Monday, February 29, 2016

Courtney Crumrin, Volume One - The Night Things

"Childhood is a much darker world than most adults care to remember." So begins the foreward to the first volume of Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin saga.  And no truer words were spoken.  Looking back, as children, we have a tendency to be afraid of the dark.  Afraid of those strange noises that we hear at night.  Afraid of the unknown and of change.  Afraid of things we can't readily explain.  And, maybe moreso, we are afraid of not being accepted and liked for who we are.  All of these things, and more, are found within the pages of this first volume in the tales of little Courtney Crumrin.

In The Night Things, readers are introduced to little Courtney Crumrin.  She's a junior high student whose parents have lived so far beyond their means, they now have to move to the ritzy neighborhood of Hillsborough and live with Uncle Aloysius (of course, whose uncle he is, no one can really say for sure).  His house is a creepy old mansion, and there are numerous rumors throughout the town of what goes on in that house.

Courtney is definitely a girl after my own heart.  She's unhappy and grumbles, and she's definitely not above using sarcasm at the right moments.  Like, when she and another outcast at her new school run into the local bullies.  "These your friends?" she asks the boy.  "Is this where you all wait for the short bus?"  Needless to say, that first day of school does not go well for Courtney, and her parents are no help (all they can talk about is trying to find a way to weasel into the lives of the rich and famous that live in Hillsborough).

All of that changes, however, the next day, when Courtney and her new-found friend come face-to-face with the bullies again.  Instead of facing off with them, Courtney runs through the woods.  Her friend follows, trying to warn her that no one goes into the woods.  And there is a very real reason for that, which Courtney discovers when she runs into a creature who has just finished eating her friend -- and wants her for dessert!  Thus, a new life begins for Courtney, for when she goes back to Uncle Aloysius' house, she goes searching through his rather 'unique' library and finds just what she needs to not only defeat the goblin, but to use it to end the bullying.

And that's all just in the first chapter of The Night Things.  The remaining three chapters of this first volume are just as entertaining as the first, and while, yes, there are definitely some dark subject matters throughout the tale, there is no visible gore or violence, there are really no adult themes whatseover, and there actually lessons learned (such as Chapter Two, where Courtney tries a glamour spell she finds in one of her uncle's books, only to find sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing!).

I bought the first seven volumes of this series directly from the author at DragonCon last year, honestly, because I absolutely loved the faux-leather bindings and the premise of a young girl (detective, of sorts) living in a supernatural world and house.  Wasn't exactly sure what I would find with them, but I am definitely glad I bought them.  I will readily admit, the art (yes, this is a graphic novel series) is not the style to which I would normally like, the storytelling is so engaging, the art pretty much becomes secondary.  Volume One was well worth the money and the read, and I'm looking forward to delving into the next volume to see where Naifeh takes our little heroine next!

RATING:  8 child-eating goblins out of 10 for providing a scary children's tale that can easily be enjoyed by an adult as well!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rowans Ruin - A Four Issue Mini Series

This is the way horror has always meant to be done.  Sure, a little bit of blood and violence is okay, but the psychological terror is what makes a story truly horrific.   And Mike Carey nailed it with his four-issue mini-series from Boom Studios, Rowans Ruin.

The story centers around Katie, who does a house-swap with Emily and ends up in a house in the English countryside, known as Rowans Rise.  Katie pretty much has free reign of the house, with the exception of Emily's room, which she is told is completely off limits.  As Katie starts to meet people in the community, she finds them not too welcoming when they discover where she is staying.  Then there's the face at the window.

And so starts the psychological terror, as Katie begins to realize there is something not right about the house.  And when she finds the door to Emily's room open, she can't help herself.  She goes in to explore and finds a lot more than she ever bargained for.

There were several dogs who were killed on the property.

Emily's younger sister was savagely beaten.

Her parents were killed in a tragic automobile accident.

Emily's boyfriend had his throat slit open.

Katie begins to realize that someone...or targeting Emily.  The only problem is, Emily won't talk about it.  So Katie does something she never thought she would do again.  She opens herself to the emotions of the house and ends up meeting those ghosts of those who died within those walls.  Ghosts who seem none too friendly.  Ghosts who will do anything to protect Emily - - even if that means getting Katie out of the way!

This four-issue mini-series is fast paced and enthralling, and unlike many of today's comics, it is chock full of story.  The characters are engaging, and when someone close to Katie is killed, you, as the reader, will feel the impact of it.

And then there's that nice little twist at the end of issue 3 that sets everything up for the big climactic battle in the final issue.  While I began to suspect it by the end of issue 2, it still comes on as a shock to actually see it.

And speaking of "seeing" it.  Let me tell you, the art in this book is absolutely gorgeous.  Mike Perkins (who I am fortunate enough to know personally) is a VERY talented artist, and his ability to not only draw people and expressions, but to visually create a moving story in 2-dimensional pictures is without comparison.  His is the kind of art that almost makes you feel like you are watching a film or television show rather than reading something on the printed page.  His art is alive, and there is absolutely no way you could not love it!

While I was sorry to see that this story was only 4 issues and not an ongoing series, I can honestly say I am extremely happy that Mike and Mike simply told the story and left it at that.  No padding, no stretching it, no trying to leave an open-ended tale so someone else could come along and try to continue it.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it works.  Well worth every penny I paid for the issues, and then some!  I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good horror or thriller.

RATING:  10 circles of salt out of 10 for telling a story that was SO worth reading!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins, Book 3 - The Case of the Phantom Cat

It is books like this that make me ask - what in the world is Simon & Schuster thinking with the publication of the current Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series?!?  How could it be possible that a mystery book aimed at children ages 7 to 10 could be written at a level higher than that of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, which should be aimed at pre-teens?  Or am I simply re-living my days of yester-year, when the publishers of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, and the like actually cared about the product they put on the shelves.

Regardless, Holly Webb (another British author, whose series of books are making their way into American readers' hands) has an enjoyable little series going on here, with a quick-thinking, albeit very youthful, detective.  Maisie Hitchins may be a servant girl in her grandmother's boarding house ... and she may live in a small room in the basement ... and she may not have a tutored education that her friend, Alice Lacey has ... but Maisie is always one step ahead of everyone else when it comes to solving mysteries!

First, she helped the butcher's boy, George, when he was accused of stealing from the cash register, and then she helped recover an actress' stolen emerald necklace.  Now, when she accompanies her friend Alice to a country estate, where Alice is being sent to recuperate from an illness, Maisie must find out who - or WHAT - is haunting the halls of Wisteria Lodge.  The horrific smell coming from under the library floor. The terrifying screeching that echoes through the halls.  And the spectral white cat that appears and disappears from room to room.  The few staff hired to help are scared out of their wits and leave Alice and Maisie to fend for themselves (as Alice's tutor, Miss Sidebotham, is pretty much useless and has nothing but disdain for the staff, including Maisie).  So, it's up to Maisie to get to the bottom of things before Alice calls her father to bring them back home (and just when Maisie was enjoying some time away from the cleaning chores and the basement bedroom!).

All three books in this series, so far, have been entertaining reads, and while definitely aimed at the younger audience, it doesn't make them any less enjoyable.  Trust me, I've read some books aimed at adults that didn't flow as smoothly, nor have as good characterization as these books do!  There are two more books in the series listed on Amazon, but I certainly hope that's not the end of the series - today's children need books like this, not only to spark their interest in reading, but to teach writing and grammar skills that seem to be lacking in today's society!

RATING:  9 screaming magpies out of 10 for keeping my faith alive that there might still be children's mysteries out there that aren't "dumbed down" for their readers.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hardy Boys Adventures, Book 11 - Showdown at Widow Creek

As the title and cover intimate, this book is more about a "western" theme tale and less about mystery. Which is disappointing, because to date, these Hardy Boys Adventures have actually been better reads than the Nancy Drew Diaries. I suppose I was only fooling myself to think that Simon & Schuster would actually maintain a level of readability with these books.  In the last decade, S&S seems to have cared less about quality and more about just putting something out to keep the brand alive (although, at this point, these two series are more vegetables on life support than actually alive).

The writing itself is not bad, although with only 122 pages of story, there was very little room for characterization. That is really a shame, since there were character that really could have been fleshed out and made to be rather interesting.  Sarah Welch, the daughter of the showrunner and a talented performer, had potential to be not only more of a love interest for Frank, but also a possible suspect if played right.  The other three guests on the cattle drive are nearly non-existent in the story; yet, they could have taken a more active role to give the boys additional suspects to consider.  Lucky, the ranch hand who was aiming at taking over Sarah's role with her father's ranch, had very little build up in the story, despite his connection to the culprits.  It was mostly just one action sequence after another, leading up to the reveal of who was trying to sabotage a cattle herd being led home (gee, sabotage - there's a totally new idea for a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book!  NOT!). And the reveal is very disappointing, as there is absolutely no clues in the book whatsoever as to why the bandits continually harass the group (and if you're thinking the identity of the culprits might at least be something fun in this book, you'd be wrong - they are identified in the second chapter, so there is absolutely no surprise there).

At this point, to be quite honest, I am buying the hardcover, dust-jacketed Hardy Boys book merely because back in the '80s, I missed out on getting the hc/dj Wanderer books published by S&S, which sell for a pretty penny these days. So I figured, I wasn't going to miss out this go around (since neither the Hardy Boys, nor Nancy Drew, have been published in hardback since those days). I have to wonder how the sales are doing on the hardbacks, since I never see them in stores, and the only way to get them is special order them through the stores or buy them online (through Amazon, as I do).  And $17.99 for a 122-page story is, quite frankly, not worth the price any more.

The next book is listed as The Madman of Black Bear Mountain, so I'm hoping it will be more of a mystery and (hopefully!) be longer than a mere 122 pages.

RATING:  5 bucking broncos out of 10 for, at least, providing some entertaining characterization of Joe Hardy and his love for westerns.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Doctor Who, The Glamour Chronicles Book 2 - Big Bang Generation

To date, I have really enjoyed the Doctor Who books, probably because I have been selective in which ones I have purchased.  The first ones I ever purchased were because they had Donna Noble as a companion.  Then, when Rory came along, I purchased the books which featured him as a companion (along with Amy, since they came as a packaged deal).

When Amy and Rory left, I didn't purchase any more for two reasons - I did not like the new companion, Clara Oswald, and although I somewhat enjoyed Matt Smith's version of the Doctor, it wasn't enough of a draw to purchase the books.

Then came Peter Capaldi.  He brought a new take entirely on the Doctor, combining elements from many of the past eleven incarnations, plus adding his own style to it.  I love his version enough to purchase the books with him, regardless of my dislike of Clara.  So, no one was more surprised than me, when I get to the first Peter Capaldi book without Clara to find that I did not really enjoy it as I have all of the others I've read to date.

That's not to say that Big Bang Generation did not have its good points. The biggest highlight was the simple mention of Sarah Jane Smith and her adopted son, Luke (from The Sarah Jane Adventures) on page 25. Ever since Elisabeth Sladen's passing and the fact that her death has never been addressed on the television show, any mention of Sarah Jane is always a plus in my book!  Another highlight was the inclusion of Bernice Summerfield - a character that was never actually in the television show, but became so popular as a companion to the seventh and eighth doctors, that she got her own series of books, as well as some audio dramas (from which some of the characters in this book were pulled).  It was rather nice to see the author pull in characters from all aspects of the Doctor's history.

What I did not like about the book was pretty much the story itself. An archaeologist is after the Glamour.  An assassin and a conman are after the Glamour.  A professor and her group of misfits are after the Glamour.  And the Doctor just wants to put the Glamour back where it belongs before the very fabric of time -- and existence itself -- is destroyed.  Perhaps it was the author's storytelling style (which, having read books by him before, I can't imagine that's it), or the large number of characters in the story (including non-main characters and non-supporting characters who only appear in one chapter, or in some cases, only on one page) that ultimately led to very little time being devoted to some of the bigger cast members (such as Summerfield and her son, both of whom I would have liked to have learned more about in the book).  And while most of the other books I have read have felt very much like reading an episode of the television show, I never got the feeling I was 'watching' an episode while reading this one.

Maybe, despite the time traveling aspects of this tale (and believe me, there were a LOT of time traveling aspects about it!), it just did not read like a Doctor Who tale.  Now that I think about it, that might be it.  Without a companion at his side, the Doctor sort of meanders.  Like David Tenant in his last few specials, where he wandered to each time and place on his own, no companion to play off of.  And while Bernice Summerfield may have been a companion of the past, she in no way acted like a companion in this story.  Rather, she and her crew more acted like the leads in the book, with the Doctor just being on the peripheral, simply showing up at the appropriate times to save the day.

Ultimately, this is not a Doctor Who book I would recommend to a casual Doctor Who fan. Personally, I think it is for only those truly die hard fans that love anything and everything Doctor Who.

RATING: 6 time-jumping pyramids out of 10 for keeping the memory of Sarah Jane Smith alive!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sentinels Anthology, Book 2

Okay, I'll give you fair warning up front - this post is a shameless plug for a book in which I wrote one of the stories (or, at least, a one-page story). But, a bit of back-story first...

While I don't exactly remember how I stumbled across the Sentinels graphic novels, I remember seeing it and going to the website to check it out. I ended up talking with its creator, Rich Bernatovech, and ordered the first two graphic novels that were out at the time - - and I absolutely loved it! Sentinels tells the story of the generations of a super-hero group. The first graphic novel picks up with the children of the original Sentinels taking over and becoming heroes in their own right. I maintained communication with Rich, and we soon became friends. I bought the third and fourth (and final) graphic novels, and once again, loved the books. The art, by Luciano Vecchio, evolved over the four books, from somewhat simplistic figures and backgrounds to some outstanding heroes and scenes. Over the course of four books, these two talented creators tell an amazing story that is very reminiscent of the Marv Wolfman/George Perez New Teen Titans run. While it is a super hero story, it is also a story of family and friends, their relationships, their loves and losses, their fights and anger. And it is a complete story, told in four books.

Only, there were more stories that Rich wanted to tell. Individual stories of the various characters from the series. Rather than write the stories himself, though, Rich reached out to writers that he knew to take on these individual stories, and I was very honored to be asked to write one of the tales. I was challenged with the story of Electron, and I had the honor or telling the story of Electron first discovering his powers and his superhero legacy.

After the first Anthology was published, and the original Sentinels story complete, I honestly believed that would be the end of it. It was a blast, but Rich had moved on to his new Neverminds title, as well as his Bugged graphic novel. So color me surprised when Rich reached out to me again while I was at DragonCon a couple of years ago to let me know he was working on a second anthology and asked if I would like to be a part of it.  Needless to say, I said yes.

This time around, I was asked to write a one page story about Electro-Cute, who is Electron's younger sister (seen very briefly in my short story in the first Anthology as a toddler). Rich asked me to come up with a unique idea to tell a one-page story of the character. After throwing some ideas around in my head, I finally came up with "Dear Diary," in which readers see various pages from her diary over the course of a year. It was fun to write, and it was even more amazing to see the story come to life under the beautiful art of Holly Mongi. You can see Rich's comments about my writing of the story at his Drumfish Productions blog:

And yes - if you notice, I did not specifically give a review of the second anthology. I could easily spoil it for you by telling you about each of the characters, as well as the bridging stories, but honestly - it would take away from the joy of reading it for the first time.  Trust me, this is not a book you want to miss, if you've been following Rich's books since the beginning.  And if you have never read one of his Sentinels books, well, what are you waiting for?  Not only do you get to see just what a super-writer I am (okay, yeah, take that with a bit of sarcasm there LOL), but you will get some great entertainment for your dollar. If you want great storytelling, fantastic art, and good ol' fashioned fun comics, then check out the Sentinels - definitely one of the best comics on the market today!  (And you can check out Rich's blog for his comics by following the link under the "Suggested Blogs" on this page)

RATING:  10 diary pages out of 10 for keeping comics what they should be - fun stories about super hero antics with some team-building, family relationships thrown in for good measure!

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Virginia Mysteries, Book 1 - Summer of the Woods

Sometimes you stumble upon a book that you enjoy, but you can't quite put your finger on what exactly it was that you enjoyed so much about it.

Summer of the Woods is one of those books.

The first of "The Virginia Mysteries," the book is written by Steven K. Smith.  A father of three boys, he shares the adventures of his sons on his blog,, which, coincidentally enough, is the name of his self-publishing group (MyBoys3 Press).  The book is set in Virginia, which is also where Smith lives (write what you know about, they say).

Maybe that's why the book was so enjoyable.  It was simply written, aimed at an audience of perhaps 8 - 10 year olds (and since his two main characters, Sam and Derek, are those ages respectively, it definitely reaches its target audience).  The introduction of the boys flows easily, and their personalities and characteristics are well developed throughout the course of the story.  Derek is the prankster, Sam is the heavy sleeper.  Derek is afraid of thunderstorms, Sam is afraid of snakes.  Derek is all about adventure, Sam is more reserved and wants to think things through.  There are definite limits to their knowledge, and they aren't afraid to ask about something they don't know.  They also have to face the consequences of their actions (as one of them finds out in this story), no matter what good they may have done.

The mystery centers around the woods behind the boys' new house in Virginia.  When they go exploring for the first time, they discover a huge boulder with a plaque on it, indicating the area was owned by the Virginia Mining Company.  They spy two other boys about their age exploring around the rock, but when they are noticed, they take off running for home - but not before Sam finds an old penny in the stream.  That penny leads them to discover a story about a valuable coin collection that was stolen from a local museum years ago.  Their curiosity peaked, they decide to search some more.

A hidden cubby-hole in their very own house.  An antique box with a cryptic notebook and another old coin.  A map to an old mine.  A secret passage beneath the boulder.  All of these things make for some interesting, and sometimes dangerous, adventures for the two boys, and ultimately leads them to the find of a lifetime!

The story has everything a good mystery should have, and it is clearly Derek and Sam's story.  Their parents are simply "Mom" and "Dad."  Alex and Henry are introduced, but there is little to their story (although whether the reader learns more about them in future books, we shall see).  Their neighbor, Mr. Haskins, is described amusingly from a young boy's perspective.  "It was the middle of summer, but for some reason, old people seemed to always dress like it was winder, noticed Sam.  He thought Mr. Haskins must be a hundred years old."  (p. 40).

And perhaps that is the key. The storytelling, while in third person, definitely comes across from a child's point of view, and in reading it, one almost feels as if you are drawn back to that age, looking at everything from that innocent perspective again.  Whatever the reason, Smith hit the nail on the head and told a great story that was certainly worth the read.

Now to see if the second book, Mystery on Church Hill, holds us just as well!

RATING:  9 Indian head pennies out of 10 for taking me back to my childhood and reminding me of a more innocent age.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Model Undercover, Book 2 - New York: Stolen with Style

The current ghostwriters for the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series should take a cue from Carina Axelsson, because this woman knows how to write a well-developed, character-driven, good ol' fashioned mystery for young adults.

Model Undercover is a mystery series about detective-wannabe Axelle (rhymes with "excel") Anderson who inadvertently gets suckered into a modeling career in order to pursue her real passion - solving mysteries.  In the first book, London: A Crime of Fashion, Axelle not only walks her first runway, but she solves her first mystery when she has to find a missing fashion designer.  When she successfully solves the case, she is suddenly thrust into the limelight, not only as a detective, but also as the hottest new model to walk the carpet.

Now, in this second book of the series, Axelsson, who is a former model herself, brings her protagonist to America and the Big Apple to find out what happened to the Black Amelia, the world's most famous black diamond.  The priceless jewel was stolen from Cazzie Kinlan, the editor-in-chief for Chic magazine during a closed-set photo shoot, and Axelle only has a week within which to find the stolen diamond.  When Cazzie begins getting cryptic blackmail texts with riddles to solve, the clock begins ticking.  With only a handful of suspects, including four models, a photographer, and a digitech (as well as Cazzie herself), Axelle has to once again go undercover as a model to infiltrate the industry and integrate herself into the lives of the people she suspects.

Axelsson brings back Axelle's model friend Ellie, who happens to be in New York for the fashion week events, as well as Axelle's love interest, Sebastian, who Axelle believes is actually spying on her for her mother, to makes sure she really is modeling and not solving another mystery.  And with over 300 pages of story, Axelsson has plenty of space to develop an intricate plot complete with great red herrings (although a couple of them are pretty obvious) and lots of fashionista flourish.  The reader comes to know all of the characters quite well, and the author manages to keep the identity of the thief pretty well hidden until the final climax - and once revealed, the reader will realize the clues were there, just not so in-your-face as to make it obvious.  Which, ultimately, makes for a very satisfying read.

This series is yet another British series being reprinted here in America.  No curse words, no violence - just good ol' mystery-enjoying fun.  And not one, not even two, but three references to Nancy Drew (although, granted, each instance is Axelle mocking Ellie by saying, "Thanks, Nancy Drew" or "Very funny, Nancy Drew").  Clearly, the iconic teenage sleuth is a reference that no mystery can do without.

While I am by no means a fan of fashion (anyone can tell you I dress comfortably and with what I like, never worrying about whether something is the latest fashion or fad), I thoroughly enjoy this series and would recommend it highly to anyone that reads and enjoys young adult mysteries.

10 tear sheets out of 10 for showing the world what a young adult mystery should be!

Friday, February 5, 2016

DC Comics Secret Hero Society, Book 1 - Study Hall of Justice

What if when Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana Prince were children, they all attended the same boarding school in Gotham?  And what if that boarding school just happened to be a school run by an unseen principal, but with teachers such as Hugo Strange, Solomon Grundy, Vandal Savage, Zod, Siobhan McDougal, Basil Karlo, Jervis Tetch, and the like?  And what if Bruce, Clark, and Diana didn't really fit in, but they knew something strange was going on?

And what if these three youngsters formed a secret society within the school to uncover the secret behind the fact that no real learning was going on?

You'd get the Study Hall of Justice!  The first book in DC's new Secret Hero Society series, published by Scholastic, is a combination graphic novel, scrapbook, yearbook that is - - well, simply put - - FUN!

Yes, that's right.  It was fun.  Something all comics should be.  Even when a hero is fighting a bad guy, it should still be fun.  And for the first time in quite a long time, DC has hit the nail on the head with this book.  Written by long-time comic writer Derek Fridolfs and drawn beautifully by Dustin Nguyen (who is no stranger to many of these characters, having did the art for DC's now cancelled all-ages series, Batman: Li'l Gotham), the book tells the story of Bruce, Clark and Diana coming together to discover why they are not learning anything at Ducard Academy, where all the other students are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want, which usually consists of chaos and other sundry bad deeds.  The three try to hide their secret lives from one another, but they eventually come together to put a stop to the principal's plans to create a hive of villainy (I'll leave the identity of the principal a secret for now - but I will say his daughter is a student at the school and seems to take a shining to Bruce....)

I would highly recommend this book to any fan of these characters, as well as parents who want to introduce their kids not just to reading, but to comics as well.  It's a great introduction, and it pretty much represents what comics should be more like.  The book is published in hardcover format, with a glossy cover.  Although there is nothing on the cover, spine, back, or inside to indicate this is a first book in a series, Amazon and other booksellers tote it as being book one.  So here's hoping it sells well enough to warrant future stories (and hopefully they will touch on other characters in DC's huge universe of heroes, and not just focus on these three).

RATING:  10 secret case files out of 10 for good, clean, all-ages fun and family friendliness - what comics should be!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Wells & Wong Mystery, Book 1 - Murder is Bad Manners

I had high hopes for this book, I really did.  The premise was right up my alley - two young girls at a boarding school who stumble across mysteries that must be solved.  A new, updated version of the Dana Girls.  Yes, I was aware that the "mystery" they were going to be solving was who murdered one of their teachers, but so long as it wasn't overly graphic and bloody, I was okay with that.  It is even set in the British countryside of the 1930s.  So far, so good.

Then, I picked it up and started reading it,  Written in first person from the perspective of young Hazel Wong, this first mystery gives readers a pretty good idea of both Hazel's character and her friend, Daisy Wells.  Hazel is the out-of-place Chinese girl who has come to England with a lot of pre-conceived notions about British girls and schools.  Likewise, the girls at Deepdean School (and for some reason, every time I read the name of the school, my mind automatically wanted to read it as "Deadpan School" - go figure) have  a lot of misconceptions about Hazel and her culture and background.  The interaction between the school girls was actually pretty well written and, for the most part, what I would picture to be typical of young teenage girls.  The teachers, and their behavior - well, that's a whole 'nother story.

Murder is Bad Manners features a cast of teachers who are pretty over-the-top and stereotypical.  There's the crazed angry teacher who yells at everyone.  There's the resident lush who can't seem to be sober for anything.  There's the buff "Prince Charming," who has all the teachers and students swooning.  There's the overly strict headmistress.  There's the flamboyant French teacher.  There's the nervous nelly who jumps at everything.  There's the gruff handyman.  There's the dry and boring minister. And then, there's the two female teachers who are clearly implied to have had a lesbian relationship until that "Prince Charming" I mentioned a moment ago sweeps one off her feet, creating a tift between them.

Now don't get me wrong.  I, of all people, have no problem with gay and lesbian relationships.  Not in the least.  However, it seems very out of place in the story.  It doesn't really hold any purpose in the story, just as the fact that it is mentioned two of the girls at the school were caught canoodling in the coat closet.  There was no purpose in that as well.  Except ... well, to be honest, the manner in which the relationships were addressed made it seem as if the two teachers and the two girls were oddities.

For example, on page 9, when Hazel describes her first understanding of the situation:  "You see, before this semester, the whole school knew that Miss Bell (our science teacher) and Miss Parker (our math teacher) had a secert.  They lived together in Miss Parker's little apartment in town, which had a spare room in it.  The spare room was the secret.  I did not understand when Daisy first told me about the spare room; now that we are in the eighth grade, though, of course I see exactly what it must mean.  It has something to do with Miss Parker's hair, cut far too short even to be fashionable, and the way she and Miss Bell used to pass their cigarettes from one to the other during our bunbreaks..."  Taking into consideration that this story was set in the mid- to late- 1930s, I could see that such a relationship would need to be secret.  The only problem is - for the purpose of this story, the women's secret is completely irrelevant.  Leaving me to wonder - why even mention it at all?

Very early in the story, Hazel stumbles upon the body of the dead teacher, only to find it is gone when she brings back someone to see it.  Daisy believes her, though, and the two girls set out on a quest to solver their very first real mystery.  The mystery itself - the who, the why, the how, and the when - is actually well-crafted and pretty closely borders on being an adult murder mystery.  There is eventually a second murder, and when the girls uncover the final clue that leads them to the solution, they find that it all ties back to the death of a young student at the school a few years back.

Now, remembering this is a children's book, targeted for ages 10 and up (per the front flap of the dust jacket), it is pushing the limits a bit involving the murders and allowing girls who are are just entering their teens to be running around solving the crime.  It pushes it further, though, with the vulgarities used in the text.  I know, I know - some will say that the villains in the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books cursed.  Yet, the authors were careful enough that they wrote, "He cursed under his breath, knowing he had been outwitted by a teenager" or some such.  The reader never actually saw the curse word.

Not so in this text!   Damn!  Hell!  Ass!  All of these words are taken in stride, even spoken by the children at times.  Yet, surprisingly enough, the one word that causes Hazel to flinch is the term "bloody."  "I'm just so bloody tired," the teacher says on page 195, to which Hazel writes, "It was the first time I had ever heard a teacher swear ... [her] saying bloody gave me the most dreadful shock."  Clearly, this must be a cultural difference.  At least, I can only assume so.  In watching British television, I hear the word so often, I just assumed it was slang of some sort.  Perhaps they hear the words damn and hell and ass so often from us, they don't think of them as vulgarities.  Regardless, and call me old fashioned, but I don't think the explicit use of vulgarities serve any purpose in a children's book, other than to lead them to the mis-belief that using those words is acceptable.

Moving along, I will give the author credit for providing a very tense and exciting conclusion to the story.  The murderer is revealed very dramatically, with the help of the police Inspector, as Hazel and Daisy watch from behind a heavy curtain.  The girls are victorious in solving their first real mystery, and while the Inspector plays along with them as they reveal to him everything they have seen and done leading up to the revelation, the author does allow him to show a little respect to the girls for a job well done.

This is a British series that is being re-published here in America (the first three books are already out overseas, but the second book in this series does not get released here until April), and the titles are being renamed here in America.  This first book, in Britian, was titled Murder Most Unladylike, and the second book was titled Arsenic for Tea, while the American version coming out in April will be titled Poison is Not Polite.  I will likely get the second book and give it a shot to see if there is any improvement; however, if the vulgarities and the senseless sexual references continue, it will likely be the last one I buy in the series.

RATING:  5 disappearing bodies out of 10 for at least providing a well-developed murder mystery, albeit in a story that should have been aimed at an older audience.