DC were telling in their comic books were this light-hearted and enjoyable!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Odelia Grey Mysteries, Book 12 - Too Big to Die

Sue Ann Jaffarian introduced the world to the middle-aged, overweight Odelia Grey back in her first mystery, Too Big to Miss.  Now, with her twelfth book, Jaffarian provides readers with a potential send-off of her fun-to-read, sassy, never-back-down amateur sleuth in a mystery to end all mysteries.

To say that Too Big to Die is a life-changing story for Jaffarian's characters would be an understatement.  So many things happen, almost happen, could have happened, and should have happened, it's like a whirlwind of events, and poor Odelia will definitely never be the same after this one.  Of course, that's not to say that Jaffarian doesn't interject her usual sense of sarcasm and humor throughout the story, but there are definitely some more tender moments, some frustrating moments, and some sad moments (particularly at the conclusion) that will make the reader feel closer to Odelia than ever before.

The book starts off innocently enough.  Greg wins a baby duckling in one of his regular poker games, so he and Odelia must decide what to do with it.  By the second chapter, though, Odelia and her husband become involved in something that will lead to murder - they rescue a small dog from suffocating in the California heat while locked in a car.  With the help of a stranger (Burt Sandoval), they manage to break the window and rescue the dog - just as the owner of the car and dog, one very rich, very snooty, and very nasty piece-of-work Marla Kingston, comes out and starts accusing them of vandalizing her car.  What starts out as a simple animal rescue mission turns into an online viral sensation when Odelia and Greg find themselves all over the internet as the heroes of the day.  Particularly since they videos not only show Odelia and Greg's heroic act, but it shows the police taking the high and mighty Marla Kington down a peg or two.

But someone doesn't see them as heroes.  It turns out that Marla's husband is the number one client at the law firm where Odelia works with her boss, Mike Steele, and he will simply not have his wife humiliated in that way, especially by an employee of the law firm that he employs.  So, Odelia finds herself unexpectedly on administrative leave until the firm can calm Kingston down.  With time on her hands, it's easy for Odelia to visit her husband at work - where, faster than you can say, "Really, Odelia?  Another dead body?!" - yes, another dead body turns up, this time shot and killed right in front of Greg's business.

And so starts that roller coaster that is Odelia Grey's life.  From a mysterious young woman who has been filming Greg, Burt, as well as the Kingstons, to a paraplegic who has a connection to someone in Greg's past, to a construction company secretary, to a tragic accident and a secret payoff to keep the truth about the accident hidden - someone willing to literally kill to keep that secret from coming out!  With all of Jaffarian's mysteries, there are plenty of twists and turns, unexpected surprises, and a climax that will leave you reeling - only, in this book, not everyone makes it out alive at the end (how about that for whetting your appetite to read this book!).

The one thing I have absolutely loved about this series is how real Jaffarian keeps her characters.  There are no stereotypes, there are no caricatures, and no over-the-top portrayal of any of the scenes.  The characters react in normal, human ways, and they face real consequences for all of their actions.  The stories are grounded, which make them believable and that much more enjoyable to read.  I am truly sad to think that this could be the last Odelia Grey book (as a friend has told me that the publisher, Midnight Ink, will not be publishing them any more, so unless Jaffarian finds another publisher or self-publishes them, then the misadventures of Odelia Grey have quite possibly reached their conclusion), but if it is the last book in the series, it is definitely a perfect send-off.

Oh, and as a final note on the story - Steele definitely proves his loyalty to Odelia in a rather unexpected way in this mystery!

RATING:  10 half-and-half pizzas with veggies on the side out of 10 for feeding my Odelia Grey fix with another well-written mystery that can both bring a smile to my face and tears to my eyes!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Night Owl Society Trade PB

"The Breakfast Club meets The Sopranos."

The tagline on the front of the graphic novel, given by the comic website Newsarama, I would have to say fits this trade paperback of the IDW Comics mini-series perfectly. Five high school misfits band together to take down the mob boss who killed one of the teachers at their Catholic school.  But what happens when they find out that the mob boss is actually the father of one of the boy who brought the team together?

Night Owl Society, which was originally published as a four-issue mini-series from IDW Comics, tells the story of high schooler David Foxworth, who is pretty much a loner that no one at the school really ever notices (emphasized by the fact that two of his recruits sit next to him in classes and don't recognize him or even know his name).  His best friend at the school was one of the teachers, Father Shawn, who was brutally murdered by a local mob boss.  David has been going out each night to exact his revenge on his crime lord, and when he realizes that he is going to need help, he reaches out to three other school misfits (with a fourth showing up because one of them can't keep a secret).

A.J. is in it because he thinks it would be cool to be a superhero.  He's the brawn of the team.

Laura is in it because she can slip in and out without anyone knowing.  She's the stealth.

Darsh is in it because he is a computer genius whiz-kid.  He's the techie (think Felicity or Cisco...)

Sarah is in it because she's A.J.'s girlfriend, and she's got strength, brains, and determination.

Together, these five set out to systematically dismantle and destroy the local mob boss's enterprises and to bring him to justice for killing Father Shawn.  Until they uncover the true identity of the mob boss - and for them, it changes everything.  It seems the mob boss knows all of them.  All it will take is for someone to see them, and their whole family could be threatened.  But when David takes it upon himself to face the mob boss in one final confrontation, the team realizes they need to have his back, or it could all go south - which it does very quickly!

Writer James Venhaus provides a fascinating tale of mob-related drama in pure soap opera style, throws in some teen angst and vigilante/superhero (non-powered) justice, and just for good measure, drops in a bit of surprising twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing - and finishes it off with a single line at the end that is a true game-changer and hopefully signals a sequel in the future!

Artist Pius Bak does an amazing job with the art - providing pencils, inks, and color for the story. It's probably silly, but I love the fact that whenever he does a flashback, he grayscales it, rather than presenting it in color, giving it that sense of "past." And although there are a number of characters involved, each one is distinct and easily discernible from the others, and regardless of the dark colors (remember, a lot of this story takes place during the nighttime hours), the visuals are clear and crisp.

I'm happy IDW published this - it's definitely not something you'd see from either DC or Marvel, as it's not flashy, it doesn't have capes or wanton destruction, but it is definitely a people story, a drama ... a story with real feeling.  I would without a doubt recommend this for reading.

RATING:  10 silver chafing dishes out of 10 for, in just four short issues, making me feel for each of the characters and providing a satisfying story that is complete, yet open for more.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Devlin Quick Mysteries - Book Two, Digging for Trouble

Any good sleuth worth their grain of salt loves to dig for clues - and young detective-wannabe Devlin Quick is no exception. Only this time, she's digging for real, as she and her best friend, Katie, are in the badlands of Montana for a week in the summer to help dig for fossils.  When Katie stumbles across a few bones, she and Devlin are hoping they might actually be dinosaur bones. But their hopes are quickly dashed when the bones are switches, and it appears the paleontologist and his assistants are up to no good, it's Devlin Quick on the case!

Digging for Trouble is the second book in his quirky new children's mystery series, and author Linda Fairstein actually gives readers a mystery without beating us over the head with social and political correctness.  This time around, it's just Devlin and her friends solving a mystery.  And I give Fairstein credit on this one - she includes a lot of credible information about a dinosaur dig, but allows it to come across naturally through dialogue and interaction among the characters.  It's also nice to see a writer utilize modern technology without making it overly easy for her sleuth to ferret out the truth.  Devlin uses her cell phone camera, she takes advantage of her mom's position as police chief to utilize police search programs, and she even makes use of a CT scan in an unexpected way that helps her come to a startling revelation about the bones Katie found.

Another great thing about this mystery is that although Devlin has a certain amount of freedom due to her mom's job, she is still responsible enough to always let a grown-up know what's going on (even if they don't believe her) and calls them for help when she's in trouble.  It's also nice to see Devlin depend more on her friend, Booker, who plays a large part in the mystery once Katie and Devlin return to New York - where, interestingly enough, most of the mystery and the action takes place.  And even I learned something new from this book - apparently the Museum in New York hosts sleepovers for children!  I thought that Devlin's plan to surprise her best friend with a sleepover at the museum (which was actually a cover to allow her and Booker to investigate) was simply something made up by the author - but a quick look at the American Museum of Natural History's website reveals that they do indeed host sleepovers, and not just for children - adults have their own special sleepover nights as well!

While there is not a  lot of danger, per se, until the very end when Devlin confronts the culprit responsible for the theft of Katie's dinosaur bones, the mystery is still quite engaging as Devlin follows up on clues, goes with her gut-instinct, and doesn't ignore her suspicions.  The author fills the book with more than enough characters, most of whom were introduced in the first book, but some we meet for the first time (such as Kyle, the boy that Katie likes out in Montana) and Ling Soo (one of the college students on the dinosaur dig who I hope we see again in future mysteries).

Plus, let's face it - anyone who dedicates her book to Nancy Drew and Joe and Frank Hardy "who taught me everything I needed to know about sleuthing" - well, that pretty much says it all.  (Of course, that's not the only Nancy Drew reference - on page 33, when talking about Devlin, Katie tells Ling that "She thinks she's a detective.  Dev carries that [magnifying glass] almost everywhere she goes because that's what Nancy Drew did."

ONE LAST NOTE - I would be remiss if I didn't point out that, as with so many books published today, there was an editing snafu - on page 4, the author talks about the backyard belonging to the Cion family - but instead of saying "Cions' backyard," she refers to it as "Cion's backyard" (meaning one person's backyard, not an entire family's backyard).  And while only one missed grammatical error may not seem like much, it is just an unpleasant reminder of the lack of true editing in today's book market.

RATING:  9 ninety-four foot long blue whales out of 10 for improving on the quality of the mystery and the quirkiness of the young detective, all the while keeping it fun and engaging!



Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Nicky & Noah Mystery, No. 1 - Drama Queen

Back in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Nick and Nora were THE crime-solving couple.  Today, though, author Joe Cosentino introduces readers to a brand new couple who are ready to solve the latest murder mystery - Nicky and Noah!  Nicky Abbondanza is a college theater professor, and Noah Oliver is an assistant professor in the theater department.  When their fellow colleagues start turning up dead, Nicky and Noah are called upon by the department head to look into the murders, since the police do not seem to be making any headway.  Of course, the fact that Nicky has a crush on Noah, and Noah has secretly been in love with Nicky but was just afraid to say so only makes their partnership all the more fated to be!

Drama Queen combines two things I truly love - theater and murder mysteries!  As anyone who has been involved in the theater knows, there is always more drama going on backstage than there is on the actual stage, and with this mystery, things are no different.  There are relationship issues, there are friends and enemies, there are jealousies and bitter regrets, and above all else, there is someone who is exacting revenge on the faculty members of Treemeadow College one by one!  And while murder is definitely a serious business, Cosentino adds in a good measure of humor, sarcasm, and overly dramatic soap opera elements that make this a more-than-fun read.

Nicky Abbondanza is a middle-aged college professor who is directing another play at Treemeadow College.  His lead is a self-absorbed stud, and three of his actors (two women and one man) are so enthralled with the lead that they trip over themselves to garner his attention.  Noah Oliver is an assistant professor with whom Nicky is in love, but he can't say anything or act upon those feelings, since Noah is seeking tenure and it would give an appearance of impropriety if Nicky made a move on the younger man.  Scotty Bruno is Nicky's assistant who appears to not only have the hots for Noah, but is also competing with him for that tenured position.  Tyler Thompson is technical theater assistant who teaches under the wing of the professor of technical theater, David Samson (who, to put it bluntly, is a bitter, spiteful, hateful man that is determined to keep anyone from getting tenure at the college).Ariella Samson is the professor of costuming and David's wife (the two of whom are separated).  To round the cast out is Martin Anderson (department head), Jackson Grier (stage movement professor), Loptu Lee (playwriting professor), Millie Rodrigues (voice and diction professor), Wally Wanker (Emeritus Professor of Voice and Diction), and Shayla Johnson (theater office assistant).  And, as any good murder mystery and soap opera will, each of these people have plenty of secrets...

It's no surprise that David Samson is the first to be murdered.  Everyone hates him, and pretty much everyone has a reason to see him dead.  But then more bodies start turning up, Nicky gets propositioned in the men's restroom by one of the investigating police officers, Noah gets jealous, Nicky reveals his feelings to Noah, the two of them get together, and before you know it, they are on the track of the real killer, uncovering one surprising secret after another (from a professor's fight to keep his/her transgendered identity a secret to the filming of porn films right there on the college campus to blackmail and secret siblings!).  The ultimate reveal of the killers does come a bit out of left field, but once explanations are made, it makes sense.

Cosentino gives readers a very satisfying read, and it makes me happy that he write a mystery with gay protagonists without resorting to the unnecessary graphic sex scenes that so many other writers do.  A "gay mystery" can be well-written and fun to read without the graphic sex - leave that stuff to the imagination, and it reads so much better.  Yes, he does throw in some humorous innuendos and suggestions, but no more than any "straight mystery" does.

If you love theater, you'll love this book. If you love gay detectives, you'll love this book.  Heck, if you love a good mystery with some humor mixed in, you'll love this book.  I can't wait to read the next Nicky & Noah mystery.

RATING:  10 bronze monuments of the founds of Treemeadow College out of 10 for proving a gay detective novel can be a great read without being overly graphic.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Aunt Claire Presents (Book Two): Grace Harlowe's Freshman Year at High School

The books of yesteryear hold a very special place for me, as I absolutely love the writing of the children's series books from back in the day.  The writing has more depth and more complexity than the simple writing of today's books, and it has much more characterization and descriptive settings.  That's why I am thankful for this new "Aunt Claire Presents..." series of books, and it's my hope that the publisher continues to reprint a lot of the classics such as this.

Now, I have heard of the Grace Harlowe series, and on occasion, I've seen books in the series while shopping antique malls and used book stores.  I even have one book in the series (which, admittedly, I've never read), titled Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders and the Kentucky Mountaineers.  The only reason I picked up that book is because of the Kentucky reference, since I am from Kentucky.  So, it was with some bit of curiosity that I opened this second book in the "Aunt Claire Presents..." series, as I am more of a mystery fan and less of a girl's life series book reader.

Grace Harlowe's Freshman Year at High School, or The Merry Doings of the Oakdale Freshmen Girls, by Jessie Graham Flower, A.M., proved to be an enjoyable read.  While Grace Harlowe is the headliner of the book, as the introduction explains, the story is not just about her.  The story also highlights Grace's friends - Jessica Bright, Nora O'Malley, and Anne Pierson, with a good portion of the tale focusing on Anne and her desire to fit in at the school and win the freshman prize at the end of the year with a perfect score on her examinations.  The story also features a nemesis, of sorts, in the form of Miriam Nesbit, who reminds me a lot of Lettie Briggs from the Dana Girls mystery stories.  While there is no overarching mystery for the girls to solve in the books, there are a couple of minor mysteries that they solve along the way - such as who stole the answers to the final examination papers, and who sent Anne the frightening marionette in the image of her father.  There is no real difficulty in solving the mysteries, but it does provide the girls with some more adventures (as if trying to escape from ravenous wolves in the forest, helping Anne escape her father who is trying to kidnap her, fending off a thieving guest, and dealing with pranks from the sophomore class were not enough!).  And then there is the secret letter that Anne is hiding as the story reaches its end, a secret that could place Anne under suspicion for stealing the examination answers!

The introductions to these books by "Aunt Claire" are actually very informative, and give not only information about the book and its author (who I did not realize was yet one more pseudonym in the world of children's book authors), but also provide information about the time period when the books were written and how it affected the authors' writing.  It's great to see the text preserved and not edited to remove racial or social stereotypes and slurs, and I absolutely love that the binding of the book under the dust jacket is a reprinting of the original binding (which titles the book as Grace Harlowe's "Plebe Year" at High School, rather than "Freshman Year" at High School.

Now, remembering that this is a period piece, I did find a couple of passages somewhat humorous when read in the context of today's language.  One of them is the description of Mrs. Gray's nephew when he first appears at her house, on page 138:
He was tall and slender, very dapper and rather ladylike in his bearing  His alert, dark eyes were set too close together, and his face had a narrow, sinister look that made them all feel uncomfortable ... "Asinine dandy!" hissed Hippy.  "I knew he'd be a Miss Nancy," exclaimed Reddy ... "What do you like, then?" demanded Nora ... "I live afternoon tea," he answered, "and bridge."
The definition of a dandy, for this period, was someone who paid much too much attention to his appearance; usually, this type of person put on airs and tried to pass himself off as more affluent than he actually was.  The definition of a Miss Nancy was someone who was effeminate - a sissy, for lack of a better term.  Throw in the "rather ladylike in his bearing" description, and it could be assumed that the author was inferring that this Tom Gray character was a homosexual - but, at the time, she could not just come right out and say that.

Then there is the observation that David Nesbit makes on page 100 - purely innocent in nature, but read with today's language, society, and thought processes in mind, it takes on an entirely different meaning:
"If the Dunsmore boys are in good trim, I'm afraid they'll give us a stiff pull," observed David, "but the stiffer the pull the more interesting it is to watch, so long as they don't like us."
Now, in the story, David is talking about the important football game coming up between Oakdale and its big rival, Dunsmore; however, simply reading the statement in today's world, it comes across with a blunt overtone of sexual innuendo (which I doubt the author, back in 1910, intended).  Then again, perhaps it is just my dirty mind placing innuendo where there is none!

Nevertheless, the book was fun to read, and I look forward to reading what happens to these girls in their sophomore year in the next book (which is advertised to come out in the Spring of 2018 along with a Girl Aviators books, which I hope is true).

RATING:  9 crashing fir trees with ornaments and candles out of 10 for preserving the childhood joys of yesteryear for today's generation to read and love!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Courtney Crumrin, Volume Six – The Final Spell

Of all the comic series that have surprised me the most when I got around to reading them, I would have to say that Courtney Crumrin tops the cake.  I purchased this series, honestly, because the hardcover collection of seven volumes was so nicely bound with Gothic-style covers, and, of course, it carried a female lead.  I wasn’t really sure about the art, though, as I had turned aside this series many times when I would see the individual issues in the stores based solely on the art.  Now, though, six volumes in, and I am thoroughly engrossed in Courtney’s story and hate to see it reach an end.

The Final Spell brings to culmination several stories that have been brewing in the background over the course of the series.  Uncle Aloysius’ failing health.  The coven’s ultimate self-serving goals. The real secret the Duchess is keeping in the Twilight Kingdom. And, perhaps most important of all – the true nature and strength of Courtney Crumrin’s powers as a witch.

Author and illustrator, Ted Naifeh, tells a fast-paced story, jam-packed with adventure and mystery and surprises. This volume picks up immediately after the ending of volume five, with Courtney and her teacher, Calpurnia, are on the run from the Coven, who desperately want to place Courtney on trial for all of the magical trouble she has been causing.  But not before we get a four page prologue – four pages of two little boys in the past – two little boys who sneak into the Twilight Kingdom and come face to face with the Duchess – face to face with an impossible decision that will separate them forever…but which decision will ultimately have a profound affect on Courtney’s life, changing it in the most unexpected way!

The battle is definitely fierce, spanning pretty much the entire volume, as Courtney and her teacher run from place to place, ending with Courtney on her own, hiding out in the Twilight Kingdom, where she must face her own uncle.  And readers get a small taste of what Courtney’s life would have been like had she never known any magic – had she lived the “normal” life of a “normal” child, being bullied, having no friends, and watching each day go by without any hope for a change.  But, as with her former reality, Uncle Aloysius opens the door once again, leading to a spectacular final battle with the coven of Hillsborough.

The art, which has grown on me more and more with each volume, maintains consistency, and the purple / blue / gray coloring keeps the moodiness of the series at the appropriate level.  The art is very cinematic in nature, and the panels flow so easily, one into the other, and the change of scenes work flawlessly to speed the story along.  Naifeth has definitely become one of my favorite artists these days.

This volume provides a nice, neatly tied-up ending to Courtney Crumrin’s story, which begs the question – what in the world does Volume Seven hold in store?

RATING:  10 hands of fire out of 10 for giving Courtney Crumrin and ending that she so rightly deserves!