Saturday, August 29, 2015

Penelope Tredwell Mystery No. 2 - Shadows of the Silver Screen

Christopher Edge does it again!  I picked up the first and second books in this series from Amazon some time ago, as the concept seemed rather interesting - a young girl who inherits her father's magazine, the Penny Dreadful, and turns it into a raging success by penning horrific tales of terror under the pen name, Montgomery Flinch. In the first novel,Twelve Minutes to Midnight, Penelope has hired an actor to fill the role of "Montgomery Flinch" at a public appearance.  At the same time, however, she becomes involved in a mystery surrounding a psychiatric hospital where, at exactly 12 minutes to midnight every night, the patients all seem to speak nonsense, but which is in actuality visions of future events - events that someone is taking great pains to learn in an effort to take hold of the future!  It was a really good read, so I was happy to finally get a chance to read the second book.

Edge keeps the suspense going and increases the supernatural element in this mystery.  When a filmmaker comes to the office of the Penny Dreadful wanting to make a movie of one of Montgomery Flinch's tales, Penelope reluctantly gives in.  What she does not realize, though, is that the filmmaker has a very unique camera - one that not only captures visual and sound (these stories are set in the early part of the 20th century, so sound in movies was not yet invented), but also manages to break through into the spirit world and capture the spirits of those who have moved on.  In this case, one spirit in particular - a young girl that the filmmaker was in love with as a boy.  He is intent on bringing her back, but Penelope soon finds that there is a high price to return a spirit into the living world, and she and her friends are soon in the thick of it again.

With nearly 250 pages of story, there is plenty of room for Edge to build up the tension as the story leads to its climax.  And while the story is definitely just as good, if not better, than the first book, I am a little disappointed that the author does not take any time at all to more fully develop the characters.  As with the first book, we know that Penelope's parents are dead, she has a guardian who not only watches over her (although does not do a great job of this, since she seems to run the show and do pretty much anything she pleases - sort of like an original text Nancy Drew) but also helps her with the Penny Dreadful business, and she has a young boy who helps around the office.  We also know that Monty Maples is the down-on-his-luck actor who assumed the role of Montgomery Flinch and does nothing but whine about it the whole time.  Other than that, we learn nothing new of the characters, nor do we see any development or growth within their personalities.  They face danger, they come together to fight the villainy of the day, but in the end, when all is said and done, they are exactly as they were before the whole business started.

I have the third book, The Black Crow Conspiracy, and hopefully the story will give a little bit more insight into the characters - even if there is no growth in their personalities, perhaps we might get a bigger glimpse into their histories.

RATING:  7 out of 10 shadows on the wall for providing a well-rounded, enjoyable read.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Cainsville Novel, Book 2 - Visions

Simply put, Kelly Armstrong is a magnificent writer. I picked up her first Cainsville novel, Omens, on a lark, because the description on the back read something that was very reminiscent of Dark Shadows - a young woman suddenly finds her past is nothing but a lie, she goes to a strange place where she knows no one and where there are secrets around every corner.  Sound familiar?

Olivia Taylor-Jones, the lead character in the series, finds out she is the daughter of serial killers, and her real name is Eden Larsen.  Here, in Visions, the story picks up immediately after the end of the first novel. Having uncovered the truth behind the final two murders that her parents were supposed to have committed - but didn't! - Olivia and her attorney/boss/semi-sorta-friend, Gabriel Walsh, are once again thrust into a dangerous web of deceit when Olivia discovers a body in her car - one that is made up to look just like her.  Then, it disappears.

At first, Olivia thinks it is just another omen - she has a tendency to see and interpret omens - but soon enough she finds out the body is real, when the decapitated head is left in her bed!  Armstrong provides plenty of suspense and twists-and-turns throughout the story as to who the dead woman is, why she was left for Olivia to find, and what her connection is to the ever-growing-more-mysterious Cainsville.  More truths are unveiled about the townspeople of Cainsville (who have PLENTY of secrets), the truth about Gabriel's father and his missing mother are revealed, and truths are hinted at about Olivia's heritage, her connection to both Gabriel and the biker-turned-boyfriend Ricky, and the game that is being played with all three of them.

The use of Welsh history and folk lore provides an interesting element, and it creates a backstory that is entirely new to me, since I know pretty much zilch about the Welsh history.  But part of the focus of this novel (and from whence the title comes) are the visions that Olivia keeps having of the "Wild Hunt."

This book and the previous one have been unbelievably good.  They read like a serial, and I can easily visualize it in my head as an ongoing television show, either a night-time soap, or, for as much story is packed into each novel, a daytime drama (a la Dark Shadows).  There is some romance in the story (between Olivia and Ricky) that gets steamy without getting overly graphic, and the sexual tension between Gabriel and Olivia is ever-present.  But, thankfully, it's not over done, and it's not always at the forefront (as I am not a huge fan of romance novels).

The third book is Deceptions, and I can't wait to see what it holds in store for the Olivia and her supporting cast (let's face it - I hope she eventually finds out and is able to reveal that her parents did not kill any of the people they are accused of killing!).

RATING:  10 out of 10 suspense-filled visions for keeping me turning page after page and for making me really care about the characters!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dark Shadows Audio Book 25 - The Eternal Actress

Some time ago, Big Finish Productions (who is well known for their Doctor Who audio dramas throughout the years) began producing Dark Shadows audio dramas, with brand new material based upon the original television series that ran from 1966 - 1971.  I fell in love with that show back in 1980, when my mother introduced me to the reruns.  Back then, I was so fascinated by the stories that I failed to notice the mishaps, goofs, and misread lines that I have now grown to appreciate as part of the show's charm.

In any event, when I found out about the audio dramas, I knew I had to have them.  Unfortunately, I was only able to get the first seven CDs here in America, which included the box set of "Kingdom of the Dead," which was a second full cast drama.  I didn't know if I would ever get any more, because ordering them from overseas would cost me a fortune in shipping.

Well, much to my delight, less than a year ago, Amazon suddenly started offering them here in America.  I went hog-wild, and started buying them up, listening to them every time I took a car trip to Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Georgia, etc.  They not only helped pass the time of driving, but it was such a thrill to hear the voices of the original cast reprising roles that they created, or in some cases, creating new ones.  For those actors who have passed, or who were not willing to reprise their roles, new actors stepped in to fill the gap.

I have been thoroughly enjoying the series - while there have been three full cast audio dramas to date that picked up after the end of the series in 1971, the remaining CDs have told stories throughout the history of the series - some set in the distant past when the Collins first came to America, others set in various years since then, and some set more closely to the present.

This particular drama, "The Eternal Actress," is a story that focuses on Amanda Harris, who, in the show, was a portrait of a woman who was brought to life by the magical powers of Count Petofi back in the 1897 storyline.  The original actress, Donna McKechnie, reprises her role, and Andrew Collins (convenient last name, eh?  LOL) performs the role of Gideon Wilder, a new character on the scene.  It's an intriguing story about Gideon, who is a journalist for a gossip rag, who goes to the home of faced silent-film star, Helvetica Stanhope (what a name!) for an interview.  He finds Amanda Harris is Helvetica's full-time assistant - but instead of an interview, he becomes involved in the horrifying nightmare curse suffered by Helvetica - that whenever she dreams of someone coming to her window, they die in real life!  Everyone has a secret - and while Helvetica's secret was not so hard to figure out well before it was revealed, I was not expecting Gideon's secret at all.  So kudos to the writer for managing to keep that a surprise.  Written by Nev Fountain, the story easily falls into the Dark Shadows realm of tales, and as I listened to the actors, it was almost like I was listening to the TV from another room.

While there are no actual Collins' family members in this tale, it keeps its connection to the Dark Shadows' family through Amanda Harris' love and search for Quentin Collins (who is mentioned, but does not appear in the story).

Definitely recommended for any fan of Dark Shadows - in fact, of the 25 audio stories that I have heard so far, only one ("The House by the Sea") did I find to be uninteresting and unappealing.

RATING:  8 out of 10 curtain calls for spooky storytelling and nightmares to come!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape - Book 1: Attack of the Alien Horde

Okay, I bought this book not just because it was about a boy who is suddenly forced into becoming his world's superhero (I mean, let's face it - what child has never had that dream before?), but also because mixed in with the prose text of the novel are pages of graphic novel story-telling - thus, combining my two favorite pleasure - prose novels and comics!  So, how could I pass this up?

The book is definitely written for young readers.  Although the inside dust jacket advertises the book for Ages 9 - 12, I'd say it is more on part with ages 8 - 10.  Nevertheless, it was a fun story about a young boy (Miles Taylor, if you didn't figure that out by the title) who witnesses his world's greatest (and only!) superhero killed - but not before the cape that gives him his superpowers is passed on to Miles.  Robert Venditti, who has experience with comic writing (Flash and Green Lantern for DC Comics), captures fairly well the struggles of a 12-year old who suddenly has the ability to fly, run fast, pick up tanks with ease, and not get hurt too easily but cannot use any of those powers in his daily life.  A friend who also read the book said he found the middle school bullying to be a bit trite, but I thought it played nicely with Miles coming to terms with his new role as a hero while keeping that identity a secret from all those around him.  For me, the characterization was done well, with characters not being overly-stereotypical and different enough to give each their own clear identity.

The pages of art, drawn by Dusty Higgins (who I had never heard of before this book) did a great job with the black & white pages of graphic storytelling.  The style definitely fits for the story being told, and his ability to portray expressions is spot-on (check out the pages of art in Chapter 18 to see what I mean).

Is this a classic?  No, not by any means.  Is it intellectual reading?  Of course, not.  But is it fun?  Yes, definitely.  If you love superheroes and you enjoy reading a young-readers' book once in a while, then I'd suggest picking this up.  And since it is numbered one, I am supposing that means that this will be a series (although I haven't seen any number two solicited yet).

RATING:  7 out of 10 capes for fun superheroic action!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reading is Fun!

Here we go...

I decided to start this blog, not just because I like to talk about the books I read (which I definitely do!), but also to provide anyone that wants to read this blog with a short review of various books.  I read books across a lot of spectrums - from urban fantasy (Dresden Files) to mystery (Odelia Grey series) to psychic thrillers (Bishop novels) to children's mysteries (Nancy Drew, etc.) to superhero-themed stories (Ex-Heroes, etc) to tv/movie related tie ins (Dr. Who, etc) to horror, theater, comedy, and so much more.  I'll probably also throw some graphic novels and comic series into the mix as well, since I read so many of those as well.

Plus, after so many years of reading (we won't talk about how many years that actually is), this will also be a place of reference for me, so when I want to remember a particular book, I can look back through here and jog my ***ahem*** aging memory.

So prepare yourself for a fun journey, as we take a look at the books I like, the books I don't like, the books I love, the books that brought a tear to my eye, and the books I laughed out loud while reading.  And please, feel free to comment your own thoughts about the books - I'd love to hear what those of you who follow this blog think.  Some of you may agree with my thoughts, some of you may disagree.  Let me know if you've read the book, if you haven't, if you want to, if you don't, whatever.  And don't be afraid to disagree with my assessment of any particular book - that's the great thing about living in a free society - we are all welcome to our own opinions!

So let's get this show on the road...