Thursday, March 30, 2017

Psychic Detective Mysteries, Volume 1 - Shadow's Edge

I love the concept of psychic detectives.  Author Kay Hooper has created a truly engaging world with her Special Crimes Unit and Bishop series of novels, and I honestly didn't think anyone could measure up to her storytelling abilities.

Then I stumbled across the first psychic detective novel by S.C. Wynne.  I came across the book while browsing, and when I read the premise, I figured I would give it a shot.

Liam Baker can see things.  Dead people like to visit him and tell him how they were wronged.  Some might call it a gift, others a curse.  But either way, this ability makes him useful to Los Angeles homicide detective, Kimball Thompson. Some madman is slitting the throats of young male prostitutes and then dumping their bodies in the desert with vague clues of pink feathers and the number five.  Usually Liam can talk to the spirits of the dead.  But someone is blocking him.  Someone is taunting him.

When I received the book, I realized it was self-published, so I was a bit concerned.  While self-published authors can certain be good, I knew this was a murder mystery with gay protagonists, so I held my breath when I opened the book, figuring it would be 90% gratuitous sex and 10% actual mystery.  Thankfully, Wynne proved me wrong.

The story opens with Baker waking up to the images of a dead male prostitute - one that is calling out to him for help.  Readers immediately learn that Baker is still dealing with the loss of his lover, William, who had been killed on the job nine months earlier.  William's partner, Detective Thompson, utilized Baker's psychic abilities to help him solve cases.  Only this time, they don't seem to be doing the job.

Wynne writes a very well-crafted mystery that surprised me at several turns - there is definitely nothing predictable about this story (well, except for the fact that Baker and Thompson are going to get together).  The murders are violent, the clues are vague, but the connections are there.  The only problem is, by the time Baker realizes it, it may be too late for him!  It seems the killer is a psychic as well - - one who is much more powerful than Baker, and one who can not only block Baker from talking to the deceased, but who can reach out with his mind and psychically attack him!  As the body count grows, time is running out until Thompson and Baker realize that Baker is next on the list.

The characters are engaging, and the revelations of the characters' back stories are not forced, but simply littered throughout the tale in natural ways.  By the end of the book, the reader feels like they know both Baker and Thompson pretty well (although there is certainly more to learn).

The only drawback to the book was that while, yes, the focus is the mystery and that does take up 90% or so of the book, Wynne does throw in some sex scenes.  They are not gratuitous, as they fit into the natural flow of the story and the men's budding relationship - however, they are overly graphic and unnecessarily so.  They could have been told in a more subtle way and still had the same, romantic impact.  I suppose Wynne has fallen into the same belief as many authors of gay mysteries do - you can't write a story for a male gay audience without throwing in graphic sex scenes.  That simply isn't true, and I really wish these authors would realize that!

Other than that, the book was a really great read, and I'm hoping Wynne comes back with a second volume to this series (it is advertised and sold as a series, so here's hoping that's the case!).

RATING:  7 little blue parakeets out of 10 for giving me a new psychic detective series to enjoy and hitting the mark right from the first page!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Flagler's Few, Volume 3 - The Vampirate of Matanzas Inlet

Matanzas Inlet is a small channel just south of St. Augustine, Florida.  It is named Matanzas (the Spanish word for "slaughters") due to the massacre that occurred back in the late 1500s when the Spanish came in and murdered over 200 French Huguenots.

It also plays an important setting in Andre R. Frattino's latest Flagler's Few graphic novel, The Vampirate of Matanzas Inlet.

As with Frattino's prior books, this story is fiction mixed with a good dose of non-fictional history.  Told between flashbacks and present day events, the story focuses on Roger and his ancestor, the famed pirate Captain Rogerick Blimes.  Centuries ago, Captain Blimes defeated the evil "Mad Eyes" Gaunt and captured his demon-possessed soul in a skull, which he later hid somewhere around St. Augustine, Florida.  Obviously, that very skull plays a very important part in events occurring in the present.  With the Flagler's Few two members down, Roger feels as if he has been betrayed by all of his friends - until he runs into a friend from his past (quite literally), who reminds him what loyalty is and what fun living a "pirate" life can be.  Raven and the Professor are worried about Roger, but he doesn't see it that way.

Now, you may be asking - what about that "vampirate" referenced in the title to the story? Well, that's another little subplot being told throughout this story. It seems Captain Blimes, in exchange for help in defeating Gaunt, agreed to assist a pregnant woman escape capture - but he was never able to rescue her, as she died giving birth during their escape.  He took the child with him - a child that just so happened to be born cursed as a vampire!  Raised on a pirate's ship (raised as a boy, mind you), Maddie grew up with indebted to Captain Blimes, and ultimately, to his descendants.  Which, of course, brings us to the present, where a young vampire girl (or rather, young in appearance) seems to be protecting Roger at every turn.

Frattino weaves another fun tale with banshees, vampires, possession, and good ol' pirate excitement. It's not only a tale of treasure hunting and high-seas pirating, but it's also a tale of friendship, loyalty, and well - the return of a member of the group thought gone (and his return brings with it some great geek-out references!).  The art, by Frattino, with Effie Rodriguez on inks, isn't quite as refined as the previous two books.  The characters' looks are not always consistent, and some of the panels seem a bit rushed.  However, none of that detracts from the story, and overall, the book was a great read (with a really good payoff at the end).

Don't see any word yet on a fourth graphic novel, so I guess I'll have to wait until I see Frattino at another comic convention and ask him then...

RATING:  8 witchy telepathic things out of 10 for taking the real history and locations of Florida and mixing them up with some great supernatural tales!

Friday, March 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Second Lucius Fogg Novel - Malicious Intent

Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

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

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

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

Until now...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Finishing School, Book the Fourth - Manners & Mutiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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