Wednesday, September 30, 2015

the 13th Spoon - a Mystery Story for Girls

Yes, yes, I know.  "A Mystery Story for Girls."  So, what am I doing reading it?  Well, for starters, I enjoy most children's series from the first half of the 20th century - from Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins to Garry Grayson and Mary and Jerry.  Also, I enjoy the girls' mysteries generally more than the boys' "mysteries," as the boys' series are usually more about adventure and less about mystery.  Hence, my reading of "A Mystery Story for Girls."

I've only previously read one other Pemberton Ginther book, and that was The Secret Stair (also one of the mystery stories for girls, in this same series).  That book was rather lackluster, but I thought I'd give this one a try, particularly since I am a completist and feel the need to have every book in a series that I start to collect.

The underlying mystery of the 13th Spoon is actually rather intriguing.  As described on the inside flap, "The Twelve Apostle Spoons were worth a great deal of money, but the Thirteenth Spoon, the Master Spoon, was as valuable as all the other twelve.  Alan Hoyt, after years of effort, had collected the complete set.  They were the prize item of his collection, although a Wattean fan was, also, a valuable and rare item.  When Carol comes to be his secretary, Hoyt showed her the spoons and the fans.  Then strange things begin to happen...[and] waking in the night, Carol discovered Mr. Hoyt unconscious, and the spoons and fans gone."  Now, if that doesn't sound like the set up for a pretty good mystery, I don't know what does.

Unfortunately, Ginther doesn't focus solely on the mystery.  Ginther's writing is rather off-beat, in that the reader doesn't just follow the main protagonist, Carol Breck.  Instead, the story jumps around, from Carol's perspective, to her friends' perspective, to her competitor's perspective, to a suspect's perspective, and even the actual criminal's perspective!  Thus, at any given moment, while the reader may be reading the story from Carol's perspective, the next page may jump and you find yourself reading about Frederick Parsons over in Brussels...or Gilman in New York...or even Claire (Carol's rival) as she waits for her boyfriend (in a chapter aptly titled "Entirely About Claire").  For me, this took away from the smooth enjoyment of reading the tale, as it revealed too much about the various characters and removed the "mystery" from the actual mystery.

Now, that being said, I do enjoy the main character, Carol Breck.  She is fleshed out nicely and very well-rounded, possessing the perfect humility and demeanor of a proper girl of the 1930s (yes, this book was published in 1932 - just 17 years from being 100 years old), but she's also determined and mindful of things around her, picking up on clues that other miss (a somewhat tamer version of the original Nancy Drew of the '30s).  Her benefactor, Alan Hoyt, lacks depth - we know he is recovering his strength, as he is dependent on a wheelchair, but we get very little background on him.  In fact, we get more information about his neighbor, "the Major," than we do about Hoyt.

As with Nancy Drew, Carol has two friends who are uniquely different - Alice and Beatrice (a/k/a Beefy).  Sadly, they are very underused in the story, basically there as friends from college who join Carol in a venture to earn money to pay for schooling by creating jewelry and fans that other girls might buy.  It would have been interesting to see how this story might have gone if Ginther had maintained Carol's point of view throughout the entire tale and allowed Alice and Beefy to come along for the ride.

But, alas, it is what it is, and while it certainly was not one of the better reads from the collection of books I have from the 1930s, I will admit it was a step above Ginther's other book, The Secret Stair.  Of course, after these two books, it leaves me wondering if it's even worth it to seek out her third mystery story for girls, The Jade Necklace.

RATING:  4 out of 10 apostle spoons for centering a mystery around a stolen item that is unique (and, apparently, true, since a search on the internet reveals that apostle spoons do exist, having originated in the early 15th century in Europe)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Haunted - a Bishop / Special Crimes Unit Novel

Tech week and opening weekend for the play I am in ("As Is," by William Hoffman) put me a bit behind in my reading - but my love of Kay Hooper books kept me opening her latest paperback every free chance I had until I finished it!

Kay Hooper is one of those authors whose books I fell in love with from the very first one I read (along with Jim Butcher and Sue Ann Jaffarian).  Her stories center around a very elite group of FBI specialists, all of whom have psychic powers of some sort and are led by the very enigmatic Noah Bishop.  They are usually told in trilogies (this book being the third of the most recent trilogy that began with Haven and Hostage), and each book introduces new psychics into the group.  (Of course, stopping to think about it, at the rater they are going, they will eventually discovery that every person in the United States is psychic!)

The books deal with very dark evil, and this one is no different.  Haunted not only takes readers to
the small Georgia town of Sociable, but it brings back Hollis Templeton and Reese DeMarco, two of my favorite agents.  This book also introduces a unique dog by the name of Braden, who Ms. Hooper took from a real-life dog that was given a second chance when rescued from a shelter.  

As always, Hooper weaves a very intricate tale, giving us a glimpse of things through the killer's eyes and mind without ever truly revealing the identity until the end.  There are also some grizzly murders, sometimes killing characters I really don't want to see get killed (such as Toby Gilmore, who I thought would have made a very cool ongoing character for this series!).  There is plenty of suspense and build up, and Hooper knows how to keep her tales engaging.  Every book is fresh, no repeated plots or weak stories, and it's always hard to put down one of her books.  At 311 pages, it was a breeze to get through this (when I had the chance here and there to actually sit down and read!), not because the story was simple or the writing was childish, but because the characters come alive and the tale grips you so much you want to know what's going to happen, how are they going to catch the killer, and who is it!?!

At the end of this tale, it seems there won't be any new additions to the Special Crimes Unit, even though a couple of new psychics are introduced (including one with telekinesis - which definitely would give the team an edge in their cases).

Now, to sit back and wait another year until the first book in the next trilogy comes out, Fear the Dark.

RATING:  10 bleeding houses out of 10 for maintaining the suspense and mystery that I love about these books!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hocus Pocus Hotel - Book 1

I will admit it - every time I go to the bookstore, I head into the children's section to see what series books they have.  I count the number of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews on the shelves (and usually end up re-organizing them into numerical order by series).  Then, I take a look to see if there are any new offerings to series that I enjoy, such as Lizzie Brown, Agatha, Penelope Tredwell, and others.  Finally, I comb through the new releases to see if anything jumps out and catches my eye.

A couple of months ago, I was at Barnes and Noble with my friend, Kevin, and as we were checking out the new releases, I noticed this book.  Hocus Pocus Hotel.  Yes, the title sounds a bit cheesy, but after reading the description on the back, I decided to flip through it.

"Come to the place where TRUE MAGIC lives..." the tagline reads.  "Ever since it was built by the great magician, Abracadabra (and here I thought that was a Flash villain...), the hotel Tyler Yu lives in has had its share of mysterious events.  Ghosts wandering the halls, a magician who vanishes into thin air--Ty can't figure these things out on his own.  But Charlie Hitchcock, with his photographic memory, might be just the partner the school bully needs.  Together, they'll solve magical mysteries beyond your wildest imagination."

Flipping through the pages, I was surprised to see a number of color illustrations throughout.  So, figuring I'd take a chance, I picked it up.

I just got around to reading it, and while the promise of these two characters solving mysteries "beyond my wildest imagination" was not exactly fulfilled, it was a fun read.  A short read - a VERY short read, but certainly a fun one.

While the book was 204 pages, there are 26 full page illustrations, a dozen or so half-page illustrations, and 11 blank pages (where the chapter ends on the left page, leaving the right page blank).  Plus, each of the 22 chapters begins with a red curtain illustration page on the left, meaning that out of the 204 pages, 59 of those pages are not actual typed story.  Further, the margins are exceptionally wide, the chapter titles are so large that the actual type begins 3/4 of the way down the page, and all type is double-spaced.  Ultimately, this provides for much less actual story than you would think, considering the page count.

There is no grade level given for the intended reading audience, but judging it on the style of writing and words used, I'd have to say perhaps a 3rd grade reading level (even though the book is placed on the shelves with the pre-teen books).  Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable little read, and I did like the fact that every "magical" trick used in the book is given a full, detailed explanation of how it was done.  I also enjoyed the two characters, who are as far opposites as possible, coming together and acknowledging (very nearly respecting) the fact that the other may not be quite as bad as they thought.

This first book actually hosts two mysteries - one involving a magician living at the hotel who disappears when he seemingly jumps from a 14-story window, and the other involving a "ghost" who haunts the halls of the ninth floor.  With Charlie's photographic memory and Tyler's own quick thinking, the two manage to figure out the secret behind these tricks and uncover what really happened to the famous Abracadabra.

There is a website for the book series,, that provides more information about the books, the characters, and the author.

This is a series I would certainly recommend to anyone who enjoys a quick-read mystery for fun.

RATING:  7 magical tricks out of 10 for keeping children's books good, clean, and fun.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dark Shadows Audio Book 27 - Operation Victor

Okay, I will readily admit - I'm not the biggest fan of Quentin Collins.  His character on Dark Shadows may have been sexy, but his stories were not overly exciting, and the same has held true in the series of audio books.  When he is doing full cast audio dramas, I'm good with it.  But up till now, his solo audio books have been rather lackluster - at least, as far as I was concerned.

Until this one!

Operation Victor is set during World War II, and it finds Quentin doing his best to avoid getting involved.  The only thing is, someone has other plans.  Quentin is drugged and, against his will, is forced to join a covert mission to investigate some mysterious arcane experiments taking place in the heart of the Black Forest.  Forced to work side-by-side with the rather presumptuous and tenacious Sally Green, Quentin dives out of a plane and climbs up a mountainside to sneak into a shady castle where a Doctor Moloch is messing with the supernatural.

The title of the book should somewhat give away what is going on there (I mean, c'mon - "Victor" and a "castle" with supernatural experiments?).  Without spilling the beans, I can safely say that there are a number of surprising twists and unexpected turns throughout the 60 or so minutes of story, and the ending was very satisfying in my books.  This definitely would have fit in easily with the television stories.

I once again will say how much I enjoy listening to these stories - hearing the original actors' voices as they reprise the numerous roles they played on the show - hearing the opening theme music, as well as the closing credit music at the beginning and ending of each book - even with the voice-overs at the beginning, just like in the show.  It brings back so many great memories of the show and brings out the kid in me from when I used to get so excited with each episode that came on.

I am a HUGE fan of Big Finish Productions from breathing new life into this series!

RATING:  8 werewolf howls out of 10 for surprising me not just once, but several times throughout the story!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Star Power - TBP Vol 1 - Star Power and the 9th Wormhole

Good, old-fashioned fun reading!  Those are the best words I can think of to describe this graphic novel that I picked up at DragonCon this year.  It was the cover that caught my eye, so asked the creators behind the table what it was about.  He described it as a girl who suddenly gains the ability to wield the cosmic energy known as the Star Power in the far future and uses it to protect the Millennium Federation of planets.  That intrigued me enough to glance through the book.  The art was stylistic but good, so I decided to give it a shot.

SOOOOOOO glad I did!

This was a great comic book, set on a semi-epic scale, but with down-to-earth characters (so to speak, since the story takes place on a space station who-knows how many light-years away from Earth), enjoyably over-the-top villains, and space battles galore!  The main character, Danica Maris, reminds me a lot of Ralph Hinkley, William Katt's character in The Greatest American Hero, as she suddenly finds herself with all this power, but has no idea how to use it.  Unlike Katt's character, Danica does have a disembodied entity (who she calls "Mitch") that from time to time offers a bit of assistance and instruction.

Danica is a lab assistant on Space Station Sanctuary Six, where she is providing research assistance in the study of stars - but one particular star ends up not being a star at all, but an energy source that shoots straight through Danica's telescope and into her, transforming her into a star-powered sentinel.  The last of her kind, Danica (or "Star Power" as she comes to be known) finds that she has the power to protect her fellow scientists and lab assistants from the coming threat of alien attack.

The plot moves along nicely, without all the filler we seem to get in today's mainstream comics (or "padding" as I call it, so that the companies can pad out the story to fill a trade paperback), and the characterization and dialogue is superb!  And the art!  WOW!  The style of Garth Graham works well for this story, and he creates some very distinct alien races and unique spaceships.  We get very few splash pages, those that are there being reserved for big moments in the story - most pages have 4, 5, or even more panels, which equals out to more story content!

Michael Terracciano, the writer, handles the young Danica Maris like a pro.  She is very believable as a young girl who suddenly gains massive powers.  I particularly loved the scene in Chapter Two where Danica finds out she is capable of interstellar travel.  When her mentor and friend, Dr. Brightman, goes to comfort her for the shock, Danice surprises her by screaming and jumping for joy.  "When can I start traveling to other planets?  Other stars?  Other systems beyond the jump gate network?"  Let's face it - what normal human being wouldn't jump for joy if they found out they could do that!?

And despite the fact that this is a big space drama with tons of alien races, alien worlds, and alien spaceships with alien technology and languages, Terracciano manages to handle it all so that you don't need to be a scientist to read it.  It reads easily, and by the time I finished this first graphic novel, I felt like I really got my money's worth for what I spent.

Star Power is a web comic that can be found at, and this first trade paperback collects the first six chapters of the story.  I spoke with the creators, and they said they currently have a kickstarter going for the second volume in the series and plan to have it by next year's DragonCon, if not sooner.

RATING:  10 out of 10 star-smashing space battles for giving a jaded comic fan what he has been clamoring for - a comic that is FUN to read!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Time-Traveling Fashionista, Book 2 - At the Palace of Marie Antoinette

Bianca Turetsky's second book in this series about 12-year old Louise Lambert's unique trips in time holds up just about as well as the first one.  I picked up the three books in this series because it was a unique twist on the time-travel story - - in this series, Louise gets sent back in time when she dons vintage clothes being sold by two mysterious women, Glenda and Marla, at their traveling vintage clothing store.  In the first book, Louise travels back in time and takes over the body of a woman on board the Titanic (a woman who turns out to be her very own ancestor!).  This book picks up a few weeks after that first fateful trip, as Louise is preparing herself for her best friend's big 13th birthday celebration.  This time, Louise tries on a dress from the 18th century and finds herself transported back in time to France and the palace of Marie Antionette.

What I find interesting is that the books are being sold in the young adult section, along with other teen series, such as the Maze Runner and Twilight and the like; yet, the books are written at a much younger reading level.  In fact, I would venture to say the reading level is pretty much on par with early Nancy Drew books.  I can't imagine too many teens enjoying a series about a 12-year old girl (although, I'm an adult reading the books, so who am I to say?).

While the first book focused more on Louise's trip to the Titanic, this second book spends less time in the past and gives the readers more of the angst in Louise's life.  Will she get to go on the school trip to Paris, now that her father lost his job?  Will the boy she has taking a liking to at school return her feelings?  Will she and her best friend drift apart now that one is a teenager and the other is not?  Can she figure out a way to keep her time-traveling fashionista status a secret from her best friend?  Who are Glenda and Marla?  Did she really travel in time, or was it all in her head?

Watching Louise deal with her problems certain opens the door for character growth, it greatly took away from the time she spend in the past.  The author seemed to rush through Louise's time in 18th century France, which had a world of possibilities to explore, especially when she meets another Time-Traveling Fashionista in the very same place and time!  The author had hinted in the first book there were more TTFs out there, now that Louise has met one, it confirms it.  That, if nothing else, truly opens the door for some interesting trips and events in future books (if any new ones come out after the third).

And yes, before I forget, there was a bit of a cliffhanger ending, when Louise stumbles upon something that gives her a clue as to why she has this "ability" to travel through time via vintage clothes.

Would I recommend this series?  Probably not.  They are okay reading, and if you are really into time-traveling and pre-teen angst, then yes, you might enjoy them.  Otherwise, they are just quick and easy reads.  Oh, and yes, they do have color internal illustrations that pretty much focus on the fashions, both of the clothes the girls wear, as well as the decor in the various places Louise visits.

RATING:  5 out of 10 vintage dresses for providing a new take on the time-travel tale and creating some likable, realistic characters.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fables - TPB Vol 22 (a/k/a Issue 150) - Farewell

Sadly, the amazingly well-written, beautifully-drawn, captivating and always entertaining series, Fables, has come to an end.  DC Comics began this series under its Vertigo imprint some years ago, and during the course of its 150-issue run, it has spawned two spin-off series (Jack of Fables and Fairest), a couple of Cinderella mini-series, a few graphic novel specials, a video game, and legions of fans. This series was a pre-cursor to the Once Upon a Time show on ABC right now, as Fables is the tale of fairy tale characters who have come over to the real world to live.  That, however, is where the similarities end.

I have followed the series all these years, and I have pretty much enjoyed each and every story.  Bill Willingham, the author and creator of the series, has managed to weave an intricate, on-going tale about these characters, in a lot of ways, creating a fairy tale soap opera.  I have grown to like the characters (even the mean, nasty ones), so knowing this would be the final issue has been bitter sweet.

I am definitely of the philosophy that a series should end while it is still good and not continue under the helm of a different creative team simply for the sake of generating more sales from the book.  Sandman, by Neil Gaiman, is a perfect example of this.  He wrote the series, and when he was done telling stories, the series ended.  So, it is only natural that Fables would finally reach the end of its stories.

This issue, which ended up being a trade paperback all on its own, did not disappoint.  We finally get to see the conclusion to the battle between Snow White and Rose Red that has been building for so many months now, as Fables choose sides and get ready for the last battle (hmmmm, C.S. Lewis anyone?).  I won't spoil it by revealing the outcome, but I will say that I was very pleased with how it ended, and quite frankly, it was the only logical way to do it.

This issue also contained a slew of "The Last Story of ...." which reveal what happened to all of the Fable characters after the end.  Particularly loved the seven "Summer Prophecy" pages, which let us know what happened to Snow and Bigby's seven children.

While I have become very disenchanted with a lot of comics being published today, Fables has been the one constant that I've always enjoyed, and I'm sad to see it come to an end.  Thanks to Bill, Mark, Steve, and the countless other artists involved in the series over the years for producing such a magnificent book!

RATING:  10 out of 10 happily-ever-afters for ending the series in a way that should satisfy every reader (especially me!).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek

Anyone who knows me, knows that I enjoy the theater.  So, naturally, when I find a book that combines both my love for the theater with my love for a good mystery, I'm going to have to give it a shot.

This book tells the story of Justin Goldblatt, a normal (i.e. not thin, still fighting through puberty) teenager who gets the chance of a lifetime to intern on Broadway with an actor for whom he has had a crush for the longest time.  So he lies to the firm where he was going to intern and takes off for New York...

Only to discover that everything is not what he expected with the internship.  This little comedy/drama/mystery raises some interesting questions - such as who is leaving Justin notes saying "He's a fake"?  Why is the actor's assistant giving Justin every task in the world to do that purposefully keeps him away from the theater?  Who is the person Justin sees walking the streets with the actor's assistant?  There's a mystery afoot, and Justin is determined to solve it and save his favorite actor's Broadway career!

While Seth Rudetsky (the same one who wrote Broadway Nights and The Q Guide the Broadway) does capture some of the drama that teens go through with low self-esteem, petty arguments and jealousies, and the uncertainty of making the right choices, he goes a bit overboard with Justin's incessant whining, whoa-is-me, why is everyone blaming me attitude throughout the entire book.  Yes, the character has a few redeeming qualities (his determination to save Chase Hudson's career on stage) and he does manage to make some positive changes towards the end (such as apologizing to his friends and coming clean with the lies he told to get the internship), but by that time, I was so fed up with the constant whining that I still didn't like the character.  I found his best friend, Becky, and his new-found friend in NYC, Devon, to be much more well-rounded characters and more likable than Justin.

That being said, the underlying mystery was well-done, indeed. You pretty much know who the culprit is the entire time, but what you don't know is exactly what that person is up to and the reasons behind it.  The final reveal at the end is very much like a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book, with Justin finding out that last crucial bit of information that makes everything fall into place, then, with the help of his friends, setting up an elaborate plan to catch the crook and trick that person into revealing him/herself.

Overall, not a bad read, but not one of the best I've read.  Paul Ruditis' DRAMA series of books, or Marc Acito's How I Paid for College and its sequel were definitely much better tales of actors and the stage.

RATING:  6 out of 10 standing ovations for being able to tell a good mystery with a very unlikable protagonist.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Walking Dead - TPB Vol 24 - Life and Death

Okay, I'll be honest.  I've become bored with The Walking Dead.  Sure, the television show has changed up the status quo to keep it fresh and on a divergent line from the comic - but the comic itself, after 23 trade paperbacks (which of which collects 6 issues), has begun to grow stale.  It seems to be the same story rehashed with different villains and different settings.  Rick and his group find a new place to stay, running into new people.  There is a fight for dominance, Rick's group always wins, and then there is a short time of peace.  Then a villainous group appears and threatens the peace, there is more fight, people are killed, and Rick and his group move on to the next place.  Then repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

So, I had pretty much decided with this volume to end my reading of The Walking Dead.  I figured after 12 years, it has pretty much run its course, and I could end it satisfied.

Until I read the ending to this volume...

Holy toledo!  I did not see that coming at all.  Yes, I knew this new villainous group ("The Whisperers" they call themselves) were depraved, walking around wearing the skin of "dead" walkers, refusing to call each other by name, and basically living solely on animal instinct.  But I didn't think they were any different that any villain that has come before - The Governer, Negan, and so many others.  The end of this issue, though, was pretty violent and actually made me feel for the people Rick works to protect.

And Robert Kirkman did a superb job of inflicting the greatest impact without ever actually showing the violence.  Instead, we see the aftermath and the family and friends who were left behind, at this point not knowing what has happened to their loved ones, friends, partners who are missing.  And let's face it - anything that can make Michonne cry is bound to be some powerful stuff.

So where does that leave me?  Well, even the best-laid plans are bound to change from time to time.  Meaning - yes, I will be buying volume 25, because I have to see how Rick and his team will retaliate against the Whisperers.

RATING:  7 out of 10 decapitated heads on a spike for surprising the heck out of me with the ending of this book!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dark Shadows Audio Book 26 - The Fall of the House of Trask

So, on my drive up to Atlanta for DragonCon, I listened the next Dark Shadows audio book, "The Fall of the House of Trask."  This book picks up immediately after the end of two prior CDs - "The Carrion Queen" - in which Gregory Trask tricks his way back to the living - and "The Poisoned Soul" - in which Charity Trask is once again possessed by the spirit of Pansy Faye.  Both of those prior CDs ended with the same scene - Charity trying to come to terms with having Pansy in my mind when her father, who she thought was dead, suddenly appears.

Jerry Lacy and Nancy Barrett reprise their roles from the show, and they do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life.  Nancy is exceptionally talented, in that she is able to portray both Charity and Pansy with their very different personalities and voices.  And the writers not only tie in the prior two Trask CDs to this story, but they also connect this tale with two other DS audio books - "London's Burning," which had Quentin rescuing Pansy's sister from a bombing, and "The Eternal Actress," with the mention of Helvetica Stanhope from that drama.  So kudos definitely go out to everyone involved with this production for not only the great acting, but for tying it all together within the "audio drama" continuity.

And what's even better is that the Dark One's overarching plan is quite complicated and duplicitous, and it kept me guessing all the way to the very end when the newborn baby is born of his blood - a baby boy by the name of Cyrus Longworth!  Finally, this character is brought into the regular Dark Shadows continuity, rather than just being a Parallel Time character from the TV show.

This one definitely held my interest all the way through and left me wanting for more.

RATING:  9 out of 10 twists and turns for keeping me in the dark as to the Dark One's true intentions!