Friday, March 24, 2017

Hardy Boys Adventures, Book 14 - Attack of the Bayport Beast

The idea of "Sasquatch," or "Big Foot," has always been a myth that is ripe for storytelling.  Take a quick look on Amazon, and you'll see plenty of books that use this creature as a premise for their stories.  Trixie Belden did it years ago with The Sasquatch Mystery, and now the Hardy Boys are following her lead with Attack of the Bayport Beast.

Now, I realize that these are children's mysteries, so I can't expect there to be underlying build-ups to these mysteries, but it would have made for a much better story if every once in a while during the past 13-books in this series, there had been a mention or a hint that there was some "creature" out in the woods surrounding Bayport.  That would have made this story a much bigger impact on the overall mythos of the Hardy Boys and their world.  But, alas, that would be asking too much from Simon & Schuster, who seem to spend very little attention to the quality of their Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books these days.  Which is a shame, because the premise for this mystery was actually a pretty good one.

The books opens with Frank and Joe at a sci-fi / cryptozoology convention.  What surprised me most about this opening chapter are the number of pop-culture references (as the books usually stray away from citing any real characters, films, etc.).  On the first page alone, the author mentions Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, Darth Vader, and a Jedi Knight.  From there, it expands to Wolverine, Batman, Robocop, Stormtrooper, Klingons, Star Trek, and even Doctor Who.  Unfortunately, we only get 8-pages of the convention (unlike the HBUB book, Comic Con Artist, which was entirely set at a comic convention) - after that, the book focuses on its main mystery - the mysterious and elusive Bayport Beast!

It's obvious from the get-go that the stranger with spiked hair that Frank sees at the convention and then Joe later sees at the comic shop will play an important part in the mystery.  It's equally clear that the brothers' friend, Benny (whatever happened to Chet Morton?), who is a Bigfoot fanatic, will also figure largely in the mystery.  Benny is a full-time believer in the Bayport Beast.  Joe is pretty open-minded about it.  Frank, on the other hand, is a skeptic, always looking for the logical explanation in everything.  Until he sees something in the woods.  Something he can't explain.  And that's when the real mystery begins.

The remainder of the book finds the books investigating the alleged sightings of the Bayport Beast in the forest around Bayport.  Their first big discovery comes as no big surprise to readers (unless you've never read a Hardy Boys book in your life). And the identity of the culprit is really not much of a surprise either.  The actual mystery behind the sightings of the beast, as well as the reason for the "beast" being in the forest is rather interesting and a unique take on these type of tales.  I applaud the author on coming up with a creative way to have "bigfoot" in the forest - and I also love that there is one small question that lingers in the back of Frank's mind at the end of this mystery (rather like the unresolved ghost issue in Nancy Drew's The Kachina Doll Mystery).

Another interesting tidbit was on page 37, when the author actually references a previous book, Deception on the Set, some 7 books prior.  While it is not mentioned by name, it is described as the boys think back to their detective work on the set of the zombie movie that was filmed in Bayport.

A relatively good story, this book suffers from the same problem all of the books in this new Hardy Boys Adventures series have - the way-too limited page count.  At 106 pages, this book is only a few more pages than the early-readers Hardy Boys Clue Book series!  The Nancy Drew Diaries series has been increasing the page count to somewhere 180 or more in many cases, so it's a shame they aren't providing the same page count for the Hardy Boys.  Of course, with the series now decreasing to 2 books a year instead of 3, it may not be around much longer (is this a sign that another reboot is coming?)

RATING:  7 game-changing game cameras out of 10 for keeping the story of bigfoot fresh without using any stale, overused ideas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl - Her First Prose Novel! Squirrel Meets World!

One of Marvel's most enjoyable and fun comic characters is now starring in her very first prose novel!  That's right, Doreen Green, better known in the Marvel Universe as the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, now has her very own young adult book! I remember seeing this in Previews magazine some months ago, but quite honestly, forgot all about it until I happened to come across the books at Barnes and Noble recently.  I absolutely love the comic series (the writing, I should specify - the art is way too cartoonish and the artist makes all the characters, including Squirrel Girl, look way too mannish for my taste) - it's one of the few comics on the market today that is simply good ol', down home fun!

Well, authors Shannon Hale and Dean Hale certainly know their Squirrel Girl, as the book read just like the comic - a fun, outrageous story filled with human conflict, friendship, selfless sacrifice, and plenty of squirrels!  Squirrel Meets World basically gives readers the opportunity to see what it was like when Doreen Green first came to terms with the fact that her tail and her above-average strength, speed, and reflexes could be used for the greater good.  She could be a super hero - - like the Avengers!  And just like the comics, there are footnotes throughout the book, as Doreen comments on everything that's going on (including her own actions and dialogue!).

The Hales begin the story with Doreen having just moved from California to New Jersey, so the reader knows right away this is going to be a fish out of water story as Doreen must adjust to an entirely new world, a new school, and a new group of squirrels.  Her parents are insistent she hide her tail, as "everyone would be sad that they don't have a tail, and we don't want to make all the other kids sad, do we?"  Doreen, ever the optimist (and also always gullible) heads to her new school with her tail tucked between her legs (literally!), intent on making new friends.  But making new friends in this school isn't easy, and soon Doreen begins to think that maybe she's doomed to be alone - particularly when even the squirrels don't want anything to do with her.

It isn't long, however, before Doreen finds herself righting the wrongs that a group of vandals are doing throughout the neighborhood - and while she never expected anyone to see her, they do!  Suddenly, she becomes the talk of the town!  Only, not as Squirrel Girl (that name her inner voice gives her as she narrates her days), but rather, as the Jersey Ghost!  Although her parents do not want her out putting herself in danger, her newfound friend (Ana Sofia) begins to come out of her own shell and encourages Doreen to take action.  And the more she does, the more Doreen begins to realize that she could be the super hero she's always dreamed of being - particularly after she rescues a squirrel from a trap and they refer to her as Squirrel Girl (hey!  that's the name she's been calling herself inside - maybe it's fate?).

The thrill of it all!  The excitement!  Doreen ... er, I mean Squirrel Girl ... enjoys it all, believing she is doing good in the world!  Until her antics are posted via videos on the internet.  Until someone begins to question whether her actions are really good, or if she is wreaking havoc in the community?  Suddenly, all of her good deeds are being twisted into the crazed antics of a super villain!  But who would think that?  And why would they convince others of that?  Well, it seems that someone has targeted Squirrel Girl - could it be?  Does that mean?  Why, yes, it does!  Squirrel Girl finds herself facing her very own arch-nemesis!

With guest appearances (via text) of Black Widow, Iron Man, Winter Soldier, She-Hulk, and Rocket Raccoon, Squirrel Meets World is a rambunctious romp through Squirrel Girl's mind, as well as that of her friends (since we also get chapters narrated by Tippy-Toe and her new friend, Ana Sofia).  Readers and fans of the character will thoroughly enjoy this comic-like tale - my only hope is that Shannon and Dean Hale will bring us more tales (or is that tails?) of Squirrel Girl!

RATING:   10 over-protective robot parents out of 10 for a good, clean, fun story about a fun-loving and always-optimistic super hero!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Second Lucius Fogg Novel - Malicious Intent

Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here!

Jimmy Doyle and his cohorts are back for another round of noir supernatural mystery in Dan Wickline's second Lucius Fogg novel, Malicious Intent.  Ernie, Ryan, Patches, Emma, and of course, "Sea Bass" are all back for more 1950s action as the lines between the real world and the supernatural world are blurred by the sudden appearance of Kieran Drake, an old nemesis of Lucius Fogg.

Wickline provides another winner of a mystery, this time surrounding Fogg and his as of yet undisclosed past.  We find out exactly why it is that Lucius Fogg has not left his house in 65 years and why he will never be able to leave it.  We find out that he did, at one time, have a love interest (of sorts).  We find out that Ariel was not the first caretaker that Fogg had in his house.  We find out that Fogg has some secrets that are too powerful for anyone to know ... secrets hidden in his house ... a house that harbors some very unique, very strange, and very other dimensional aspects (such as a random room that can appear anywhere in the house; a room that is a warehouse larger than some on the waterfront; and more rooms and halls that can possibly fit inside of a house that size - think TARDIS, for those Doctor Who fans out there).

Doyle is written in his typical stubborn, out to help the underdog self, as he ignores his boss' directions at times to do what he knows to be right.  It gets him bit by a vampire, attacked by a powerful sorcerer, and it ultimately leads to some very meaningful and very saddening losses in his life (I won't spoil it by saying what happens to whom, but I will say that the losses are definitely game-changing events for Doyle and his life).  I must say, I was surprised by these events, and it takes a confident writer to make such drastic changes to his main character's life - but I will say, it definitely keeps things interesting and provides a warning - nothing and no one is safe in the Lucius Fogg universe!

An interesting tidbit was that when Doyle and Sea Bass went to the newspaper to follow up on a potential clue, a couple of names of the reporters stuck out to me - "Batson" and "Kirby."  Batson, for comic fans was the last name of Billy Batson, a/k/a Shazam!  And Kirby, well, I think anyone who's ever read comics knows about the "King," who created the Newsboy Legion back in the day.  Not sure if it was Wickline's intention to have those recognizable names or pure coincidence, but I personally would like to think it was a nice nod to them.

The one problem I did have with this book was with the actual printing of the book itself, not with the plot or actual writing.  I was reading along and as I finished chapter 26 and started chapter 27, I noticed that the 27 opened exactly the same way that 26 opened.  And the more I read, the more I thought to myself, "Didn't this just happen?"  So I went back and started comparing the paragraphs and pages of chapter 26 with chapter 27 and discovered they were exactly identical!   So I went on to read chapter 28, but immediately realized there was a jump here - meaning that somehow my copy of Malicious Intent did not have a proper chapter 27 - so whatever material was meant to be there, I did not get - instead, I simply go a repeat of chapter 26 and completely missed out on the real chapter 27 (which I'm guessing, based on later chapters, that chapter 27 gave the inside scoop on what the first gem held....).

However, that one flub did not take away from my thorough enjoyment of the story, and I am definitely looking forward to reading the third (but hopefully not the last!) book in this series.

8 seductive sirens out of 10 for having the guts to tell a great story with love, loss, vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, and a gumshoe detective willing to sacrifice everything to do what's right!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love - a 3-Issue Deluxe Comic Book Series

The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love was a gothic horror series published by DC Comics in the early 1970s (with the fifth issue, the title changed to Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion, and it's format changed from gothic tales of suspense to tales of horror and terror, with a host by the name of Charity coming into it with issue seven).  After only fifteen issues, however, it was cancelled in 1974, thought never to be seen again.

The series' host, Charity, did appear in James Robinson's Starman series from DC Comics, but that "Dark Mansion" did not return.

Until now...

Whether it was simply to retain the copyright to the title or whether DC actually believed comic readers might enjoy a bit of gothic suspense again, who knows.  All I know is DC definitely tickled my fancy with the three-issue mini-series, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love.  The covers alone were enough to draw me in, hearkening back to the days of those gothic novels from the '60s and '70s.  But the story - WOW!  A young woman is brought to this mansion by her fiance, who needs to the time and seclusion to write his book.  The funny thing is, Berenice begins to see ghosts - including Boston Brand, better known in the DC Universe as Deadman.  But the ghost that haunts this mansion is after something.  Deadman tries to help the ghost, but her intentions are unclear, and he soon realizes he has to help the living residents of the house before they become victims of the ghost.

In true gothic fashion, Berenice feels an undercurrent at the mansion.  Something is off about her fiance, Nathan, but she can't put her finger on it.  Her good friend, Sam, is ready to stand at her side, but his attentions only make Nathan jealous.  Meanwhile, Berenice joins forces with Boston Brand to determine what the ghost that haunts the mansion really wants - is she a victim or is she hell-bent on revenge?  As the nights grow longer, the terror rises until Berenice stumbles upon the truth - one that puts her very life in danger and reveals a dark truth about the man she loves, the house she is in, and the ghost that could destroy it all!

Author Sarah Vaughn weaves a wonderfully gothic tale of twisted and tainted love, ghostly hauntings, and a surprising twist that makes you realize nothing was ever as it seemed throughout the story.  And while I was initially a bit leery of having Deadman thrown into the mix when I first heard about this story, any fear I had was quickly laid aside once I read the book.  Good ol' Boston Brand was seamlessly woven into the tale in such a way that it simply would not have been as good without him.  Lan Medina's art is drop-dead gorgeous (no pun intended) - definitely the perfect choice for this chilling tale.  Just look at the covers of the first two issues if you have any doubt.

It's truly a shame that this was only a three book mini-series.  I would absolutely love to see more tales told in this vein. Surely there has to be a fan base of gothic-tale-loving fans out there that would support on ongoing book such as this (or at the minimum, a couple of mini-series each year).  With all of the supernatural and demonic possession movies that seem to be populating the movie theaters these days, some ghostly tales such as this are bound to hit it big right now!

The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love is one place you definitely want to visit!  I would recommend this even to readers who aren't necessarily fans of comic books - the story is worthy of the gothic stories of old!

RATING:  10 failed binding spells out of 10 for a truly spooky tale of suspense that leaves the reader longing for more!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Finishing School, Book the Fourth - Manners & Mutiny

The girls of Mademoiselle Geraldine's floating finishing school have reached their final year of lessons, and what a year it is!

Having survived tech week for the play I was directing, I finally have the chance to settle down and read some more, and this is one I've been waiting to read.  It's bittersweet, as it is the last in the series, so it's hard to pick it up knowing once I finish it, there won't be any more - yet, at the same time, I couldn't wait to pick it up, because I wanted to see how everything would reach a conclusion.  Author Gail Carriger certainly did not disappoint!

Sophronia and her friends, Dimity and Agatha, are back in school, but the changes are obvious.  Their fourth conspirator, Sighead, has left the school to pursue a future in her clan back in Scotland.  And Soap - - the young sootie who seems to always be in Sophronia's heart and mind - - is now living as a werewolf after having nearly died at the end of the last book.  But there is no time for wistful thoughts or heart-felt longings in Manners & Mutiny, for there is a New Year's ball to attend!  The school is all aflutter over the fact that they will be mixing it up with the boys from Bunson and Lacroix's Polytechnique.  Only, this once a year event turns into a catalyst that leads Sophronia and her friends on their final confrontation with the ever-increasing threat of the Picklemen.

The action in this novel builds slowly, with the first third of the book focused more on reminding readers that you can't always trust everyone, and that those you thought you can't trust might not be everything they seem.  It's not until the Picklemen's ultimate plan is revealed (SPOILER - they intend to take over the dirigible that hosts Mademoiselle Geraldine's school!) that the action intensifies.  Sophronia and her friends must part ways in order to effectively stop the machinations of this evil group, who are hell-bent on overtaking the government and using the mechanicals to do it.  How the finishing school fits into that plan is something else entirely, and Sophronia finds herself on a lone wolf mission to stop them before it's too late!

While Soap does not appear much in the book, fans of this lovable character will be pleased with the ultimate outcome of his storyline.  Sophronia's nemesis, Monique, returns as well, although not quite as expected.  In fact, there are several characters who will surprise readers in this finale, and while it may be somewhat cheesy, I absolutely loved the ending - it was everything I could have hoped for in this series and wrapped up the loose ends, while leaving room for more stories if Carriger ever decides to return to tell more.

I may not be a huge steampunk fan, I can honestly say that this series gave me something to think about when it comes to that genre.  Would definitely recommend this series for anyone who enjoys the supernatural or steampunk or a bit of espionage games (or all three!).

RATING:  8 exploding chickens out of 10 for finishing these girls off in style!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Fear the Dark - a Bishop / Special Crimes Unit Novel

I can always tell when I'm really, truly, utterly enjoying a book, and that's when I start reading it and literally cannot put it down.  No matter how late I have to stay up, now matter how many times I have horns honked at me because I am reading at a red light and don't notice it turn green, no matter how many times I go over my hour for lunch at work - I just cannot put it down!  And that has been the case with pretty much all of author Kay Hooper's books, and her latest paperback, Fear the Dark, is certainly no exception.

Hooper, in her Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series, has created such an engaging group of characters, who come to life and jump off each and every page as if they were actually here in front of me.  And while Noah Bishop and his wife, Miranda, who head up the organization, certainly have my attention, it is all of the agents who work under them and the various people they meet in the small communities throughout the southeast on their adventures who really bring the stories to life.  And while, yes, the series does deal with an organization of government sanctions psychics who hunt down and capture and/or kill psychic villains of pure evil, Hooper manages to keep the tales grounded in reality and does not allow the psychic powers go beyond what what might deem the "realm of reality."

In Fear the Dark, two new agents (Dante and Robbie) tag along with two seasoned agents (husband and wife team, Lucas and Samantha, who first appeared in Hunting Fear) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of six  apparently unrelated persons in the small Tennessee town of Serenity.  And no, there is no Serenity, Tennessee that I'm aware of (although there are apparently a string of Serenity rehab/treatment centers throughout the state).  In each case, the victims appear to have literally just disappeared - footprints just stop suddenly; video footage show the person, then they don't; and one is seen leaving a crowded theater, but he never appears in the lobby on the other side of the door!  It seems the circumstances are completely without explanation - until the SCU shows up on the scene.

Hooper takes an interesting twist in this story, as the psychic who has kidnapped these individuals has the unique ability to warp memories and convince people they have seen - or have not seen, as the case may be - things that may or may not be real.  At one point, he nearly convinces Robbie that she has killed her new partner, Dante.  Is he mind controlling or is he simply adjusting memories?  This is something the SCU has to determine.  When a cop who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time turns up dead, they realize the kidnapper has upped the game and their time is running out to find the victims.

Only ... one victim isn't quite the victim that the kidnapper supposed.  Despite the utter and complete darkness in which the victims are being held, one victim is just a bit stronger than the rest, and when she escapes his clutches, she could very well provide the key to the puzzle that will help the SCU and local sheriff's office rescue the others.  Or, is that all simply a part of the twisted plan of the kidnapper to extract the ultimate revenge?  With this story, the reader is never quite sure!

The only problem I ever have with the Kay Hooper books is that I love them so much, I can't help but tear through them and read them in just a matter of days - - yet, once I finish them, I'm a bit saddened, as I know it's going to be a another year before I can get the next book to read!

RATING:  10 not-so-safe security systems out of 10 for building suspense, maintaining the mystery, and shocking the daylights out of me with that explosive ending!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

DC Comics Secret Hero Society, Book 2 - Fort Solitude

The adventures of elementary-school age Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Diana Prince continue in the second DC Comics Secret Hero Society book, Fort Solitude.  As with the first book, this is not a typical prose novel, nor is it wholly a graphic novel.  Rather, it is a combination of comic book pages, journal entries, "photo" album pages, notes, e-mails, text conversations, and more.  However, despite this form of storytelling, the story and plot flow nicely and it makes for a very easy, fun read.

The second volume of this series finds our trinity of young heroes headed off to Evergreen Adventure Camp (the name should have given me a clue - and no, I'm not talking about Poison Ivy - but I'll admit, even I didn't catch it until the villain was revealed at the end!), where they and tons of other young future heroes and villains hope to have a week of crafts, hiking, competitions, and adventures.  Only, one by one, some of the campers begin to disappear (specifically, those who exhibit any kind of powers that help them win a particular game or tournament).  Bruce is suspicious from the get-go, but eventually Clark and Diana jump on the bandwagon, along with Victor Stone (a/k/a Cyborg) and several other campers who grow concerned that they may be next.  The counselors seems totally unconcerned, even going so far as to make excuses as to why the other campers are missing.

Clark finds a hidden treehouse, where one Lois Lane, a camper from a previous year, had set up a station to keep all her secrets about the camp.  It seems this year is not the first year campers went missing, and Lois was doing everything she could to expose what was going on.  Clark and his friends set up headquarters in this "Fort Solitude" to figure out what's going on.  Using themselves as bait, however, they do ultimately overcome the villainous plan and reveal the true culprit to be a long-time enemy of Superman in the comics (and no, not Lex Luthor, if that's what you are thinking).

The little Secret Hero Society expands with this story, as Barry Allen, Victor Stone, Ollie Queen, and Arthur Curry join the ranks, and their adventures appear to be just beginning...

Derek Fridolis tells a romping fun tale, very worthy of the characters he is writing.  Definitely intended for children, it is not dumbed down in any way, and quite frankly I'd be willing to bet just about any comic book fan would enjoy the story.  Dustin Nguyen provides the art for the cover and the interior, and frankly, it fits perfectly with the storytelling technique.  It's not overly childish (such as the art in certain DC books supposedly aimed at children), but it's not all dark and gloomy like a lot of the mainstream comics.

Fun and easy - exactly what comic and comic-related books should be!  Definitely an A++ read!

RATING:  9 cabin inspections out of 10 for actually making me enjoy stories about Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as kids!