Monday, April 25, 2016

Dark Shadows Audio Book 34 - Beneath the Veil

Another road trip (this time to New Orleans), another Dark Shadows audio drama to enjoy along the way.  Beneath the Veil continues the story of Eve, the creation made as a companion for Dr. Lang's own Frankenstein monster, Adam.  This drama picks up after the events of Dreaming of the Water, and the doctor treating Sebastian Shaw finds a colleague murdered - only to be murdered himself.  Enter Alfie Chapman and Emma Finney, a young English couple whose car unexpectedly breaks down outside of Collinsport.  The two are exploring the sites of various mass murders and are morbidly thrilled to find that Collinsport is filled with unexplained events and deaths.  Only, everything is not what it seems.  Eve harbors the secrets of her past, there is a murderer loose in Collinsport, and even Alfie is hiding something dark within him.

This is the kind of story that Dark Shadows was made for.  I love the fact that it picks up from a previous story, and even the ending sets the stage for the next audio tale.  Although Eve, Alfie, and Emma are the main characters, we do get appearances by Sebastian Shaw, Maggie Evans, and Carolyn Stoddard, all portrayed by the original actors - as well as Amy Jennings, who is portrayed by a new actress.  Plus, Jim Hardy is in the tale, and he becomes the new sheriff when Patterson becomes a victim of the killer in the story (and thus, I now know why he's the sheriff in the Bloodlust story that came out last year and I listened to before this one...).

We have a reanimated corpse, a voodoo witch, a Ouija board, and so much horror/mystery that it is clear the writer of this tale knows Dark Shadows.  Plus, the continuity that is used keeps the feeling of an ongoing show alive - with characters being used or at least mentioned from prior audio tales - Bernard Kear and Anton Thompson from Dreaming of the Water; Brett Hawker and Gerald Conway from The House by the Sea; Mrs. Haggerty from The Ghost Watcher; Mike Garner and Dr. Gretchen Warwick from Curse of the Pharoah; and Ed Griffin, who has appeared in a number of stories.  There is also set up for future stories, such as the mysterious nursery rhyme and the use of Tom Lacey, who is one of the main characters in the upcoming drama, Beyond the Grave.

My continued love of this show is being kept alive by these audio stories, and with this year being the 50th anniversary of the debut of Dark Shadows, along with the special story that Big Finish Productions has planned, I hope they pick back up with more dramas (since there haven't been any other CDs solicited after the 50th story).

RATING:  10 possessed Ouija boards out of 10 for not only continuing the story, but for keeping it dark and haunting at the same time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Shiver Bureau, Volume 1 - Welcome to London

I met Walter Ostlie a couple of years ago at MegaCon - he was sitting in Artist Alley, and when I took a look at his art, I immediately fell in love with it.  Ostlie has a distinct style that lends itself to certain types of stories.  I immediately asked him to create a faux cover in my Nancy Drew sketchbook, and he did an unbelievably superb job of re-imagining a cover for The Clue of the Tapping Heels.  Creepy and mysterious, but with the right amount of Nancy Drew-feel to it.

So when I ran into him again at the first Acme Comic Con a few months back, it was a cinch that he would be perfect to do a sketch in my new Ms. Tree sketchbook. It was also a given that I would buy the first of his graphic novel series, Shiver Bureau.  On vacation here in New Orleans, I finally had the chance to sit down and read it.  Let me say, this is some top-notch storytelling with some art that, under normal circumstances might not exactly fit my fancy (this ain't Wonder Woman or She-Hulk style, that's for sure), but most definitely fits this story and the characters in it.

Welcome to London introduces readers to Pickle - not Inspectre Pickle - just Pickle.  He is a green-haired inspectre for the Shiver Bureau, an organization that is supposed to be there to protect the innocent and stop the ghouls and goblins of the ghost world from doing harm to the people in this world.  Only, there are greater powers at play, and Pickle no longer knows who he can trust and who he can't.  Picking up some unique partners along the way (such as the tough-as-nails Trish McTavish, the shy-but-super-tech-savvy Mister Todd, and the genius-but-hip youngster Oliver - call him "Oli"), Pickle's first mission finds him and his new pals hunting down the reason for the missing children at the orphanage where Oli is from, all the while doing his best to avoid Minister Greev (who he hates) and Detective Ellis (with whom he flirts).  The investigation leads to a warehouse on the docks and, ultimately, back to the orphanage, where Pickle faces one-on-one with Monsignor Jacob, who has an insidious plan to take over the world utilizing the pure form of spectral that he is able to gather from ... well, let's just say, it's not a pretty source.  There is plenty of ghost-busting, lots of fantastic fight scenes, and some great bring-a-smile-to-your-face banter that make this book the thoroughly enjoyable read that it is.

Ostlie does something a lot of comic writers are not able to do - without any exposition or any details of these characters' past, through their dialogue and actions, you get to the point where you feel like you really know their characters, their motivations, and their personalities - you immediately fall in love with Pickle, his sarcasm and quick wit; you root for Trish and can't wait to see her take out the bad guys; and you feel rather bad for Mister Todd and wish you could see more of him and find out the full capabilities of his talent.  Although you see little of Minister Greev, you'll take an immediate dislike for him and without a doubt, you'll enjoy Pickle and Greev's interactions - they are a hoot!

Ostlie's art can tell a story.  His panels transition nicely from one to the next with a smooth storytelling technique, and although he uses a number of full-page panels (of which I'm not a big fan - I prefer pages with four or more panels, which give me more story for the buck, usually), most of them are purposeful and make an impact on the reader when you see them.  So I can forgive the use of them in this instance.  The coloring is effective as well, switching from purples to greens to blues and grays, keeping the mood for the tale and definitely drawing attention to each and every page.

All in all, Ostlie has a great piece of work on his hands here.  I truly enjoyed reading the book and look forward to the next one!  For more information on Ostlie, check out his website using the link to the right of this post; for more information about Shiver Bureau, check out the Facebook page at

RATING:  10 spectrum grenades out of 10 for blowing me away with a great story and great art - everything a comic should be and then some.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Friday Barnes, Girl Detective

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I picked up this book.  Quite frankly, I picked it up because I had a coupon for Barnes & Noble, I couldn't find any other new books, and the title described the lead character as a girl detective.  The tag line on the back reads: "Meet Friday Barnes! Student. Genius. Girl Detective." And, since I happen to enjoy reading that particular genre of books, I figured I'd give it a try.

At eleven years old, Friday Barnes (and yes, she realizes her name is a day of the week) is already in the seventh grade.  She is a girl genius - not by nature, but by self-determination.  Her parents are both scientists, and all of her siblings are their pride and joy.  Friday, on the other hand - well, she was an unexpected accident.  As the author describes her, "She was fairly small and dull-looking, with light brown hair and muddy brown eyes, and she had mastered the trick of finding the exact spot in a room with the least light, so that if she stood perfectly still nobody would notice she was there."  Thus, the reader gets the idea right off the bat that Friday is an outcast, a position she likes to be in.

That all changes when she uses the reward money she receives from solving a bank robbery to pay for a year at a prestigious private school.  She thinks she can fly under the radar, while at the same time being away from her parents and siblings.  But when she arrives at the school, she finds that she quickly becomes the center of attention, as she is mistaken by all of the rich, snobby, self-absorbed students as being the "scholarship" student of the year (that one student who attends the school each year on a scholarship, which automatically makes that student the brunt of everyone's negative treatment).  She does manage to make a friend in her roommate, who is also quite unusual in her own ways.

The author provides an over-all mystery involving a swamp yeti that is terrorizing the students; but, along the way, the author has Friday solving a number of smaller crimes, such as missing homework assignments, the alleged theft of the headmaster's clock, a low grade for a supposedly late report, as well as stolen desserts.

Friday's characterization is very much like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.  She is a genius, so she simply speaks the truth and makes keen observations without considering courtesy or decorum.  For example:

"So tell me, since you're the smarty-pants, what is going on down at the swamp?"

"I don't know!" said Friday.  She was surprised by the question.

"Really?  I thought you had the answers to everything," said the Headmaster.

"No," admitted Friday.  "It only seems that way because I do know a lot more than the average eleven-year-old.  I know a lot more than most adults as well."

The Headmaster sighed.  "But apparently you don't know when to keep quiet."

Having finished the book, I can say without question that I really enjoyed it.  The mystery itself was rather tame and definitely aimed for younger readers; however, Friday's personality and unfiltered comments, as well as her roommate, Melanie's quirkiness, are what really make the book the most fun.  There were several laugh-out-loud moments in the book.

Something readers should be warned out - the book does end on a cliffhanger (I won't spoil it for those who do want to read the book), so for those who read this on and enjoy it, you will be sucked into buying the next one so you can find out what happens.

The next book, Friday Barnes Under Suspicion, is scheduled to hit the shelves in August, so we'll see if R.A. Spratt can continue the fun into the second book.

RATING:  8 green felt pork-pie hats out of 10 for squeaky clean mysteries and fun that are safe for any reader.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire - Volume 01

I am not a big fan of Manga.  I'm not particularly fond of the art style, and quite frankly, I have a difficult time transitioning from left to right reading into right to left.  I have read very few Manga over the years, and I own even fewer (The Dreaming being a rare series that I have, and that is done in American-style so that it reads from left to right).  So, when I first saw that Viz Media was coming out with a Resident Evil series, I was a bit leery.  I absolutely love Resident Evil - the books, the movies, the games.  So I debated, and with a coupon for Barnes & Noble, I decided to give it a chance.

I'm going to admit, it was a bit of a struggle at first.  I knew that you read the book starting at what we, as Americans, traditionally think of as the "back" of the book and work your way to the "front" - but I didn't realize that on each page, you also had to read starting with the right panel and work your way left.  I was actually three pages into it before I realized that was the reason the dialogue wasn't exactly making sense - duh!  But, once I got a handle on that, the more pages I read, the easier it became.

This first volume of the series is pretty much a set up for the story.  Someone has released the infamous T-Virus at the Marhawa School.  University professor Doug Wright and his nephew, Ricky Tozawa head to the isolated school when Wright is contacted by the headmistress, who is an old friend.  But Mother Gracia has changed greatly since Wright first knew her, and she is more interested in protecting the school's reputation than the students, which doesn't sit too well with Wright - particularly after Ricky is bit by an infected zombie!

The art is not what I would call "typical" Manga art.  There are no cutesy-little drawings of midget-size people waving their arms with big eyes.  There are no panels with huge exclamation points or other symbols around the characters' heads.  Rather, the people look like people (rather attractively drawn people at that!) and the settings are very detailed.  The zombies are grotesque (as they should be) without being caricatures, and while there are only a few scenes in this first volume with zombies, they definitely powerful enough to set the tone for the series.

It's great to see Chris Redfield back in action, even though he is only in a few pages.  He appears to have a new team (or perhaps I just don't recognize them, as I haven't kept up with the games lately).  Regardless, can't wait to see them arrive at the Marhawa School in time to fight some zombies.  I'll also be curious to see who exactly is behind this particular outbreak.

Definitely a number of subplots set up, and with only five volumes in the series, there's no doubt the plot will move fast and the action will be wild.

RATING:  9 blood-stained zombies out of 10 for providing a great Resident Evil fix while I wait for the next movie to come out!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Doctor Who, the Glamour Chronicles Book 3 - Deep Time

'Forever is a long time,' said the Doctor. 'But for things like the Glamour, it is seldom long enough.'

I've gotten a little behind in my reading due to the play that I am assistant directing, but this book was well worth the extra time.  Trevor Baxendale provides a very satisfying conclusion to The Glamour Chronicles trilogy in Deep Time.  In this book, we finally learn the origin of the Glamour, what it is, where it comes from, and the lengths it will go to in order to survive.  This time around, the Doctor and Clara join an expedition in the far future, as a group of humans are set to venture into the last Phaeron road, each with their very own agenda (including the Doctor)!  There is adventure, there is humor, there is danger, there is sadness, and there is a mad rescue at the last possible moment - quite literally, a Doctor Who adventure through and through.

Baxendale doesn't disappoint in the least with this tale.  I've only read one other book by him, a Torchwood novel, and it was actually one of the better ones in that series.  So, it comes as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his take on the Doctor.  Baxendale captures the essence of Peter Capaldi's Doctor - serious, yet playful, and a take-charge, somewhat grumpy guy who pretends to be oblivious to the human condition, all the while manipulating them with their very nature.  Clara, well - Clara is Clara.  As much as I don't liker her as a companion (and I am so glad they removed her from the equation in the television series), I give the author credit.  He nails her character pretty good in the story.  It felt pretty much like I was watching an episode as I read the book.

Sadly, there isn't enough time to really get to know the other characters, so there are some stereotypes at play.  There's the egotistical jerk with a personal agenda that could endanger them all.  There's the old-guy mechanic who's always talking about the old days.  There's the ship's captain who sacrifices himself and goes down with the ship.  There's the scientist who seems oblivious to all dangers when it comes to investigating new life forms.  And so on, and so on.  Perhaps it is the number of characters that prevents further character development, or just the length of the tale, but I think with more pages, Baxendale could have created some really interesting, fully dimensional characters.

The aliens - the Phaerons - are some rather intriguing life forms.  Baxendale teases the reader with glimpses here and there, never quite giving you the full satisfaction until the time is right for the big reveal.  We learn bit by bit as the expedition team is confronted by them, or as the Doctor deems fit to reveal facts about the creatures.  Are they good?  Are they bad?  Are they indifferent and unfeeling?  Are they the saviors or the ultimate destruction?  You never quite know until the climax, which keeps things interesting.  Would definitely love to see these characters brought to life on screen.

But none of that stops the book from being a great read.  And, as with the other two books in this trilogy, it is a stand alone story that does not necessarily need to be read with the other two in order to be understood or enjoyed.  Looking forward to more stories from this author, and hope that BBC gives him more to write in the future.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

DC Super Hero Girls: Wonder Woman at Super Hero High

When DC Comics first announced this new marketing of female super heroes, I was excited.  I mean, for far too long, the female line of heroes at DC (and Marvel, for that matter), have had little attention.  While Superman and Batman have carried multiple monthly titles for decades, poor Wonder Woman has struggled with just one (only in recent years has Sensation Comics been revived, only to be quickly cancelled).  So the fact that DC was marketing a whole line of toys, books, etc. with the female heroes from the DC Universe, I was hyped.

First came the cartoon shorts online, featuring the female heroes as youngsters, going to school at Super Hero High, where Amanda Waller is the principal and the familiar faces of Supergirl, Hawkgirl, Stargirl, Katana, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Bumblebee, and more are students.

Then came the dolls and action figures.  They are a bit on the "kiddish" side, but then, they are aimed at a young audience - although, no doubt, there is a large market of adult collectors who are buying them as well.

Now comes this book.  I was hoping that it was just the first in an ongoing series of books based on these characters.  It is bound in a nice hard cover, and with 237 pages and 29 chapters, I thought it would have plenty of space to flesh out a great story.  Wonder Woman at Super Hero High - the Amazon princess comes to man's world as a young girl to join this prestigious school that trains the next generation of super heroes.  Only, the school is not quite as easy as she thinks.  She begins receiving messages telling her to leave the school and constantly harping on how un-heroic she is.  Then she makes one mistake after another, whether in class or social settings.  The harder she tries to fit in, the more of an outsider she feels. She finally gets the opportunity to prove herself, to her mother, her fellow students, and herself - at the 100th annual Super Triathalon, where a select group of students from SHH will complete against heroes from other schools in contests of strength and will.

The premise and plot are rather fun, and Lisa Yee's writing certainly makes for a smooth, easy read.  The characterization is pretty close - Barbara Gordon is a tech whiz; Poison Ivy is shy but has a passion for plants; Harley Quinn is simply bonkers; Killer Frost is one cold cookie; Katana is as sharp as she is serious; and Wonder Woman carries an air of innocence about her.  The thing that bothered me, though, throughout the entire story, is the fact that the characters have no names outside of their super hero names.  Wonder Woman is not Diana.  Ever.  Even her own mother called her Wonder Woman.  Hawkgirl is never Shayera.  Poison Ivy is never Pamela.  Bumblebee is never Karen.  It's as if they have no real names.  Which makes for some clunky dialogue at times, when a mother is talking to her daughter, or a teacher is talking to a student, and they repeatedly have to refer to her as "Wonder Woman."

That aside, however, it was a fun read, so who could ask for anything more.  Plus, with some cameos by Amethyst, Black Orchid, and other lesser-known heroes, it's a fan's Easter Egg special. And with the last page of the story bringing into the fold a certain Maid of Might with the tagline "To Be Continued..." one can only assume that a next book is planned.  Whether it actually sees the light of day remains to be seen.

RATING:  7 golden lassos out of 10 for spotlighting some of the greatest characters in the DC Universe who definitely deserve more limelight!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Finding the Lost Treasure - a Lost Treasure Series book

In my recent trip to the Tampa Bay area, I stopped in at Haslam's Bookstore over in St. Petersburg.  While they carry a number of old children's books, I rarely find any that I need or want.  This time around, however, I stumbled across this little treasure (pun fully intended) in dust jacket and since it was on sale, I figured what the heck.  I mean, with a title like Finding the Lost Treasure, it sounded like a decent enough mystery, and the cover with the man and woman running up to the man lying on the ground, there was enough to interest me.  (And just to give you the heads up - the photo in this post is actually from my book - I could not find an image of this cover anywhere on the internet, which was quite surprising!)

So I bought it.

I'm not sure who Helen M. Persons is, or whether she wrote any other children's books ... and yes, I realize this was published back in 1933, so it was written during a completely different time period when people acted and thought differently ... but to be honest, as I read this story, I got the very real sensation of reading a V.C. Andrews novel (and anyone who has read any of Andrews' books will know where I'm going with this).

The story centers around the four Wistmore children - John (18 - referred to throughout the book as "Jack"), Desire (14), Priscilla (9), and Rene (5), who are direct descendants of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, characters in the poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish, by Longfellow.  The children's parents die, leaving them to fend for themselves. When their home is foreclosed upon, they are left with nothing but a mysterious code (W-1755-15x12-6754) and a few worldly possessions.  A family friend, who drives a big covered wagon common to Nova Scotia at the time (basically, a general store on wheels) is injured and allows the children to take over his business while he recuperates, as a means of earning money for themselves.  The book follows the trials and tribulations of these four youngsters as they set out to make their way in the world.  Jack has given up his dream of going to college, Desire has had to forego her wish to go to high school, and the two younger children must learn to grow up fast and take on responsibilities for the good of the family.

While there are some similarities to the Bobbsey Twins (the two older siblings taking care over the two younger siblings), oddly enough, there are stronger similarities to Flowers in the Attic.  Left to their own devices, these four children create a unique family, with John as the "father," Desire as the "mother," and Priscilla and Rene as the "children."  What's worse is that the author portrays Jack and Desire as having a very close relationship - too close, for my taste.

p. 11 - "Now Dissy," said the boy, laying his hand affectionately over hers, "let's have the inspiration."
p. 38 - "You're a good little soul," answered Jack, with an affectionate good night kiss. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
pp. 79-80 - Desire nodded, burying her face on her brother's shoulder ... "I hardly think so dear," replied Jack, stroking her curls.

And so it goes, chapter after chapter, Jack and Desire acting more like husband and wife than brother and sister, referring to each other incessantly as "dear" and "darling."  In fact, on page 70, one of their customers mistakes Desire for Jack's wife; and, quite frankly, if she were reading the same book as I did, I can see why she would think that!

Now, as far as the mystery of that strange code goes - well, it's basically nothing more than bookends for this book.  It is mentioned at the beginning, giving the reader hope that it will be a central part of the story ... then it gets mentioned at the end, when suddenly, and with no warning, Desire comes across a metal box buried beneath the small house where they are staying - a box that, quite conveniently, is buried west of the house, back in the year 1755 - 6954 is the number of the deed, 15 is the depth of the hole, and 12 is the distance from the edge of the lot where they are living - and thus, the house where they are staying is found to legally belong to them, and they now have a permanent home.  All's well that ends well.  Except - there is absolutely nothing throughout the entire book that leads up to this sudden realization and discovery, making it, quite possibly, one of the most unrelated, sudden discoveries to wrap up a mystery ever!

It's hard to say whether I would recommend this book or not.  It does have its moments, as there are times when the adventures of the Wistmore children resemble those of the Ingalls clan in the Little House books; but then, there are those cringing moments when Jack and Desire seem a LOT closer to one another than a brother and sister should be.  There is certainly a great idea for a mystery, but there is no execution in it, and its resolution comes so far out of left field as to leave the reader wondering why it was even there, except to give a convenient windfall at the end of the story so that the children could all get everything they wanted without having to work for it.

Stumbling Across the Lost Treasure - That We Didn't Even Know Was Lost would probably have been a more apt title for this book.

RATING:  4 wagon wheels out of 10 for leading me to believe this was going to be a great treasure hunting mystery, but providing me with a Little House in the Attic tale instead.